Ben Simmons didn’t hide, and he insisted his confidence hasn’t wavered one bit. He also said he benefited from a pep talk provided by former 76ers icon Allen Iverson.
It was all part of a rough off-day as the 76ers look to get back into the series, trailing the Boston Celtics, 2-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinal that resumes with Game 3 Saturday (5 p.m.) at the Wells Fargo Center.
In Thursday’s 108-103 loss at Boston, Simmons had just one point, seven assists and five turnovers. In 30 minutes and 50 seconds, he was a minus 23 on the court. He missed all four field goal attempts.
After Friday’s practice, the first question was whether his confidence has taken a hit in light of two subpar games against the Celtics.
“It is very high,” he said about his confidence. “I am a very confident person every time I step on the floor, so that is not going to change.”
His coach agrees.
“Overall, the sort of notion that he is shaken, it is not even close,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said after practice on Friday.
Still, Simmons must change his approach. In two games against Boston, Simmons is averaging 9.5 points with 13 assists and 12 turnovers.
“They are loading the paint,” he said. “Somebody has to be open so we have to move the ball quicker.”
What has made Simmons’ slide in these two games more surprising is how much he dominated in his first-ever playoff series. When the Sixers eliminated the Miami Heat in five games. Simmons averaged nearly a triple-double, 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists.
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) May 4, 2018
He is certainly looking to put Thursday’s performance behind him.
“It is the worst I played all year,” he said. “That is about it. I’ve got to look ahead and look forward and get ready for (Saturday).”
Before practice, he spoke with Iverson, who Simmons said offered some good advice.
“I heard he wanted to talk to me so I got on the phone with him and he gave me words of encouragement,” Simmons said.
And those words were?
“He said play the game I know how to play,” Simmons said. “That is just second nature to me.”
Simmons also has the full backing of Brown. On Thursday, Simmons’ backup T.J. McConnell played much better, with eight points (4 for 4 from the field) five assists, two steals and no turnovers in 17:12.
“I am not going to sit Ben Simmons,” Brown said. “Ben Simmons has played 89 games, he is the Rookie of the Year. The other night was an outlier.”
Brown said he also liked the way that Simmons faced the adversity when questioned after the game.
“I was really curious because it was his poorest game of his NBA career, it is on a pretty big stage,” Brown said. “People and certainly young people either make excuses or own it and he owned it and life moves on.”
The Celtics are sagging their defense back, not allowing Simmons to drive and daring him to shoot. It’s a tactic most Sixers opponent use, but Boston has done it well, with Al Horford and Marcus Morris doing most of the defending against Simmons.
After the game Simmons said he was overthinking. He expanded on the subject Friday.
“Just thinking too much about everything, every player on the floor,” he said. “I think I am looking at it with too much detail, and not just playing.”
Both Simmons and his coach look forward to see him simply react instead of thinking too much and playing the care-free style that earned him so much success prior to the Celtics series.