NBA playoffs: Ben Simmons, Doc Rivers not happy with how Trae Young was officiated

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Simmons and Rivers not happy with how Young was officiated in Game 1 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

If the Hawks had taken a 26-point lead Sunday and then coasted to a victory over the Sixers in Game 1 of their second-round series, it seems unlikely anyone would’ve mentioned the officiating after the game. 

The Sixers only lost by four points in the end, though, troubling Atlanta in the fourth quarter with full-court pressure. Head coach Doc Rivers didn’t think his players got a fair whistle guarding Trae Young, who led the Hawks with 35 points (11 for 23 from the field, 9 for 9 from the foul line) and 10 assists. He was particularly perturbed by an unsuccessful third-quarter challenge of a foul on Matisse Thybulle. 

“Danny (Green has) been pretty good on small guards all year, but Trae’s not just a small guard, he’s a terrific guard,” Rivers said, explaining why Green was the primary defender on Young for much of the afternoon. “Everyone had their chance. … It’s funny, I thought Ben … picked up two fouls for playing defense. And that was frustrating to see on Trae. 

“And then you had to worry about his fouls. I thought Matisse (Thybulle) picked up ... I was very surprised. I’m going to have to get an explanation why that call wasn’t overturned. I don’t know what more solid defense you can have, and they still gave the kid two free throws. We have to check, because it felt to me that Trae was the one initiating most of the contact with his hands and pushing off, but we were the ones that just kept getting fouls. Either we’re doing something wrong or we have to figure out how to make sure that’s called on him, as well.”

Rivers thought Green’s individual defense was less problematic than the Sixers’ first-half approach on Young, which didn’t regularly involve sending extra bodies to assist Green. Any dribble penetration in the first half felt like it was costly, resulting in either paint points for Young or an open shot for one of his teammates. 

He picked apart the Sixers’ drop coverage with creative, diverse playmaking, posting 25 of his team's 74 points before halftime and recording seven assists. It was too easy, though.

“Overall, it was our coverages as much as it was Danny,” Rivers said. “The rejects were on Danny. The coverage is on the double drag — and that’s basically what they hurt us with, one double-drag play. That was more on us.”

Rivers has often preferred using Simmons in a "roamer" role or conserving his energy for late-game defense on an opposing star by giving him a less taxing assignment early in the game. However, the Sixers' struggles on Young — even if they weren't all Green's fault — certainly suggest it would make sense for the Sixers to put their Defensive Player of the Year finalist on the 22-year-old Hawks point guard more for the rest of the series.  

Simmons was asked whether he expected to begin Game 2 on Young instead of Bogdan Bogdanovic, who scored 21 points on 7-for-17 shooting. 

“I probably will do that,” he said. “I mean, I want to. If the refs aren’t going to call so many fouls, let me be physical and be 6-10, then I’ll be 6-10. We’ll see.”

Young’s inclination to create and exaggerate contact can be frustrating for opponents, though Simmons recognizes he brings far more to the table than that. 

“Obviously Trae is very talented,” Simmons said. “He’s crafty. He’s not a selfish player, so he’s going to find his guys when they’re open. … A lot of respect to him, but I’m looking to come in there and see if I can be a little more physical next game, see if the refs are going to let us play a little bit.”