DETROIT — The perception was that the pairing of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid was toxic.
Nothing about the two 76ers All-Stars appeared to fit. Not their games. Not their personalities. Nothing. They were perceived to be the NBA’s version of oil and water.
Yet, you would not know that by watching the two interact this season.
“Not that the previous years we haven’t been on the court very close, but this year has just been different,” Embiid said. “I can’t even explain it. He’s just been different. I love playing with him and I’m sure he loves playing with me, too. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just been fun having someone like that.”
It’s not uncommon to see the duo conversing on the court and during breaks. In the past, it appeared as if the two were in competition to be the team’s alpha dog. Now, it’s apparent that they’re looking to put each other in positions to succeed.
“We both see different things, so now for me and Jo, I think the relationship continues to grow,” Simmons said. “We talk a lot more now in terms of being on the floor and certain things we say. Knowing where he wants the ball, all the sets, and just flying, getting into the flow of the game, and just trying to read it the right way.”
But that goes both ways.
Friday night’s 122-110 victory over the Boston Celtics was a prime example.
Simmons heated up in the fourth quarter, and Doc Rivers said it was Embiid who asked to run more pick-and-rolls down the stretch for his teammate to stay hot.
Embiid finished the game 38 points and 15 rebounds. Simmons had 15 points and 11 assists. He scored 11 of his points on 5-for-7 shooting, had three assists, and one steal in the fourth quarter. He sparked the Sixers in a decisive 14-2 run to break the game open in the final 12 minutes.
“The other day, he texted me and said ‘I’m missing you so many times on your duck-ins,’” Simmons said. “Little things like that, it continues to help the team chemistry grow and guys are willing to make plays. Even if guys don’t make the right pass or miss something, guys want to make the right plays and things like that, so our relationship is continuing to grow.”
Simmons undaunted by criticism
In Simmons’ estimation, this has been a good season.
The Sixers “facilitator” was averaging career-low 12.4 points heading into Saturday’s road game against the Detroit Pistons. Yet, he’ll tell you he’s focused on winning, not statistics.
While he feels that way, the two-time All-Star’s play has drawn criticism on social media. Critic says he’s too passive on offense and hasn’t shown any growth in that area.
“I think it’s been good,” Simmons said Friday night after arguably his most aggressive fourth quarter of the season.
“I don’t go on Instagram,” he added. “I don’t go on Twitter. So I can’t really answer the question in terms to what people are saying, because I don’t give a [damn], honestly. But, unless [coach Doc Rivers] is saying something or [assistant coach Sam Cassell], or you know people coming to me, then it’s a different story.
“But I’m trying to win games. That’s why we are all here, to win.”