NEW YORK -- With All-Star big man Joel Embiid a late scratch because of left knee soreness, Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown said point guard Ben Simmons played one of his "most dominant games" of his young career in Thursday's 131-115 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Simmons, last season's Rookie of the Year, finished with a playoff-career-high in scoring with 31 points on 11-for-13 shooting. He followed up a Game 2 triple-double with 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals to give Philadelphia a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.
Brown put the spotlight on Simmons' free throws as a sign of just how locked in he was. He started off 5-for-5 and went 9-for-11 overall, shooting well above his 60 percent average during the regular season.
"Ben was exceptional," Brown said. "They started trying to foul him. I think at that point he had not missed a free throw, and he did miss the two after they intentionally fouled him, but then he made another two to follow up.
"And so, whether you look at his confidence, his body language walking to the line or with just organic play, I give Ben a tremendous amount of credit. We needed it all tonight, especially without Joel."
Coming into the game, Simmons and Nets reserve Jared Dudley exchanged verbal barbs, with Dudley saying that Simmons was merely "average" in half-court situations. Simmons shrugged off the remark, saying, "It's coming from Jared Dudley. Come on."
Then, hours before tipoff, a "missing" poster mocking Simmons' nonexistent jump shot was affixed to a street sign outside Barclays Center. The poster jokingly offered a $26,620,450 reward for the retrieval of Simmons' shot -- the amount of the point guard's rookie contract.
Brooklyn fans, naturally, made Simmons the target of their ire, lustily booing him whenever he touched the ball.
Simmons mostly let his game do the talking. Even though Dudley finished with zero points on 0-for-2 shooting with two turnovers in 17 minutes, Simmons didn't add to the war of words after the game.
"I don't have energy for that," Simmons said. "Honestly. It's done. People are going to say what they want to say. It is what it is. I just got to play."
Even though Simmons had a couple of demonstrative gestures throughout the game -- flexing after one dunk, hanging on the rim after another and shooting Dudley a stare at one point -- Dudley said he didn't do any trash talking.
"No, no banter," he said. " If you look at the whole quote -- you can look at it if need be, justifying his game or what you want to do -- would you rather guard him in the full court going 100 miles an hour? Or would you rather guard him half court? So I feel real confident when I'm in there guarding against him, but you got to give credit. He played phenomenal. The whole team played phenomenal, and they deserved this win."
Simmons was excellent in the half court on Thursday, finishing 9-for-11 in half-court sets (2-for-2 in transition) and distributing 4 of his 9 assists, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information. His 85 percent mark from the field was the highest field goal percentage in a 30-point game in the playoffs by a Sixers player over the past 35 seasons. And the Nets shot just 8-for-24 when Simmons was the primary defender in Game 3.
Brown said that Simmons' age sometimes gets overlooked when his critics judge him.
"I think we forget he's 22 years old, and we start talking about the growth in his jump shot and all this stuff," Brown said. "Everybody talks about it, and then you see him come out and make the free throws, and whether he's getting booed or there's something else going on as it relates to some level of scrutinizing Ben, he's incredibly confident within himself.
"He has put in a tremendous amount of work apart from being just pretty darn good to earn that privilege. I'm just so happy for him to play like he played tonight. Especially when you zoom in to the free throw line, to make free throws in the NBA playoffs, and have, what, 31 points and shoot the percentage that he did? I think he feeds off that, but it's not like he's out beating his chest over it. I think internally he's got tremendous inner confidence."
Simmons showed some of his confidence when he discussed the team's unpredictable playoff future, with Embiid missing Game 3 because of his sore knee.
"We have the pieces to get games, to complete games," Simmons said. "I think everybody in our organization knows that. It's about everybody stepping up and following the plan, the scouting report or whatever it is and just lock in and buy into what we have to do and that foundation."