The Nets and Sixers first round series has shifted to Brooklyn for Game 3 on Thursday, tied up at 1-1. The story of the first two games was the play of Philadelphia’s All-Star point guard Ben Simmons, who struggled mightily in a Game 1 loss and exploded for a triple-double in a Game 2 win.
Simmons was far more assertive in Game 2, getting downhill and attacking the basket with much more conviction than was seen in Game 1 — assisted by the Sixers getting out in transition more where he’s at his best. The Nets know the Sixers and Simmons are at their best in transition and that was a major factor in their Game 2 turnaround, where 20 percent of Philly’s points came off Nets turnovers, after just 8.8 percent in Game 1.
It’s no surprise that Simmons had a bounce back performance in the game that Philly was able to get out and run, and Brooklyn will be looking to tighten up on the offensive end to keep the Sixers from getting on the break. Jared Dudley, who missed Game 2, expects to play in Game 3 and offered a pretty simple explanation of how the Nets view Simmons as a threat: great in transition, average in the halfcourt.
Now, there will be plenty that raise an eyebrow at calling Simmons “average” in the halfcourt and take some offense to that, but the overall point is accurate. Nearly 20 percent of Simmons’ points this season came in what NBA.com/stats defines as fast break situations, by far the most of any of the Sixers’ starters, and he’s far more effective in those situations because the defense is not set to prevent him from getting to the rim.
As Game 1 showed, if teams are able to pack the paint without as much fear of the Sixers’ perimeter shooting, Simmons can be rendered less effective in the halfcourt. That, of course, is easier said than done and is contingent on how Philly’s shooters perform as much as how Simmons plays. Expect a response from Simmons at some point over the next 24 hours and, as if this series was lacking for intensity, Game 3 ought to see Simmons coming out looking to prove a point even further (and the Nets trying to make Dudley’s assessment look smart).