‘Special’ Simmons confounds critics in playoff win

Aussie 76ers guard Ben Simmons’ shooting efforts weren’t up to scratch in game one of his team’s postseason clash with Washington, but his box score showed just how instrumental he was in the 125-118 win for Philadelphia.

Look beyond his mere six points and there’s a very different story. Simmons became just the sixth player in NBA history to have 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a playoff game, and added one steal, one block and two turnovers to be +18 in his 38 minutes on the court.

He proved to be a constant headache for star Wizards duo Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, a day after TNT analyst Kenny Smith claimed that Simmons would fail in guarding the latter because he is too tall and his opposition would be “too crafty, too good, too athletic” for him to handle.

Simmons’ 0-for-6 from the foul line was the obvious downside to his game, but it didn’t seem to matter to 76ers coach Doc Rivers, who gushed about the Australian product after the victory.

“I thought he was special,” Rivers said post-game.

“Whoever he guarded struggled scoring, he created so many points for us, off the glass to 3, off transition to 3, creating switches that they didn’t want to have.

“He is just a treasure.

“He is something that you don’t see a lot in this league and he has such a skill set that’s so different.

“There’s a lot of people that can’t make what of him. All I see is his greatness and I just want him to keep doing what he’s doing.”

Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris clicked well against the Wizards, with Harris leading the way.

He scored 37 points – 28 in the first half – making a case that Philly has — with All-Stars Embiid and Simmons — three big stars that could rival the superstar trio of Kevin Durant-James Harden-Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.

Embiid finished with 30 points.

The Sixers needed Harris’ outburst to offset an upset-minded Wizards team that was within five points with 45 seconds left. Beal scored 33 points and Westbrook had 16 — but neither sensational scorer took over in long enough stretches needed for an upset.

“We see him [Harris] early on dominating the game and you want to keep giving him the ball because he’s feeling it,” Simmons said.

“I just try to make winning plays and do what I can to help this team and be the point guard and run the team.

“Put guys in the right positions, run the right sets, if somebody’s feeling it, keep giving them the ball. I think overall today we did a good job of that.”

Westbrook stepped out of bounds with 37 seconds left in the game, cutting off a potential rally. He declined to say if the referees made the correct call.

“It doesn’t matter now. It don’t matter,” Westbrook said.

Unable to create consistent offense outside of Harris, the Sixers finally put together a 3-point barrage late in the third quarter that had 11,160 fans — roughly half-capacity — sounding as if it was 20,000-plus packing the house.

Harris, of course, hit a tying 3, Seth Curry hit his first, Danny Green buried one and Curry pounded his chest and talked smack after another 3 made it 88-81.

The fans erupted soon after in a “Trust the Process” chant with Embiid at the free-throw line, and the Sixers closed the quarter with a 99-93 lead.

The Sixers hung on for their first playoff win in two years.

Embiid was whistled for three fouls and the Sixers missed 14 of 17 3-pointers in the first half, leaving it up to Harris to play up to his $233 million contract.

Harris spent the season believing he was worthy of an All-Star spot and opened some eyes with 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting in the half. He played the half like he was trying to win a game of HORSE — turnarounds, fallaway jumpers, pull-up jumpers in the paint, and in one instance, he drove the length of the court before he hit a little floater. He finished 15 of 29 from the floor and hit two 3-pointers.

Some of the credit to his success went to two Sixers not in the Game 1 box score — Rayjon Tucker and Paul Reed.

“They’ve got a lot of guys that can fill the stat sheet and Tobias was that guy tonight,” Beal said.

Beal, who torched the Sixers for 60 points in January and has been bothered of late by a strained left hamstring, and Westbrook combined for just 20 points in the first half, but Washington led 62-61 at the break.

Washington advanced by routing the Indiana Pacers to emerge from the play-in round as the East’s No. 8 seed, returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence. The Wizards were a disaster early in the season, dealing with injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak. They started 0-5 and were 17-32 in early April. They made the playoffs at 34-38 and are trying to become the first team with a losing record to win a playoff series since the 1987 Seattle SuperSonics.

Washington’s must-win attitude down the stretch spilled into Game 1. The Game 1 trend this weekend had been heavy favorites with time off — such as Brooklyn against Boston — needing time to find their legs before putting the game away. The Wizards played Thursday — while the Sixers had a full week off — and played every minute as a team determined to steal one on the road.

“I don’t think I played great. I don’t think I had a good game,” Beal said. “I think we still got a couple levels we can tap into.”

Game 2 is Wednesday in Philadelphia.

– with AP

For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!

pin up