Ben Simmons’ top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers have been taken out of the NBA playoffs in the second round by fifth-seed Atlanta Hawks, with the Aussie star’s play going under the microscope once more.
Simmons scored only five points on four field-goal attempts, to go with 13 assists and 8 rebounds, as his team lost the series-deciding game seven 103-96 in Philadelphia.
It is the fourth consecutive year the Sixers have failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs and comes after comparable inquiries were posed about the make-up of the team when they were bounced 4-0 in the first round last season.
The 76ers broadly went through a long revamp, named The Process, that finished with them pairing Simmons with superstar centre Joel Embiid.
Between them, they have collected seven All-Star appearances, four All-NBA spots, and five berths in All-Defense teams, however, it has not meant significant playoff achievement.
Simmons averaged 10.7 points (ninth overall), 7.8 assists (second), and 6 rebounds (fourth) per game in the series.
Fourteen-year NBA veteran Jim Jackson approached the 76ers to “dig deep and think about next year”, saying on the transmission that Simmons’ place on the team was one of the biggest inquiries they needed to reply after another “disappointing loss”.
“In regards to your second-highest-paid player, potentially your best player, you can’t have him on the floor at the end of the game,” Jackson said.
“That is an issue they have to address, because ‘The Process’ has all been about these young men growing together and competing for a championship.
“You’ve gotten yourself to the best record in the eastern conference but not able to get over the hump because of the mental challenges of your second-best player. That has to be addressed.”
Simmons, whose failure to shoot from distance has seen him attract a lot of analysis since he was drafted in 2016, was indeed in the firing line in the lead-up to the decider.
Coach Doc Rivers said calls for him to be sidelined ignored his defensive and play-production ability while admitting the team required him to score more.
Yet, for the fourth time in the series, the 24-year-old couldn’t escape single digits, finishing in him turning down an apparently open dunk with his team somewhere near two points with 3:30 left in the game.
Fellow Boomers squad member Matisse Thybulle drew a shooting foul on the resulting shot, yet just made one of the two free throws.
Embiid and Simmons were in an animated discussion after the play, and Embiid referred to that moment in his post-game press conference.
“I’ll be honest, I thought the turning point was when we … had an open shot and we made one free throw and we missed the other and then they came down and scored,” he said.
Featuring Simmons’ defects were the performance of opposing point guard Trae Young, who averaged more than 30 points in the series during a breakout playoff run.