One point. One singular point. That will be the statistic that every Celtics analyst, fan and anyone on the Donovan Mitchell hype train will refuse to stop screaming from the top of their lungs, at least until game three of the series between the Sixers and Celtics. There’s no denying that Ben Simmons appeared to be a shadow of his usual self on Thursday night, but there’s no need to panic just yet.
It’s incredibly easy to forget that Simmons is 21 years old. It’s also easy to forget that he’s in his rookie season. The problem with greatness is that when consistency is attained, it becomes expected. Simmons has set some historic numbers in his first year as a professional basketball player. Whether it was becoming the first rookie to record a triple-double in the postseason since Magic Johnson, or simply surpassing what everybody had hoped he could provide in year one…
Before Holiday was @alleniverson in 1999.
— Sixers Stats (@SixersStats) May 1, 2018
Most triple doubles, first 68 career games
9 … Ben Simmons
5 … Alvan Adams
5 … Magic Johnson
3 … Michael Jordan
3 … Lamar Odom
3 … David Robinson
3 … Bill Walton
2 … Lonzo Ball, Michael Carter-Williams, Walt Frazier, Tim Hardaway, Jamaal Tinsley, Art Williams@bball_ref
— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) March 20, 2018
Ben Simmons became the first rookie player to lead his team in assists (either outright or tied) in each game of a playoff series since Dwyane Wade did so for the Heat in Miami's 2004 semifinals matchup with the Pacers. pic.twitter.com/xJuaRbFujU
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) April 25, 2018
Per @EliasSports, only two players in @NBA history have totaled at least 60 points, 25 rebounds and 25 assists through their first three career playoff games: @BenSimmons25 in 2018
Oscar Robertson in 1962
— Sixers Stats (@SixersStats) April 20, 2018
— Sixers Stats (@SixersStats) April 11, 2018
…Simmons became so dominant so quickly, that everyone took it for granted. The same can be said for LeBron James, Jordan Speith, Serena Williams, Lewis Hamilton or just about any athlete who constantly punches at the top of his game. But when they finally have an off-night, when the cards aren’t in their favor, everybody is quick to tear down the house that they built so effortlessly and forget about the sheer magic they’ve produced in the weeks and months prior.
Without Ben Simmons, the Sixers wouldn’t be in the second round of the playoffs. In fact, they likely wouldn’t be anywhere near the playoffs. Every player struggles and stumbles and in his first playoff berth, I don’t think anybody expected the level of astounding production to not take even a minor hit. Perhaps scoring a lone point was a little more shocking, but this is simply a growing experience.
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The Sixers are one of the youngest and most dangerous teams in the league. This playoff run, whether it ends here or against another team, will be the first of many. The key pieces in this team are so young that at some stage, the lights, the pressure and the hostile environment of an intense rivalry rekindled by the playoffs was going to take hold…but it’s needed. LeBron James didn’t enter the league as a Robot…(okay, well kind of) and Steph Curry didn’t become a cold-blooded clutch machine overnight. It took missed and wasted opportunities, it took mistakes, it took falls.
The lone area that everyone seems to critique with Simmons is his lack of a jump shot and last night, the Celtics did absolutely everything in their power to exploit that and almost dare him into relying on a trait he has barely touched on all season long. Simmons put his putrid night down to ‘overthinking’ and it’s not hard to see why.
Miami deployed a physical and dirty gameplan to bring out the worst in the team while Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens, a man revered as one of the smartest young minds in basketball, instead decided to focus on exploiting the Achilles heel in Simmons’ game. It’s something many teams have tried and failed to do, but the Celtics did just enough to force a very conservative Simmons who was lost inside his own thoughts. Still providing 7 assists, he wasn’t totally invisible, but Simmons was not the force we have came to expect inside the paint.
The question is, does it really matter? Does Donovan Mitchell suddenly win ‘rookie of the year’ because Simmons, who has outshined Mitchell in just about every area possible all year long, dropped one Egg? Do the Sixers need a complete revamp in their rotations? Does Simmons need some time away from the court to gather steam? No, no, no and no.
These things happen and Ben Simmons is still one of the most electrifying athletes Philadelphia has seen in the last decade. The man is 21-years old playing in a playoff series against a heated rival. A rival that arguably has had his number all season long…only now the lights are brighter.
In five years time, I highly, highly doubt we will look back on this moment as a defining one in the young career of a player many believe has the potential to be a future great. By that point, an MVP award could be what we think of, or a finals appearance, or dare I say….a ring. So take a minute, breathe, relax, settle down and watch the young buck go to work when the Sixers return home for game three.
Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports