It looked like it was ‘all over red rover’ for the Philadelphia 76s in game 6 against the Toronto Raptors – Toronto was up 3 games to 2. Ben Simmonds, the Aussie reigning rookie of the year was in the doghouse – then this!
Philadelphia 76s 112, Toronto Raptors 101.
Now the playoff is squared at 3/3.
All five 76ers starters scored in double figures, including Jimmy Butler (25 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two steals), Ben Simmons (21 points, eight rebounds and six assists), Joel Embiid (17 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and a plus-minus of plus-40) and Tobias Harris (16 points, nine rebounds and five assists).
Ben Simmons answers the call as desperate Sixers defeat Raptors to force Game 7
A Ben Simmons who plays downhill is one who makes the Philadelphia 76ers a contender.
Entering Game 6, there were questions, and rightfully so. How can the reigning Rookie of the Year make an impact against a team that was so expertly scheming him out of the game?
His answer began with an authoritative start, controlling the pace of the game, en route to 21 points, eight rebounds, and six assists; the Australian leading his 76ers to a 112-101 win against the Toronto Raptors.
“I think it was making a point of actually doing it, and not talking about it,” Simmons said of his aggressive start. “Obviously I’m pretty quick, so I’m able to push the ball, just being aggressive downhill and playing my game.
It’s moreso, for me, just going out there and doing everything I can to win. The end result’s gonna be the end’s result. Everyone had that same mentality. I think it was just going out there and playing hard, and not regretting anything.”
With the win, the 76ers kept their postseason alive by tying the Eastern Conference semi-finals series at 3-3, forcing a decisive Game 7 is set for a tip-off on Monday (AEST) in Toronto.
Entering Friday’s game, Simmons had yet to make his mark in the second round of these NBA Playoffs. The 22-year-old was averaging just 9.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 4.6 assists a game, while being tasked with defending Kawhi Leonard, who’s convincingly making his case as a top-3 player in the world.
Instead of folding, Simmons answered the call. He was aggressive from the tip, playing like the point guard of a team with their backs on the wall. By the end of the first quarter, he had eight points and five assists, having asserted himself in a way we hadn’t seen all series.
“He was our bell ringer tonight,” 76ers head coach, Brett Brown, said of Simmons.
“His no-turnovers, his attack mode, his four offensive rebounds. His push in pace on miss shots especially. All those things were what made him be an NBA All-Star at 22 years old. I thought he was excellent tonight, and we needed it all.”
By the half, the 76ers were up 58-43, and that lead extended even more by the end of the third.
Of course, it wasn’t just Simmons. Jimmy Butler played a significant role in the first half, ultimately finishing with 25 points and eight assists, while Joel Embiid’s relatively poor shooting night — 5-of-14 from the field — was irrelevant because of his dominant defensive performance; the centre finishing with an impressive +40.
Once again, it was Leonard who led the way for the Raptors — posting 29 points and 12 rebounds in his team’s loss — but the 76ers’ stifling defence made it difficult for his teammates to get going.
After the game Raptors head coach Nick Nurse praised Simmons for breaking out of his recent slump, and making an impact on both ends of the floor.
“I think our poor shooting got him out in the open a lot. I think he was certainly aggressive,” Nurse said.
“Give him credit. I thought he made a lot more straight line, non-hesitant moves tonight. When he decided to go, he decided to go and he wasn’t thinking about passing. He was taking to the rim and we weren’t providing enough helps down there. And he hurt us on the glass early. We had a couple of good defensive possessions and then his big arms and hands came up and tipped them in.”
Simmons credited his teammates for his ability to play downhill: “Spacing,” he said. “Guys being in their spots, where they need to be, also allowed me to do that. Just me having that mindset of getting downhill, making plays.”
The series has gone back and forth, to the point where it’s tough to point to who’ll end up booking a spot in the conference finals. Both teams have shown the ability to dominate the other; it seems to just come down to what iteration of each roster shows up on any given night.
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