Was Ben Simmons' career night the start of something ‘scary?'


We can’t say this came out of nowhere. Ben Simmons has taken over games before. 

In small doses. Three, maybe four minutes at a clip. Then, like a breeze on hot summer day, it’s gone, just as quickly as it came.

Monday night in Salt Lake City was different, unlike any game Ben Simmons has ever played at the NBA level.

Simmons switched on, and remained on, for 48 minutes.

The game result was irrelevant. Simmons was masterful offensively, against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA,  a Jazz team centered by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. The broad 7-footer makes normally fearless players rethink their decision to wake up in the morning.

Utah head coach Quin Snyder matched Gobert up on Simmons Monday. The Sixers point guard took it personally.

“I felt like it was a little bit of disrespect, putting him on me, but it is what it is,” Simmons told reporters about the matchup.

He proceeded to drop 19 points in the first quarter on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting from the floor, and 5-for-5 from the foul line.

Sixers fans were smart to temper their excitement in the moment. They’ve seen him have big quarters before. But here’s the thing: the gas pedal remained pressed to the floor all night.

He finished with a career-high 42 points, 12 assists, and nine rebounds, the best offensive game of his 242-game NBA career.

Amid all of this, one question was certainly asked by the fanbase: Where the heck has this been?

He was asked about his offensive aggressiveness after the game. Where did it come from?

“I’ve been working on my mentality ... a lot these past few weeks, Simmons said. “I think my mindset – it’s not easy to do that, to change the way you play, you know, certain things in the game that may come naturally for certain people. I feel like I’m figuring it out. My scoring’s been a lot higher the last five, six games. As long as I can keep doing that and stay locked in, keep working on my ‘mental,’ it’s scary.”

Sports fans are greedy. Their team wins, they want more wins. Their team wins a championship, they want a dynasty. A player has a breakout game, fans say “See?!? See?!? He can do it! Now do it again! Do it every night!”

Is it just that simple? Some would argue that it is. As rare as this performance was – Monday was Simmons’ sixth career game of 30-plus points – it featured a relentless aggression on offense from the two-time All-Star that we nearly never see.

The specter of Gobert didn’t dissuade him. Not even the possibility of shooting free throws kept him from going full throttle at the rim. (He was 12-for-13 from the line, for what it’s worth.)

It may be too much to ask for Simmons to play as he did Monday all the time. First off, it occurred while Joel Embiid sat out with back tightness, and Embiid’s absence was a big reason why Simmons needed to take much of the offensive mantle.

Second, playing like that — all gas, no brakes — takes its toll, even for the most physically fit of athletes. Simmons played 38 minutes, the second-most he’s logged this season. It will be interesting to see how he comes out Wednesday night at home against Houston.

But now that we’ve seen this performance, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to see it more often. Maybe not for an entire game, but during those stints when Embiid is on the bench getting a rest, when the team needs an injection of energy.

Simmons is a polarizing figure among Sixers fans. One camp swears allegiance, pointing to everything he does on the court aside from scoring. The other camp sees the lack of offensive aggressiveness and dismisses it as something that has not, and therefore will not, change.

Most nights, both groups of fans are absolutely right. Maybe Monday, and this change in his "mental," could be a new start for Simmons. The start of something "scary."

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