Ben Simmons hit his first NBA three Wednesday night against the Knicks.
By the end of the game, it almost felt like a footnote to those who watched the entirety of the Sixers' 109-104 win at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night (see observations). That's because the Knicks stormed out of the halftime break with a 15-0 run and led by as many as 17 before Simmons willed the Sixers to the victory.
Sure, it was great to see Simmons hit the three.
But the defensive effort he gave and the way he ran the team in the third quarter showed what makes Simmons truly special.
I thought Ben's defensive intensity was as good as it's been," Brett Brown said. "I think that him in his leadership, sort of controlling the game and giving him the freedom to make play calls after free throws, as an example, and him doing a great job of being smart of what that looked like. I thought he was outstanding with his presence. I really thought he helped change the whole landscape, especially in the second half.
The stat line looks good: 18 points (7 of 9 from the field, 3 of 4 from the line, 1 of 1 from three), 13 assists, seven rebounds, a block and a steal.
But that doesn't even come close to telling the story.
The Sixers were up two at the half on the Knicks, who were shooting the lights out. Then New York came out of the break guns blazing, led by guards Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. Furkan Korkmaz, starting for Josh Richardson, struggled mightily on the defensive end. Brown then turned to Shake Milton, who didn't fare much better.
At that point, Brown stopped messing around and put Simmons on Ntilikina. Simmons not only stopped the bleeding defensively, he pushed the basketball up the floor at every turn.
With his unique skill set, Simmons has Defensive Player of the Year potential. His explosiveness and guard skills at his size are what made him the No. 1 overall pick and an All-Star.
Yes, it was against the Knicks, but all of that was on full display.
"I wouldn't say like my role, it's just how I am as a player," Simmons said when asked about jumpstarting his team in the third. "I hate losing, hearing our fans boo - I mean, that annoys me also, that fuels the fire. So, for me, I'm all about winning. However I gotta get it done, I'm gonna get it done."
Oh, and by the way, Simmons hit a three.
Early in the first quarter, Korkmaz took a couple dribbles to his right and got the ball to Simmons in the corner on a bounce pass. Then Simmons rose up with no hesitation and … swish. He then trotted down the other end of the court as if he'd made 100 threes before it.
It only took 172 games, but Simmons did it. When asked about his reaction, Simmons downplayed it in typical Simmons' fashion.
"You saw my reaction," Simmons deadpanned.
When pressed further, Simmons did admit that he was glad to see the fruits of his labor this summer pay off.
"I mean, it feels good. Yeah, you put work into something and it pays off."
The Sixers have been unbelievably patient with Simmons' unwillingness to shoot. So much so that there's been criticism of Brown for not "forcing" Simmons to shoot more.
To hear Simmons tell it, it sure sounds like he's grateful for his coach not going that route.
"I think it's getting better with time and different experiences," Simmons said. "I think I'm just growing as a player and that's what happens when you give somebody a little bit more leeway and trust in them a little bit more."
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