PORTLAND — Ben Simmons stuck around Saturday morning at the Moda Center following the 76ers’ shootaround.
He worked on his shooting under the supervision of renowned trainer Chris Johnson while teammates were transported by bus to the team hotel. The All-Star point guard and the Sixers benefited from the extra work he’s been putting in.
Simmons finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and had three turnovers in Saturday night’s 129-128 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. He assisted on Furkan Korkmaz’s game-winning three-pointer with .4 second remaining.
But his biggest contribution came moments earlier.
Simmons stepped to the foul line after being fouled by Kent Bazemore with 10.1 seconds left, and his team down by one point. In seasons past, Simmons, a 58.1 percent career foul shooter, might have faltered. But he converted both foul shots to give put the Sixers ahead, 125-124, their first lead of the game. They had trailed by as many as 21 points late in the third quarter.
“I just have to make free throws,” Simmons said of what was going through his mind. "Growing up, I’ve always had pressure in terms of being on the floor. I’ve always had my name called. So it’s not new to me.
“I love that feeling. I love being able to step into the light and know that I have to make shots and make plays.”
Simmons was 4-for-5 from the foul line against Portland. That’s solid for someone that had made just 8 of 18 (44.4 percent) in this season’s first four games.
“I’m just so proud of him,” coach Brett Brown said. “He had an OK game. It wouldn’t had been one of the best games by his standards. But for him to walk up … in that environment and make two free throws, he deserves that.”
The coach pointed out the work that Simmons put in over the summer with Johnson and Los Angeles. He also spokes of the confidence the 22-year-old now feels in those pressure-packed situations.
It is "a byproduct of the effort that he put in,” Brown said.
The Sixers had an optional practice here Sunday before traveling to Phoenix for Monday night’s game against the Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns are off to a surprising 4-2 start under coach Monty Williams, the Sixers’ lead assistant coach last season.
Former Sixer Dario Saric is averaging 9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists as the Suns’ starting power forward.