I wholly realize this may be insanely reactionary due to witnessing the worst game Ben Simmons played in his NBA career last night, but game three is suddenly looming as a massive moment for the talented 76ers point guard.
Forget about this being an absolute do-or-die game in the series. It feels huge for Simmons’ career.
If he plays poorly, if he turtles again and can’t find a way to make a positive impact in game three, if he starts to hear the boos creep in from the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center… how will it affect him?
Fellow rookies Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum are having hell of a lot better 2nd round postseason performances so far, while Simmons is shrinking on the national stage. You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think he’s noticed the points Mitchell is putting up against the Rockets, or the clutch shots Tatum has been drilling this round.
And how did he react last night? One point. One goddamn point, five turnovers, and a whopping -23 on the night. Plus-minus can be misleading, but he had far and away the worst plus-minus on the team and it really didn’t seem to matter who was playing with him at any given point. It was a flood of shit and nobody could stop the leak when Simmons was on the floor.
To be blunt, he was worthless, nothing more than a slightly above average defensive player.
For the first time in his life Simmons played like a true rookie. He looked lost, he looked overwhelmed, and at times he looked like he had absolutely no idea what to do when the ball was in his hands (unless it was to pick up his dribble or try to bull-rush his way to the basket for the 10,000th time this series).
Did the crowd get to him? Did the stingy Celtics defense beat him down? I’m not sure. Either way, he had no business being out on the court during the last four minutes of the game when T.J. fucking McConnell was completely outplaying him.
You know Simmons has hit rock bottom when this fanbase is clamoring for T.J. McConnell to take his crunch time minutes and they were right to do so.
A perfect encapsulation of his performance and strategy this series is summed up by this gag from The Simpsons starting at 1:29 –
Simmons: “Hmmm maybe if I try to drive to the basket in transition AGAIN despite the fact that all five defenders are already back on defense….”
<stifled at the free throw line for the hundredth time>
“That didn’t work….BUT MAYBE….”
<Drives again into the teeth of the Celtics defense again, forgoing a wide-open, 12 foot shot to force a contested running jump hook that has no shot of going in>
Take a goddamn jump shot, Simmons. Be smart, recognize that the Celtics are collapsing into the lane EVERY POSSESSION and just step up and fire off a jumper from the free throw line. Make a few and suddenly the defense has to be a hell of a lot more honest when you’re on the court. YOU MADE A TWISTING, SIDEWAYS FALL-AWAY JUMPER AGAINST THE HEAT IN ONE OF THE BIGGEST MOMENTS OF THE SERIES. YOU KNOW YOU CAN DO IT.
We know he can play better. He knows he can play better. But suddenly game three almost feels like a crossroad. Does he go left, play with confidence and intelligence and find positive ways to impact the game when the Celtics make adjustments to his original strategy, or does he go right and just keep doing the same horse shit he’s been doing for the past two games?
Hell, he can’t be any worse than he was last night, right?