After four straight games of curious anonymity, Ben Simmons finally arrived—and just in time, as the Sixers desperately needed their Aussie weirdo to make like Joel Embiid’s ass and stop spewing diarrhea everywhere. Thanks to Simmons’s 21 points and bevy of rebounds and assists, Philadelphia lived to fight another day by knotting up their series against Toronto at three games apiece with a comfortable 112-101 win on Thursday.
Simmons had struggled mightily in this Eastern Conference semifinals series coming into Game 6; he had scored just 33 points in his previous four games, and attempted a paltry three free throws in that span. (And for a player with no jump shot whatsoever, not getting to the line is a death knell.) Part of the reason for this was that Kawhi Leonard was, well, being Kawhi Leonard: exhausting Simmons’s defensive energy while swallowing up Philadelphia’s main playmaker on the other end. The nadir of Simmons’s series to date was Game 5, a 125-89 Raptors ass beating that saw the 22-year-old attempt as many shots as he had turnovers (five).
From the start on Thursday, Simmons came out attacking. He assaulted the paint with relentless abandon, and when he got there he’d unleash his sizable arsenal of scoring weapons, weaving in angled shots, turn-arounds, and even a nifty little Eurostep:
Simmons also got himself easy buckets in transition, where his speed and size advantage over backpedaling Raptors defenders allowed him to scoop up easy points that haven’t been there throughout the series. Prior to Thursday, he had shot 54 percent from the field, but on only 42 shots (8.4 attempts per game). Philly needed more from Simmons, and more is what he delivered:
Just as importantly, all Simmons’s driving into the defense did not lead to any turnovers. Simmons had averaged 2.4 giveaways per game for the series before Thursday, but he was perfect in possession in Game 6. Instead, those aggressive drives opened up the perimeter for Simmons’s drive-and-kicks. He repeatedly found Tobias Harris and Mike Scott early in the game for wide open threes:
He also crashed the boards early and often, tipping in misses, including a put-back slam in the third quarter that put Philly’s lead back up to double digits after Toronto threatened to get back into the game:
Simmons ended the night with eight boards and six dimes to go with his 21 points, all while holding Leonard to just five points with Simmons as the primary defender (for contrast, Leonard scored 12 with James Ennis on him, and eight with Harris as his main defender). Given the win-or-go-home nature of Thursday’s game, this might be Simmons’s most impressive playoff performance to date, serving as a reminder that, while he’s still just 22 and in only his second post-season, he’s as much a key to the Sixers’ title hopes as Embiid.
If the Sixers are going to win Game 7 on Sunday, they’ll need Embiid’s body to cooperate for another outing, and they’ll need their various marquee players to step up like Harris (16 points) and Jimmy Butler (25 on 18 shots) did on Thursday. Maybe most of all, though, they will need Simmons to play like he did in game 6: bull-headed and efficient.