NEW YORK — Ben Simmons put up 20 points, a career-high 22 rebounds, and nine assists in the 76ers' 108-105 win over the New York Knicks on Sunday afternoon in the kind of balanced performance that the Sixers need to see more often from the reigning rookie of the year.
“His overall performance was dominant,” coach Brett Brown said. “He did a really good job of running the team, and understanding the pace of the game and of when we needed to be a little more static or deliberate.”
With the sting of two bad losses still being felt and a tough schedule coming up, the Sixers needed to get a win and Simmons made a concerted effort to make right some of his more recent errors.
On Wednesday, after a blowout loss in Washington, Simmons said he needed to stop being so passive, that his lack of offensive aggression, at times, led to turnovers. Two days later, after a home loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which the Sixers were outrebounded by a large margin, Simmons called his team’s performance “soft.”
Nothing was soft about how Simmons attacked the glass on Sunday, and he was anything but passive on the offensive end.
“I think I read the defense a lot better and just played the game," he said. “You’re not going to have a perfect game; there are going to be lapses, but it’s about correcting them.”
One such lapse happened in the third quarter when the Sixers' defense wavered and they saw a 24-point first-half lead dwindle to just one point. Embiid, playing on a sore left ankle, struggled in the second half. That was when Simmons' deliberate approach was needed.
Instead of trying to force things to work or pushing too hard, Simmons took his time finding open teammates, making extra passes, creating space with cuts, and gaining position for crucial late-game rebounds.
The balance between being offensively aggressive and defensively great while also being thoughtful and patient is the sweet spot for Simmons, and it’s the kind of play that rubs off on his teammates and makes them want to play the same way.
“That’s the thing about Ben — I feel like everybody on our team could be more aggressive, but it’s bigger than that, it’s about getting the win and we understand that,” T.J. McConnell said. “If Ben was any more aggressive today, he would have had 40 and 40. He does a good job of finding the middle ground of attacking and getting the ball to Jo [Embiid], JJ [Redick], and Jimmy [Butler], and running our team. That’s what makes him special.”
Because Simmons clearly has the potential to be a transcendent player and because he is so athletic, Brown has noted that people tend to forget that he is just 22 and that this is only his second season of playing professional basketball.
There is fairness to that point. Simmons is still learning and growing. But, because the Sixers now have the expectation of winning and making a postseason run, Simmons' learning curve needs to be shortened. Finding the right balance and turning in performances like the one in New York on Sunday is good sign for Simmons and the Sixers moving forward.