Ben Simmons drew numerous comparisons to LeBron James upon his entering the NBA in the summer of 2016. But it took the Philadelphia 76ers rookie just one playoff game to match the King’s career high for assists in a postseason contest.
Playing without his most talented teammate, who still managed to make his presence felt, Simmons paced his 76ers right past the Miami Heat on Saturday, dishing out 14 assists as Philadelphia hung 130 points on the team with the NBA’s seventh-best defensive rating, according to Basketball Reference.
Outside of his impressive distribution numbers and a flirtation with a triple-double, the rookie’s stat line won’t blow box score aficionados away, as he scored 17 points on 5-of-13 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds, made two steals, and turned the ball over five times.
But the speed with which he pushed the ball up the floor activated his teammates and left his opponents searching desperately for answers.
“They unleashed a flurry of tough shots,” Heat big man Kelly Olynyk said after the 130-103 blowout. “They play really, really fast. Lots of stuff in transition. They’ve got those shooters coming off staggered screens full-speed, nonstop. When they have four shooters out there with Simmons, it’s tough to help.”
“For me, just being more aggressive,” Simmons said of how he’s been altered his game with All-Star center Joel Embiid sidelined due to injury. “Attacking the rim. Knocking down free throws, when I get the opportunity. Moving the ball. Playing the way I play. I don’t need to take all the shots. I have guys who can hit shots. As long as I’m getting them open and good shots, we’re fine.”
If the 76ers continue to make quick work of the Heat, their reward is a second-round matchup in which they’ll most certainly be favored, taking on the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics, who are without star Kyrie Irving, or the No. 7 seed Milwaukee Bucks, who’ve somehow managed to avoid putting together a formidable defense despite featuring more talent on that end of the floor than most playoff teams.
Between Simmons’ splendid playoff debut, Embiid’s saying he has a “pretty good chance” of returning in a game or two, and an advantageous path, we might as well punch Simmons and Co.’s ticket to an Eastern Conference Finals meeting with LeBron, who hasn’t missed an ECF since 2004-05, his second year in the NBA.