The lasting image of Ben Simmons as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers will forever be him passing up a wide-open dunk in the closing minutes of their Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals. It is a picture that will ultimately define his time with the Sixers.
The 6-foot-10 Simmons had spun off Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari and Hawks star Trae Young, standing at 6-foot-1, had come over as the help defender. It seemed as if Simmons would just simply rise up over Young and get himself an easy dunk to bring Philadelphia to a tie late in the game.
Instead, Simmons passed it up to Matisse Thybulle who was fouled. He only made one free throw, and Young and the Hawks closed out the game late to seal the Game 7 win.
Young joined former Sixers guard JJ Redick on “The Old Man and the Three” and Young opened up on the play as well as his plan should Simmons have gone up with the ball:
Trae: I didn’t realize it at the moment what it was, but I mean, I looked at my phone and everybody’s killing him.
JJ: I always wanted to ask you, what were you going to do? Had he gone up to dunk or shoot a layup? Even if you just go up to shoot a layup and use his size, what was your plan in that moment?
Trae: It depends. If he were to turn, turn and face the basket and kept it high, there’s no reason to foul and get hm an And-1, but if he did, what he was doing which was took a low dribble, I think he spun and took a low dribble, I would have fouled him and not let him get the shot off or tried to hit the ball or just try to hit it hit his arm and send him to the free-throw line. I think he kind of knew that I was going to come over and foul him and that’s why he passed it up.
Young then defended Simmons due to the fact that Simmons does a lot of amazing things on the floor. That one play in Game 7 shouldn’t define who he is as a player.
Trae: In those moments, and you spin, it’s a quick quick moment. He may not have know that it was me.
JJ: He sees a Hawks jersey and he’s like “let me get off”.
Trae: He sees a blue jersey right behind me that he can just drop off and maybe get a layup so, I mean, it’s a bang-bang play and it sucks for him. I understand that’s a tough play. He’s a good player. Like I hate how people talk about how bad of a player he is. That’s what I’m saying about recency bias. I think he’s a really good player, but I think one moment can get people turning.
Simmons, now with the Brooklyn Nets, will look to continue his career in New York after missing the entire 2021-22 season. It was a combination of mental issues with the Sixers and he was also dealing with a back problem that held him out with the Nets.
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