Ben Simmons sat quietly on the bench wearing his blue warm-up during the final half of the third quarter and first six-plus minutes of the fourth.
He wasn’t injured, the Philadelphia 76ers weren’t up big, he was simply struggling.
Jayson Tatum scored 21 points, Terry Rozier added 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds and the Boston Celtics erased a 22-point deficit en route to a 108-103 Game 2 win over the Philadelphia 76ers and a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
As Simmons sat on the pine, his replacement T.J. McConnell recorded a pair of baskets to begin the final frame and then pulled down a key offensive rebound before dishing it out to Robert Covington, who knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing. The triple gave the Sixers an 82-81 lead with 9:46 left.
T.J. McConnell providing a spark for Philly right now pic.twitter.com/rRLk2qtbp8
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) May 4, 2018
When McConnell exited at the 5:29 mark, Philadelphia was up 93-91. Simmons finished the game with one point and missed all four of his shots from the field while dishing seven assists, pulling down five rebounds and committing five turnovers. McConnell, meanwhile, had eight points, five assists and sported a plus-16. Simmons was minus-23.
Should McConnell have stayed in over Simmons? Brett Brown was asked about that after the game.
"I think he's the rookie of the year."
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 4, 2018
I’m coming back to Ben Simmons … He’s had a hell of a year. I think he’s the Rookie of the Year. I think he’s going to have to learn how to play in these environments and I’m going back with Ben Simmons.
Simmons explained why he struggled.
I’m going to have bad games … I think mentally, I was just thinking too much, overthinking the plays, and wasn’t just out there flowing and playing the way I play, which is free.
McConnell agreed with Brown’s decision to put Simmons back on the floor.
Coach is the reason we won 52 games. Ben is the reason we won 52 games. I think he’s a borderline all-star as a rookie. Who wouldn’t go with him?
In my opinion, as bad as Simmons was playing, it was the right call to put him back in the game. He’s the No. 1 pick, he’s the franchise, he’s in my opinion the Rookie of the Year and he’s the one that needs to learn from these moments, good or bad.
You ride and die with your stars, period.
After going just 5-of-26 from beyond the arc in Game 1, the Sixers were raining threes early and raced out to 48-26 advantage following this Covington bomb.
Sixers already have more 3-pointers than they did in Game 1. They have 6 (6/9) at the 6:40 mark of the 2nd after going 5/26 from beyond the arc in the opener. pic.twitter.com/SbabLhcryc
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) May 4, 2018
At this point Philly was 6-of-9 from long distance with 6:40 to go in the second, already eclipsing the amount of treys it had in Game 1. It eventually began 7-of-10, which turned out to be a hindrance. Due to that hot start, the Sixers kept jacking up the shots from deep and they got burned by it as the percentages began to even itself out.
Boston, meanwhile, began to push the pace after being well defended in its traditional half-court setting. As those threes began clank off the rim, the Celtics were given a plethora of opportunities to get easy buckets at the other end, which resulted in them closing the half on a 25-8 run. Brown never called a timeout during the onslaught and the Celtics found themselves down only 56-51 heading into the break.
Brown explained his decision to not call the timeout.
They went on a little run and then they went on another run I think at two minutes left. You know, you’re sitting there wondering about matchups, you’re thinking about timeouts, you’re thinking about all of it. And I feel like if I had to do it again, I would do the same thing.
The momentum continued to be in the Celtics’ favor in the third as they led by as many as seven before taking a 79-75 advantage into the fourth.
An Embiid triple put the Sixers ahead 88-86 with 7:42 left and that margin increased to 93-88 following an Ilyasova layup with 5:48 to play, but Boston responded with a 16-4 burst and never looked back. Marcus Morris and Rozier knocked down threes during the surge and Marcus Smart split a pair of free throws to cap it, giving the Celtics a 104-97 margin with 1:57 on the clock.
A Dario Saric bucket made if a one-possession game, 104-101, with 31.7 ticks to play, but Al Horford rumbled down the lane for a layup on Embiid at the other end to put the contest away with 8.3 seconds left.
Boston’s Jaylen Brown returned from a one-game absence following a strained hamstring. He didn’t start, but played nearly 25 minutes and scored 13 points.
— NBA (@NBA) May 4, 2018
Embiid posted 20 points and 14 boards for the Sixers, who host Game 3 on Saturday.
Boston has never fallen in a best-of-seven playoff series after going up 2-0, going 36-0 in that scenario. Philadelphia, meanwhile, is 0-11 when it drops the first two of a series.
You can follow Adrian Fedkiw on Twitter (@AdrianFedkiw) and e-mail him at email@example.com. Subscribe to The Bitter Birds on YouTube here. Follow Philly Influencer on Twitter (@PHL_Influencer), Facebook and Instagram.