Ben Simmons was flipped onto his upper back, slapped on the back of his head, pushed, prodded, and pulled in the 76ers’ 104-91 Game 5 victory over the Miami Heat.
But Simmons knew this game was going to be a dogfight and was locked in long before the game started.
In the locker room, an hour before tipoff, Simmons was peppered with questions about rapper Meek Mill’s release from prison and the possibility of Mill attending the game. Simmons, a longtime supporter of Mill, entertained the first couple of questions, but that was all the time he had for anything not game-related.
“Let’s talk ball,” Simmons said, brushing off the Mill questions that kept coming.
He knew, just as everyone did, that Game 5 of the best-of-seven series was going to be the toughest test for the Sixers, and he didn’t want to, as teammate Justin Anderson put it, “get drunk on all the excitement.”
Simmons was ready for battle and it showed as he posted 14 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and one block.
Less than two minutes had passed in the game when Miami’s Josh Richardson went underneath Simmons as he rose up on a drive to the basket. Richardson clipped Simmons’ feet and sent the point guard to the floor, where he landed on his upper back. But Simmons bounced up, seemingly unfazed.
“That is the playoffs, it’s a snapshot of what will always be the playoffs and it’s only going to get harder,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the physical nature of the game.
Ben Simmons takes a scary fall and pops up right away. pic.twitter.com/4LTnutpqi7
— RealGM (@RealGM) April 25, 2018
The Heat were clear in their intentions to rattle Simmons and limit the rookie’s production, but try as they might, they couldn’t stop the leading rookie-of-the-year candidate from getting where he wanted. He went 4 of 5 from the free-throw line in the first half while notching 10 points.
With 9:32 left in the third quarter, Simmons stole the ball and was heading down the floor on a fastbreak when he was fouled by Goran Dragic. Without skipping a beat, Dragic then reached up and slapped the back of Simmons’ head, earning a technical foul.
Feel like that's not really allowed.
Dragic with a slap to Simmons' head as tensions heat up at Wells Fargo Center. He is issued a technical. pic.twitter.com/JWdeJSZFhx
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 25, 2018
But, as always, no matter how many times he was fouled, Simmons kept his cool and remained unrattled, and his calm demeanor permeated through the rest of the team. It wasn’t just Simmons who was bumped, bruised, and pushed over, and the fouls just continued to mount for the Miami squad on the brink of elimination.
“There were at least four incidents that you could have done something that you regretted,” Brown said. “There could have been ejections, there could have been things that would have had repercussions. … Trying to hold our composure, it’s hard in general, let alone for young guys.”
Tyler Johnson, one of many who fouled Simmons, fouled out of the game after grabbing the arm of Marco Belinelli. James Johnson, who also had a technical foul issued to him during the game, was called for his fifth foul with just over four minutes left to play, and the other three Heat starters had three fouls apiece.
Miami finished the night with 32 fouls to the Sixers’ 20, and were bounced out of the playoffs while Simmons and the Sixers will play the winner of the Boston Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks series in the Eastern Conference semifinals.