There is a lot for these young Nets to learn during this playoff series with the Sixers. The lesson they learned in Game 3 Thursday night at Barclays Center was to think twice before saying something that might motivate an opposing player.
A day after Nets forward Jared Dudley said Sixers guard Ben Simmons was an “average” player in a half-court offense, the 22-year-old from Australia poured in 31 points on 11-of-13 shooting to help beat the Nets 131-115 and give Philadelphia a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Dudley made the comments after a practice session on Wednesday, saying, “I think Ben Simmons is a great player in transition. Once you slow him up in the half-court, I think he’s average.”
Of course, Dudley looks a bit ridiculous today, considering Simmons responded with a “dominant” performance, according to his coach Brett Brown.
So what if Simmons can’t find the ocean from outside 15 feet? He didn’t have to Thursday night, shooting 9-of-11 in the half-court, per ESPN Stats & Info, and burning the Nets in transition and with an array of dazzling inside moves. He had 15 points in the fourth quarter, when the Sixers turned a vulnerable 97-90 lead into 121-106 romp.
“I thought it was one of Ben’s most dominant games,” Brown said, adding. “I give Ben a tremendous amount of credit. He did it all tonight, particularly without Joel Embiid.”
The Sixers played without their gifted center, scratched 15 minutes before the game to rest his sore knee. But Simmons, Tobias Harris (29) and JJ Redick (26) more than compensated for his absence. Afterward, Simmons insisted Dudley’s remarks didn’t offer any added motivation.
“I’m not worried about it,” Simmons said, though he seemed to take delight in Dudley’s frustrations in the third quarter when the Net complained to the referees after shooting an air-ball. Simmons, who was called for a technical in the third quarter for an eyeball-to-eyeball stare-down with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, can say he wasn’t impacted by Dudley’s words, but it sure seemed like the Aussie was out to prove a point in a hostile environment.
“I try not to pay too much attention to social media and what people say because people are going to say what they want to say,” Simmons said. “I can’t let that affect me on the floor. I just try to do my job when I step on the floor and run the point-guard position as best I can.”
Simmons isn’t a great long-range shooter. He’s a point guard who didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer in what turned out to be a blowout. He was 0-for-6 from 3-point range in 79 regular-season games, which is why the pep squad in Section 114 kept chanting, “You can’t shoot.” Neither could Jason Kidd at this point in career.
Brown sees Simmons’ shooting as a work in progress and was encouraged that he made 9-of-11 free throws. Simmons also had nine assists.
“I think we forget he’s 22 years old,” Brown said. “We start talking about his growth in his jump shot and then you see him make the free throws. Whether he’s getting booed or there’s something else going on with some level of scrutinizing Ben, he is incredibly confident within himself. He has put in a tremendous amount of work apart from being pretty darn good. I’m just so happy for him to play the way that he played tonight.”
The Nets had a golden opportunity to win their first home playoff game in four years. Embiid was out and the crowd was electric when the game began. But Simmons, Reddick and Harris were up for every challenge the Nets offered.
“This is the playoffs,” Simmons said. “You’ve got to play a certain way and keep that same intensity. You have to be locked in and stay focused. We have the pieces to complete games. It’s about everybody stepping up.”
The Nets will look to even the series in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon. Coach Kenny Atkinson would be wise to tell his players not to say anything derogatory about any of the Sixers before then.
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