Ben Simmons promise after the best game of the season in Nets-Blazers

Ben Simmons promise after the best game of the season in Nets-Blazers

Questions surrounding Ben Simmons’ slow start had increased in recent weeks for the Brooklyn Nets. With Simmons averaging just 5.2 points on 5.0 shots per game entering this week, a 6-8 Nets team that already fired its head coach and suspended All-Star guard Kyrie Irving was searching for answers.

A Tuesday report from Shams Charania detailed Brooklyn’s growing frustration with the freshman netminder, saying some in the organization had begun to “question Simmons’ passion for the game.”

The Aussie responded Tuesday with an 11-point, 5-of-7 shooting performance in Sacramento, his best in net to that point. The display had a different feel than anything the three-time All-Star had shown before.

Simmons followed that up with another season-best effort Wednesday night in a thrilling 109-107 Nets win over the Portland Trail Blazers. The former No. 1 pick was everywhere on the court, posting 15 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists on 6-of-6 shooting while overwhelming Damian Lillard defensively down the stretch.

“I’m coming,” Simmons said after the game. “I’ll get there, man. It takes some time but I got mine back. My teammates got my back, my coaches.”

Kevin Durant has shouldered the burden as Brooklyn’s only scorer with Simmons battling a knee injury and Irving suspended. The former MVP did not hold back praise for his new teammate after the amazing performance.

“Unbelievable,” Durant said of Ben Simmons’ display. “I’m just happy for him because he’s been trying to get his form back, trying to find his rhythm. Tonight I think he did a good job just speaking up, commanding the offense, commanding the team on the defensive side of the ball. He was incredible tonight. So we’re going to keep building on that and hopefully we’ll be able to get this next one done. But he controlled the game and managed to get us back into it.

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Simmons has played a noticeably aggressive brand of basketball in the last two games after opening the season extremely passively. The 26-year-old’s physical form jumped off the screen Thursday as he battled for post position, attacked in transition, fought for rebounds and challenged high-caliber guards and centers defensively:

“It’s very encouraging,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said of Ben Simmons’ performance. “Most of the minutes he’s played, he’s responded really well. It was kind of what we envisioned that he would do everything for us. The defensive versatility of guard duty [Jusuf] Nurkic and also Damian Lillard. A lot of people can’t do that. And if we can continue to grow with him and understand him, his game, how he takes advantage of it, with who. It’s very encouraging.”

With the Nets leading by three with 3:30 remaining, Portland reverted to a hack-a-Ben strategy on back-to-back possessions. It was the first time a team used the strategy in a big moment this season. Simmons was unfazed, knocking down 3-of-4 free throws to extend Brooklyn’s lead to four:

“I love those moments,” Ben Simmons said of the high-pressure trips to the line. “I’m not going to back down. That was their plan. It obviously didn’t work. We were able to convert a couple of free throws, get some stops. Just keep building. I like those moments.”

“We had no doubts when he went up there,” Durant said. “I felt like we were all confident. Just how the game flowed and how he played. I felt super confident when he went up there. So 3-for-4, crunch time, that was key for us. We needed them.”

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Simmons was a late scratch Sunday in Los Angeles after missing four games with soreness and swelling in his left knee the week before. This comes with the former Rookie of the Year also recovering from offseason back surgery. Simmons has emphasized that his physical acclimatization would be a process this year. And the 6-foot-11 physical specimen has finally started to look more like his old self in his last two performances.

“People act like I had a sprained ankle or something, I had back surgery. It’s not easy to come back from,” Simmons said after the game Thursday. “So I’m taking it day by day. I’m staying locked in, I’m keeping focus. And just keep building myself, my body and my game.”

Durant led Brooklyn with 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting. But his teammates who would pick him up down the stretch after a series of mental lapses. After Durant inexplicably fouled Jusuf Nurkic for an and-1 while up three, a Royce O’Neale tip-off of a Durant miss would secure victory for the Nets:

O’Neale recorded his first career triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 11 assists in the win.

Yuta Watanabe delivered an incredible game from the bench. The non-guaranteed minimum signing continues to impact the game at a high level by rebounding, defending on the perimeter, running the floor and knocking down multiple clutch triples en route to a season-high 20 points on 5-of-7 shooting from deep Thursday .

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The win brings the Nets to 7-9 on the season. Brooklyn will welcome Kyrie Irving back from an eight-game suspension when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday.

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