Without all-star center Joel Embiid in the lineup, 76ers rookie point guard Ben Simmons knew more would have to fall on his shoulders.
Simmons, the pass-first point guard, made a concentrated effort to step up his offensive game, driving to the basket and finishing plays instead of always dishing to teammates. It resulted in a methodical triple-double of 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in Wednesday's 104-102 comeback win over the visiting Miami Heat. It was his sixth triple-double.
"I was only reminded of the triple-double three steps before I opened the door to come out here," Sixers coach Brett Brown said at his postgame press conference. "He sort of quietly in my eyes, quietly assumes statistics."
As the triple-double suggests, the 6-foot-10 rookie filled the stat sheet. He shot 8 for 15 from the field, and his four offensive rebounds were one more than the entire Heat team had.
"You feel his presence, but not to the level when I look at the stat sheet — I say, 'Really?' " Brown said. "He had 18, 10 and 12, and those are massive numbers in a close game."
Embiid, averaging 23.7 points, missed the game because of a sore right ankle, and Simmons took it upon himself to pick up some of that offensive slack.
"Knowing he was out, I had to be more aggressive and try to get my teammates involved as I try to do all games," Simmons said. "I think everybody played well. We played well as a team tonight."
More impressive than the numbers was how Simmons didn't lose his cool when the Sixers fell 24 points behind early in the third quarter. He never seems to change expression, always stays on an even keel on the court.
"He has tremendous poise," Brown said.
Brown says people have taken for granted that Simmons has transformed himself seamlessly from a college power forward to an NBA point guard.
"You take a college four-man and make him an NBA point guard and say, 'Good luck. Figure it out,' " Brown said.
Simmons has certainly done that. He is averaging 15.4 points, 7.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds as the Sixers enter the all-star break having won five straight games, as well as their last 11 at the Wells Fargo Center.
Simmons also had four steals and is averaging 1.8 per game, which was seventh in the NBA entering Wednesday.
"Loose balls, deflections, he has the ability to come up with stuff you think is not going to happen, and all of a sudden, he arrives with the ball," Brown said.
The Sixers (30-25) moved to the seventh spot in the NBA Eastern Conference, a game and a half ahead of the Heat.
"We have come a long way since the start of the season, learning how to close out games," Simmons said.
Now the Sixers have a week off because of the all-star break. They will resume play next Thursday at Chicago.
Simmons will play in the Rising Stars Challenge over the all-star break in Los Angeles, but says he hopes to get some rest.
"We have 27 games left and it is exciting. The season is going quickly," Simmons said.
As much as he is looking forward to a little breather, Simmons understands that he and the Sixers can't take their foot off the gas.