Brett Brown relayed an important message to the Sixers before the playoffs began.
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The regular season was an 82-game learning experience. The postseason, well, that would be a completely different kind of education.
"You're going to learn more about yourself in skill package, in spirit in the next few weeks than maybe you've learned your whole career," Brown told the Sixers. "That's what the playoffs do to you."
The Eastern Conference semifinals have been a crash course for Ben Simmons. The Rookie of the Year candidate has been intensely studied, strategized against and tested by the Celtics, who lead the series 3-0.
"[I have learned] that I've got a lot of growing to do," Simmons said following the Sixers' 101-98 overtime loss Saturday (see observations). "It's the first season I've played, the first time I've played in the playoffs. I'm learning a lot."
Simmons' shot selection and turnover issues were magnified in Game 3. The Sixers led 98-97 late in OT when Joel Embiid missed a fadeaway shot. Simmons grabbed the offensive rebound with an advantageous 18 seconds remaining, plenty of time to work the clock or draw a foul. Simmons, who can be too unselfish with the ball at times, attempted a putback layup.
Marcus Morris secured the rebound and the Celtics called a timeout, which led to a go-ahead layup by Al Horford with 5.5 seconds left.
Simmons stood by his decision. He described going up for the shot as "natural instinct" and said he would have been confident going to the line if he was fouled.
"I got a shot that I practice a lot right next to the rim," Simmons said. "You never know what can happen after that. I've got a wide open shot I make a lot of the time and I missed it."
Brown gave his take on the decision of his point guard, who posted 16 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, four turnovers, two blocks and a steal in 43 minutes.
"I think if it was a point-blank dunk, you probably would take that, but he didn't do it," Brown said. "It's true he makes that all the time in practice. There's  seconds left. If we had it again, you probably bring it right back out and let them chase you and follow you and chew up the clock. On so many levels, this being one of them, or examples, it's the thing that I see and feel the most and sort of internally hear the loudest: that our young guys at times look young."
The Sixers and Simmons will re-watch the game, and that play, many times before Game 4. But while actually in the moment, JJ Redick noted Simmons' perspective on the court is different than watching it from afar.
"I think that's a judgment call," Redick said. "It was right on the cusp too of, I don't know the exact timing, but somewhere between 18 and 25 [seconds]. You guys would probably know because you guys have the clicker. We didn't have the benefit of the clicker to stop the game and look up and see how much time is left. There's a chance to score an easy two points. I probably would say you should take that up 10 times out of 10."
The Sixers had more opportunities after the Horford layup. Brown subbed in Redick and Marco Belinelli to stack the floor with shooters for a game-winning bucket. They didn't have a chance to take the last shot. Simmons' inbounds pass attempt to Embiid was picked off by Horford with 3.9 seconds to go. Horford hit two free throws to ice the game.
"Knew he was fighting for the ball," Simmons said of the turnover. "I was assuming Jo was going to come a little further out. Horford read it a little quicker and obviously, he went for the ball."
Game 3 had looked like it was shaping up to be a comeback performance following Simmons' one-point struggle in Game 2 wherein the Celtics threw multiple defenders at him and limited his passing lanes. On Saturday, he shot an efficient 7 for 11 from the field and cut down on his turnovers in regulation.
For the majority of his first season, Simmons has made basketball look easy. He's compiled triple-doubles with ease, passed rookie milestones and exuded maturity in his debut playoff series against the Heat. The conference semifinals are a reminder he is only 21 years old with seasons upon seasons to grow.
"I told him yesterday just to be himself because his good is more than enough," Redick said. "He's in the upper echelon of NBA players where if he just goes out and plays and does what he does, he will have a huge impact on the game."
The Sixers need that in Game 4.