Some 76ers fans will have a tough time forgetting how last season concluded. However, that moment led Ben Simmons to become one of the league’s best defenders.
Kawhi Leonard’s corner jumper at the buzzer lifted the Toronto Raptors to a 92-90 victory over the 76ers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. Most people remember Leonard’s high-arching shot over Joel Embiid that hit the rim four times before dropping into the basket.
But the perennial All-Star forward was originally guarded by Simmons as he drove upcourt until Embiid left Pascal Siakam and cut off Simmons just before the shot.
Leonard averaged 34.7 points during the series. But Simmons had the most success of any of the Sixers in defending Leonard, who went on to lead the Raptors to their first NBA title.
“I think he kind of set the tone for me, defensively,” said Simmons, who leads the NBA with 2.19 steals per game. “That’s the last time I [played against him]. I just tried to carry that energy and consistency to now.”
Simmons and the Sixers (33-21) will face Leonard for the first time since that May 12 game when they host the Los Angeles Clippers (37-16) Tuesday night. Looking to return to his home state, the Finals MVP signed with the Clippers in July.
Going into the summer, Simmons felt like the Sixers didn’t complete the mission.
“We played hard,” he said. “We fought. We took them to Game 7 in Toronto, which is tough especially for a young team. It was a great learning experience, just trying to get better.”
This time, Leonard comes to Philly with a squad that has won four of its last five games. The Clippers are coming off Sunday’s 133-92 road victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We got to get a win,” Simmons said of the Sixers’ final game before the All-Star break. "I think it’s going to give us a lot of confidence coming back to get the mental break, kind of like a restart button, a refresh button.
“So it’s going to be a tough challenge, but we love competing against the best. So we are looking forward to it.”
Newly acquired wings Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III will both play in Tuesday’s game. The Sixers traded three second-round picks to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for the duo on Wednesday.
Robinson had 10 points in 12 minutes off the bench in Sunday’s 118-111 victory over the Chicago Bulls. Burks, who arrived in Philly early Sunday, sat out that game.