The Philadelphia 76ers, the Eastern Conference's No. 1 overall seed, were eliminated from the 2021 NBA Playoffs on Sunday night in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks. And, a large part of the reason the Hawks were able to pull off the upset was due to the poor play of Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons.
Simmons, who has struggled shooting the ball for the entirety of his career, was held in check offensively throughout the series. The 24-year-old disappeared in the fourth quarter of each game, attempting just three total shots in the final period in the seven-game series.
After the Sixers' disappointing series loss, many Philly fans blamed Simmons for another early playoff exit. Just a few days later, Simmons' teammate Dwight Howard went on Instagram Live to defend the three-time All-Star, telling him that he has his back.
"This man is 24 years old. He's still learning who he is as a person and as a player," Howard said. "I know a lot of stuff. They can say whatever they want about this man, but he's still a young man. He's my teammate. I don't care how any of y'all feel about my teammate, I'm gonna stick with him no matter what. Ben I got your back, man. You’re my brother and I love you."
Following Game 7, Doc Rivers was asked if Simmons could be the point guard on a championship team. The Sixers head coach bluntly answered, "I don't know."
Then moments later, Philadelphia star center Joel Embiid later said he felt the turning point in the loss was when Simmons passed up an open dunk to a covered Matisse Thybulle.
That's not what you want to hear from your head coach and co-star if you're Simmons. But, Howard believes the former No. 1 overall pick will use these criticisms as motivation to get better.
"He might have messed up, didn't take no shots, didn't do whatever. But he's going to come back better next year," Howard said.
The veteran center knows that Simmons is hearing criticism from fans, analysts and much of the entire basketball world right now and wishes everyone would pass along "love and positivity" to the Sixers guard instead of all the hate he's receiving.
"That's a lot of pressure, man," Howard said. He's 24 years old and he got everybody in the world telling him he can't do something he's been doing his whole life. Everybody telling him he can't do it. Now he's all in his head. Let that man live."
Ultimately, though, Howard believes that this experience will be a wake-up call for Simmons moving forward. Simmons has already declined to participate in the Olympics this summer for Australia in order to work on his craft, too.
"That man got it in him to be great, man," Howard continued. "I believe this is something that's going to wake him up. As mad as y'all want to be, send him some positive vibes."