TNT’s Pointing Finger At Simmons For Nets Loss To Celtics Was Pointless
If you listened to the TNT broadcast of the Nets 109-98 loss to visiting Boston on Thursday, Ben Simmons’ donut was the proximate cause of Brooklyn’s defeat.
All night long, announcers Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller harped on the polarizing Simmons’ glaring weakness—his reluctance to shoot the ball. With superstar Kevin Durant out for what’s expected to be about a month with an MCL sprain, the Nets were obviously going to need others, especially a player they’re paying nearly $35.5 million this season, to pick up the scoring load against the NBA’s top team. Simmons then went out and played with his typical lack of offensive aggression, missing all three of his field goal attempts.
Sorry TNT, but that’s not why Brooklyn lost. To the contrary, the Nets were a significantly better offensive team when Simmons was on the floor versus off (team-high 109.1 offensive rating versus 90.5, per NBA.com) thanks to his 13 assists and numerous solid screens in 26 minutes. He was the connector Nets Head Coach Jacque Vaughn envisioned in his plan to move forward without his MVP candidate, pushing the pace and getting his teammates good looks. Simmons’ two turnovers from overpassing when he should have taken shots paled in comparison to his positive contributions on that end.
It may be true that Simmons still has a mental block from his prior Philadelphia years where he looks to avoid contact so he isn’t embarrassed by being sent to the free throw line, where he has been shooting a ghastly 41.3% this season. Most of his field goal attempts outside of the restricted area, where he is 33-for-1 (40.7%) on the season, per NBA.com, are fading hooks/floaters.
Still, the facts indicate that Simmons hasn’t been as much of a drag on Brooklyn’s offense that many (including me) thought he’d be. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann put together a brilliant analysis prior to Thursday’s contest that confirmed Simmons has had at least a neutral offensive impact this season based on points scored per 100 possessions even when playing alongside a second non-shooting big man in Nic Claxton. Schuhmann’s concern was the small-sample 26 prior minutes where Simmons, Claxton and Kyrie Irving played without Durant—and that trio matched Simmons’ 109.1 individual offensive rating in 16 minutes on Thursday. That’s not where Brooklyn’s problem lied.
If Harland and Miller were looking for an area of criticism, it was Simmons’ incessant fouling, an issue that has plagued his integration into his new team all season. Only four other players in the league with at least 700 minutes of court time have averaged more than Simmons’ 4.6 fouls per 36 minutes. Of Simmons’ five fouls committed against the Celtics, I can’t recall one that was on a good contest to prevent an easy bucket—they all seemed to be ticky-tack reaches or unnecessary bumps.
Whenever Simmons exited the game, the Nets attack stagnated. The ball often stayed on one side of the floor, playing right into Boston’s defensive wheelhouse. Durant can bail out such possessions, but T.J. Warren and Seth Curry aren’t KD. They combined for 31 points off the bench, but rarely passed, resulting in too many possessions ending with unsustainable lower quality jump shots. It didn’t help the cause that Irving had an off shooting night, misfiring on 15-of-24 field goal attempts.
Irving’s struggles were matched by those of Boston All-Star Jayson Tatum, who went 7-for-22 and was guilty of three turnovers. The Celtics, though, who were missing starters Jaylen Brown and Al Horford, were much more willing to share the ball in the halfcourt offense. They received impressive contributions from their next men up, with Luke Kornet and Peyton Pritchard bedeviling Brooklyn to the tune of 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting.
Having committed four fouls, Simmons was off the floor at the start of the fourth quarter when Boston expanded its lead from two to eight points with their bench mob stepping up while Tatum was taking a breather. Simmons was whistled for foul No. 5 while battling for a rebound shortly after his reentry and ended up playing all of 2:44 in the period before being benched for the remainder of the contest. The Nets would get to within no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
According to Basketball Reference, Simmons’ outing marked just the third time in Nets history that a player tallied at least 10 assists without scoring a point, joining Jason Kidd and, ironically, Vaughn. However, the stat line in of itself doesn’t mean that Simmons was completely ineffective and cost his team the game, no matter what the TNT announcers inferred.
I’ve always felt that Harlan has been way overrated as a play-by=play announcer—something is just off on his calls—especially since in New York we’re used to the greatness of Ian Eagle and Mike Breen. As for Miller, he was so unprepared that he wasn’t aware that Jacque Vaughn had the interim tag removed by the Nets two months ago, with Harlan going along with the error for quite a while before correcting him.
I should have muted the TV and listened to the radio call of the Nets’ terrific tandem of Chris Carrino and Tim Capstraw.