It’s Game 7, prime time, Sunday night, winner goes to the Eastern Conference finals. The best players get to play games like this. The best players should get the biggest minutes.
Start Tyrese Maxey.
Use his energy from the opening tip. Use his offensive ability to get ahead. Use his verve to energize a team that looks sapped of strength and confidence. That’s the kind of asset this kid is. Employ it. Not off the bench; off the jump.
The Sixers are playing tighter than a June bug’s bottom. That’s how they blew leads of 18 points and 26 points in Games 4 and 5, respectively. You can’t play tight in a knockout game.
Maxey? He scored 16 points Friday night and led the Sixers’ comeback in the first elimination game of his career. Maxey’s as loose as a goose.
It’s simple. Start Maxey instead of Ben Simmons.
Or, if you can’t stomach putting $30.5 million of gun-shy diva on the bench, then start Maxey alongside Simmons. Just move Simmons from point guard to power forward -- which, if we’re honest, is what Simmons really always has been in his four NBA seasons.
Bench ice-cold gunner Furkan Korkmaz, who has missed 11 of 15 three-pointers since he replaced injured veteran Danny Green in the starting lineup three games ago. Furk can come off the bench and torch the other team’s subs. But, at any cost:
Free Tyrese Maxey.
Doc won’t do it.
“I’m not even going to answer that question,” scoffed Sixers coach Doc Rivers, said when asked if he’d even considered starting the man who saved his season. ”You want me to bench Ben Simmons?”
Not necessarily. Why not bench Korkmaz?
“That’s not what we do. We stay solid. We stay disciplined. And we run our stuff.”
That sounds good in theory, but if the top-seeded Sixers were able to practice what Doc preaches then they wouldn’t be in a Game 7 against a defense-deficient No. 5 seed that fired its coach during the season.
Rivers is a Hall of Fame-caliber coach who won a title with a loaded Celtics squad in 2008, but he’s not perfect. Since winning that sole title he’s compiled a catalogue of playoff collapses. His teams have lost seven series in which they led after at least two games, including the Clippers’ three-games-to-one disaster last season, to the Nuggets, after which Rivers was fired.
Rivers is steadfast in his convictions, and there’s something to be said for that. But not here. Not now. If he wants to win Sunday, then he should start his rookie. Maxey is talented, he’s fearless, and the Hawks have no answer for him. He’s earned the chance to play.
Simmons? Lately, he’s earned nothing.
He looks terrified whenever the Sixers have the ball. He treats it like it’s radioactive, even when the Hawks aren’t trying to send him to the free throw line, where, impossibly, he’s shooting 33.8% in 11 playoff games this year. You can’t win when your primary ballhandler handles the ball like it’s primarily made of plutonium.
Simmons still has value. He hinders Hawks guard Trae Young; at least he does when he puts his mind to it. He rebounds. He runs the fast break.
So, play him as a ball-handling pass-first defensive-stopper power forward. That’s all he’s ever really been anyway. Maxey? He’s a scoring point guard. You know. Like every other team has.
This could work not only in Game 7, but in the 82 games next season. The Ben Simmons Point Guard experiment never made sense. He won’t shoot, can’t shoot, turns the ball over, and can’t stop the best scoring guards. No shame in that. There are worse fates than accepting the title of Elite Role Player. Dennis Rodman is in the Hall of Fame. Draymond Green is on his way. Simmons could be better than either.
Simmons can be your point guard, kind of, when the real point guard is resting. When Maxey gets tired, Simmons can punish the other team’s scrubs.
He’s 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds. Not everyone has to be a stretch-4 -- a power forward that shoots three-pointers. The Sixers have a stretch-5; Joel Embiid, for better or worse, adores shooting from beyond 23 feet, 9 inches. That should be good enough.
Why still start Simmons? The coach is right. Simmons has value. Further, the Hack-a-Ben strategy only makes sense late in games, since doing it in the first three quarters puts frontline players in peril of foul trouble.
Rivers compared Shake Milton’s 14-point explosion in Game 2 to Maxey’s Game 6, and asked why he shouldn’t have started Milton in Game 3.
Well, Danny Green wasn’t injured after Milton’s Game 2 performance; he was injured in Game 3. Further, Simmons hadn’t become a liability. He scored a total of 14 points in Games 5 and 6. He refused to shoot in the fourth quarters of Games 4 and 5, when the Sixers blew the huge leads. He is 7-for-24 from the line -- 29.2% -- in Games 4 through 6. That’s why.
Besides, Shake Milton ain’t Maxey.
“I don’t overreact to every single game,” Rivers insisted.
Maxey played in 61 games this season and started eight. Korkmaz played in 55 games and started 11. Starting Maxey wouldn’t be an “overreaction.” It would be an adjustment.
It’s an adjustment Rivers refused to consider.
At his peril.