Ben Simmons' Triple-Double Leads 76ers to Blowout Game 2 Win vs. Nets

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers goes to the basket against the Brooklyn Nets in Game Two of Round One during the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 15, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia 76ers evened their first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets with a 145-123 victory in Game 2 on Monday at Wells Fargo Center.

Philadelphia was seen as the favorite and a potential NBA Finals candidate coming into the series as the No. 3 seed with plenty of star power but had its back against the wall after losing its first home game to the sixth-seeded Nets and needed a response to avoid a significant hole.

Ben Simmons (18 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds) led that response with a triple-double, while Joel Embiid (23 points and 10 rebounds) was one of six Sixers who finished in double figures. Spencer Dinwiddie (19 points) and D'Angelo Russell (16 points) spearheaded the Nets' efforts but didn't have enough firepower to overcome Philadelphia's offensive explosion and 51-point third quarter.

                      

Ben Simmons' Performance with Bull's-Eye on Back Shows 76ers Will Still Win Series

Much of the panic in the 76ers' world after they lost Game 1 and home-court advantage revolved around Embiid's health.

It made sense seeing how the big man is their most talented player and best chance at reaching the NBA Finals, but Simmons' showing was nearly as concerning. He scored a mere nine points with three assists and was 4-of-9 from the field and 1-of-5 from the free-throw line. He hesitated to attack the basket and drew the ire of the home fans:

The point guard put himself under the spotlight with those comments. Another poor performance would have set the stage for additional boos and warranted criticism for focusing on things outside the game.

Instead, Simmons delivered with a vintage performance, scoring when the opportunity presented itself, facilitating during the run that ended the game and overwhelming the Nets with his size.

Brooklyn's strategy to give him so much space because of his inability to shoot backfired, as he built a running start multiple times when attacking the rim and either finished himself or forced Jarrett Allen to shift his direction to open Embiid or Boban Marjanovic (16 points) on the weak side.

Allen is the only Nets player with even the slightest chance of guarding Philadelphia's bigs in the paint, meaning Simmons' ability to force him out of position often led to easy baskets and open looks for teammates. It was no accident Marjanovic looked like a dominant performer for extended stretches with the point guard setting the table.

Simmons' role in this series is all the more important with Embiid laboring at times with knee concerns, and the LSU product made a point of putting the All-Star big man in position to succeed out of the gates in the second half.

While Embiid looked slow on the defensive end, missed multiple easy shots at the rim and was issued a flagrant-1 foul when he drilled Allen with an elbow in the first half, he started the second half with a mid-range jumper, and-1 and a dunk, with Simmons assisting on the latter two.

Philadelphia is going to need to outscore the Nets in this series with Embiid less than 100 percent, seeing how the Sixers' defensive rating when he is on the floor this season was 103.3 compared to 109.1 when he was off it, per NBA.com.

The best way to outscore the opposition is with a point guard in full control of the tempo and overall game, and that is exactly what the 76ers had Monday and figure to have the rest of the way.

The Nets have home-court advantage after their initial win, but Philadelphia has far more talent even with Embiid somewhat limited. Even the limited version put up impressive numbers with Simmons facilitating, and Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are about as good as it gets as third and fourth options.

Simmons put the pressure squarely on his back with his comments about the home fans and delivered while playing under the microscope. If he can do that, he can surely lead the talented Sixers to at least one road win in Brooklyn.

           

76ers Expose Nets' Deficiencies on Defense

The Nets scored 123 points in Game 2, which was 12 more than in their Game 1 win. They also drilled 15 three-pointers and seemed in ideal position early with Russell hitting from the outside and smoothly cutting through Philadelphia's defense on pick-and-rolls.

Frankly, a team should not be pulling its starters well before the game is over because of a blowout loss when it scores that many points.

Brooklyn was lost on the defensive side throughout Monday's game, never more so than in the third quarter. Philadelphia blitzed the visitors to the tune of a record-setting 51 points, using post-ups, three-pointers, Simmons drives and a balanced attack to expose a mediocre defensive team at best.

The Nets were a middling 15th in the league in defensive rating during the regular season, per NBA.com, which is not disastrous but also not good enough to win a series over a team as talented as the 76ers if they don't find another level in the postseason.

That level was nowhere to be found in a performance that foreshadows what's to come given Philadelphia's size across the board. Brooklyn doesn't have a guard who is physical enough to keep Simmons out of the paint, and Allen is the only frontcourt player capable of at least slowing Embiid.

The second team couldn't even stop Marjanovic, as he grabbed three offensive rebounds, created putbacks and even extended his game to the top of the key with so much space.

Brooklyn relied on its three-point shooting in the first two games, but it is a stretch to suggest that will last throughout an entire series. It hit 35.3 percent of its triples in the regular season, which was a mediocre 14th in the league.

This is not the Golden State Warriors from beyond the arc we are talking about, which means the Nets' only chance to pull a first-round upset is by tightening up on the defensive end. If Monday's showing was any indication, that is too much to ask in this matchup.

            

What's Next?

The series shifts to Brooklyn for Thursday's Game 3 and Saturday's Game 4.

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