Ben Simmons being a minus 23 in a game didn’t seem possible. Just look at his last couple months. Even though he scored single-digits on more than one occasion, it didn’t seem possible he could play as poorly as he did Thursday night. There was the last regular season game against Milwaukee, but he only played 22 minutes. Simmons only scored six points against the Magic and seven against the Nuggets in March, but he had double-digit assists in those games. He always felt in control of the game, even if his shot wasn’t falling. Thursday night was a different story.
By all accounts, Simmons played the worst game of his career. He took four shots, missing each one. Simmons made a free throw to give Philadelphia an 11-5 lead with 7:14 left in the first quarter. After the made free throw? Zero points. Sure, Simmons dished seven assists. But TJ McConnell was the point guard that kept Philadelphia in the game. Simmons retrieved McConnell with 5:29 left and the 76ers down two. Philadelphia lost 108-103.
It’s stupid to place the blame on a person. Boston won as a team, while Philadelphia as a collective lost. JJ Redick had things going on early for the 76ers as Philadelphia jumped out to a 22-point first half lead. Joel Embiid struggled from the field, but Philadelphia’s defense actually showed up, unlike in Game 1. This would be a win. Philadelphia would get their split in Boston, before returning home to what promised to be a ruckus crowd Saturday evening to take control of the series.
The Celtics, as Nate Duncan pointed out as Philadelphia’s lead grew, wouldn’t go away. Duncan said Boston could very well make this a game. I thought to myself, Philadelphia has to have at least a 15-point lead at halftime. It was 45-24 with 7:22 left in the second quarter. Boston reverted to Greg Monroe to try and give the offense a boost. Philadelphia answered every Boston bucket, though. Robert Covington sunk back-to-back threes after basically no-showing Game 1.
With 3:33 left in the second quarter, Philadelphia held a 53-33 lead. Simmons attacked, asserting himself into the game. Marcus Smart, just like he’s done time and time again, took a charge*. Then it happened so quickly. The lead nearly evaporated like it was scripted or something. Brett Brown didn’t call a timeout as the Celtics scored point after point. Enough to make it only a five-point Philadelphia lead at halftime. Not only did the Celtics have the momentum, but the Boston crowd was into it.
Simmons never got it going in the second half. McConnell gave Philadelphia a chance as the long-time rivals battled in the second half. Brown, however, went back to Simmons to see if the 76ers could pull out the win. I avoided Twitter and Reddit following the game. There’s no use getting upset over people’s opinions. Simmons no showed. He played poorly. Thank you, Captain Obvious. The quick turnaround to Game 3 should help. Going home should make Simmons feel at ease. Boston had no business winning Thursday, but the Celtics never let up, relentlessly fighting through screens, attacking the basket and doing whatever it took.
As favorites in Boston for Games 1 and 2, Philadelphia was expected to be up 2-0 returning home for Saturday’s game. At the very least, it was supposed to be a split with three of the next five games in Philadelphia. Now, the 76ers have to show something more. Simmons has to show something. Embiid has to be more efficient. Philadelphia cannot assume Covington will be as effective offensively as he was Thursday night. The best players have to prove themselves.
It’s fun, though. This is the beauty of it all. Let’s see how Simmons and Embiid respond. Let’s see what happens with their backs up against the wall. This is how learning happens. Simmons played his worst game of his life Thursday. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. With the season hanging in the balance, how will Simmons play Saturday?