Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Simmons must carry Sixers past Nets

Eliot Shorr-Parks
April 14, 2019 - 9:53 am

The Sixers are in trouble. 

They are not in trouble because of the 1-0 hole they face in their playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. That is without question a hole they can dig themselves out of. 

They are in trouble because they are only going to get out of that hole if Ben Simmons carries them out of it — and with each playoff performance by the former No. 1 pick, that chances of that happening look less-and-less likely. 

Make no mistake about, as this playoff series continues, it will be up to Simmons to make sure the Sixers do not suffer an embarrassing playoff upset at the hand of the Nets. Joel Embiid is not healthy and looked like a shell of the MVP-caliber player he was earlier this season. The knee injury he is dealing with is clearly an issue, so much so that he didn’t even know if he was playing until 15 minutes before the game. It is possible that Embiid turns things around, but considering he has missed 14 of the team’s final 24 games and is still injured, chances are he won’t suddenly feel better. It very well might take him another game-or-two to even get back into basketball shape. 

With Embiid ailing, it is now up to Simmons to prove he is the elite player he believes he is, that he deserves to be mentioned in the same class as Embiid and that he is indeed a player the Sixers can continue to build around. 

He did not look up to the task on Saturday. 

Simmons finished with just nine points on 4-9 shooting against the Nets, in addition to going 1-5 from the free throw line. He had as many assists (three) and he did turnovers. His plus/minus was an embarrassing -21, second worst on the team. He was just 1-of-5 in the first half for only two points, not getting to the line a single time. 

Making things worse for Simmons is that he was throughly outplayed by Nets starting point guard D’Angel Russell. Russell started out cold like Simmons, but heated up in the second half to put away the Sixers, finishing with 26 points. Russell is a talented player, but not considered the same caliber of player as Simmons, and shouldn’t be outplaying Simmons on his home floor to open the playoffs. 

What makes Simmons’ disastrous game on Saturday so concerning is that it looked like a repeat performance of what he did the last time we saw him in the playoffs, last season against Boston. In the Sixers’ 4-1 series loss to the Celtics, Simmons posted a combined -44 in the first two games, including a one-point performance in Game 2. He was -11 in the critical Game 3 loss and -14 in the series-ending Game 5 loss. He shot just 12 free throws in the final four games combined, and totaled 32 assists to just 24 turnovers in the series. 

The Sixers will need to do a lot of things better as a team to get back into this series. J.J. Redick and Tobias Harris both need to play better. Going 3-of-25 from three didn’t help and will likely change in Game 2. Coaching matters in the playoffs and there is pressure on Brett Brown as well. 

To advance past the Nets, however, Simmons is going to need to be the best player in this series from here on out. He has to outplay Russell and he needs to carry his team. That is not too much to ask of Simmons. It should be expected. He has the talent to do it. 

Now he has to go out and do it — or the Sixers are in major trouble.  

You can follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!