Ben Simmons showed no sign of heavy legs in his first game since fighting off a viral infection. The Philadelphia 76ers star credited a few Peloton sessions for keeping up his cardio after posting a +20 in Monday’s 121-90 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I feel better,” Simmons said. “I was trying to get on that Peloton as much as I could to make sure my cardio was fine, but I didn’t have any issues with my cardio which was my biggest worry.”
Simmons’ final stat line — 12 points, two blocks, three steals, three rebounds, four assists — might not garner him any MVP votes but those who watched know how much he means to the Sixers. There’s just a natural flow to his game, a cerebral player who creates open looks for his teammates every trip down the court. It happened on the Sixers’ first bucket when he found Furkan Korkmaz for a 19-footer.
“People talk about his offense, offense, offense and they don’t realize the offense he actually creates for us,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “We lose a lot of pace when he’s not on the floor, that’s for sure. I thought he was really good. I thought defensively he was even better tonight. You could see he had his legs, had great energy, that was good.”
What makes Ben Simmons so damn good. In his own words: “My creativity, probably something you can’t teach, and then just my size and height advantage on some players. I see a lot of things that most guys can’t see on the floor.” #Sixers #HereTheyCome
— Michael Greger (@mike_greger) April 27, 2021
The victory snapped a four-game losing streak for Philly as they remain one game behind the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers also saw the return of All-Star center Joel Embiid who sat out Saturday’s defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks with right shoulder soreness. He scored a quiet 21 points in 23 minutes versus the Thunder while grabbing his injured shoulder at times. The Sixers are now 28-6 when Embiid and Simmons are on the court together this season.
“We do want that No. 1 seed so it’s going to be on us to take care of business down the stretch,” Simmons said. “We got a lot of games that are all going to be important, at this stage. We’re looking forward to that challenge and then obviously getting into the playoffs.”
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Simmons Sends Message to Critics
Simmons put up eight shots on Monday and went 6-of-8 from the field, including one ridiculous breakaway dunk off an acrobatic steal from Matisse Thybulle. His critics will continue to harp on that non-existent three-point shot — Simmons hasn’t attempted one since April 14 — but maybe they just need to watch basketball more closely.
— Barstool Philly (@BarstoolPhilly) April 27, 2021
“Not really,” Simmons said when asked if the criticism bothers him. “I think at times it probably did because I was probably too focused on what other people were thinking but I know what my value is to this team. I know I’m a huge part of this team. And if you know basketball, you see it, and it is what it is. Everyone plays their role and I’m playing my role right now. I’m trying to win.”
Rivers called Simmons and Thybulle the best wing defenders he’s ever coached while paying homage to Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen during his time with the Boston Celtics. Simmons and Thybulle combined for six steals and three blocks against Oklahoma City, but they caused fits on every single possession.
One prime example saw Thybulle flying toward Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski, forcing him to pass the ball at the last second for fear of his shot being blocked. Another example had Simmons racing down the baseline and leaping in the air to block Thunder guard Charlie Brown Jr.
— NBA (@NBA) April 27, 2021
“Tisse and I know that we’re very gifted on the defensive side and we have a similar mindset going in,” Simmons said. “We’re able to play off each other … and you saw it when he had that steal and I had that break dunk. He’s got a high IQ on the floor, so it’s tough for teams to score when there are two guys like that on the floor.”
Dwight Howard Jokes About Technical Fouls
Prior to Sixers-Thunder tip-off, Rivers joked that if there one thing he hadn’t expected from Dwight Howard it was probably all those technical fouls. The 35-year-old big man leads the NBA with 15 technicals this season, something the eight-time All-Star knows he has to clean up for the postseason.
“I feel like I have to be smarter, especially in the playoffs,” Howard said. “Sometimes they [the refs] catch the tail end of a play, of me moving somebody out the way or me saying things, so I got to make sure I keep my eyes on the prize, my mouth shut unless I’m talking to my teammates and we should win the game.”
Because Dwight Howard has received so many techs this season — and he believes he has been targeted — he feels that he has to be smarter, especially in the playoffs.
He also has a message for the refs: “I love you. I apologize for whatever it was. Let’s hug. Let’s meditate.” pic.twitter.com/HvKwoyrH1i
— Dave Uram (@MrUram) April 27, 2021
Howard was serious even if there was a smile on his face. His top priority remains to win a championship in Philly and the Sixers can’t do it without him. The 6-foot-10 backup center has embraced his role on this team as he’s determined to bring energy off the bench while mentoring the younger guys. He’s averaging 6.7 points and 8.4 rebounds in 17.4 minutes per game.
“For me, it’s just humbling myself and understanding that this is the role that I need to do for this team to win,” Howard said. “And I can do that well, just be a star in that role. And if I do that, we can win. It’s very difficult but I want to win. I want to show these young guys through example that you can be at the top and still have to play a role. And I’m here to do whatever it takes and hopefully, at the end of the year, we’ll all be holding up that trophy.”