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Tale of Two Simmons: How the Nets’ defense impacted Ben Simmons’ performance


The series openers in Philly were a tale of two Ben Simmons.

There was the dreadful version in Game 1, the tentative point guard who couldn’t figure out how to solve Brooklyn’s defense and finished with just nine points in 32 minutes.

Then there was the prodigious Simmons in Game 2 – the exceptional athlete who notched a triple-double and comfortably exploded to the rim.

Ben Simmons turns his performance around in Game 2. (Chris Szagola/AP)

From the Nets’ perspective, the key is keeping Simmons from sprinting toward the basket after a Sixers rebound. They want to make the 22-year-old feel like it’s an uphill climb rather than a downhill race.

“I think that Ben Simmons is a great player in transition,” Nets forward Jared Dudley said. “Once you slow him up in the half-court, I think he’s average.”

Calling an All-Star like Simmons “average” in any phase of the game is considered an insult, but Dudley is correct: Simmons is actually below-average in the halfcourt because he’s a poor shooter.

Dudley’s defense off the bench was a key factor in preventing Simmons from getting to the hoop in Game 1, but he was inactive in Game 2 because of a calf injury.

The 33-year-old journeyman vowed to return Thursday at Barclays Center.

“I expect to play a lot in Game 3,” he said.

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson emphasized the importance of the Simmons-D’Angelo Russell matchup on both sides of the court. It’s no coincidence the Nets won that battle and the final score in Game 1, and the reverse occurred in Game 2.

“It first starts with D’Lo, right? He needs to work a little harder to get open, get out in transition a little more before the defense can get set, so that’s No. 1,” Atkinson said. “We can obviously help him with screening better. I don’t think we screened well for him, the guys being denied and harassed. You have to screen for him. I think the third part of that is, yeah, throw a second ballhandler out there, third ballhandler, I think that can help, too.”