America reacts to ‘thief’ Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons came up clutch for the second game in a row, pulling off three massive defensive plays in the dying seconds as Philadelphia defeated Indiana 119-116 on Sunday (AEDT).
Three steals in the final 14 seconds had the basketball world singing his praises, more confident than ever his ambition to be crowned the NBA Defensive Player of the Year is more than just talk.
Simmons' trio of vital steals against the Pacers come after he stole an inbounds pass and streaked away for the game-sealing basket against the Knicks on Saturday.
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Simmons also drained a perfect seven-from-seven from the free-throw line against the Pacers to finish with 15 points, 13 assists and six rebounds as he attacked the rim with venom all night.
Simmons has answered coach Brett Brown's pre-season call to see the Aussie elevate his game on the defensive end and basketball scribes and commentators in the US have praised the 23-year-old for his aggression without the ball.
Simmons now boasts a league-high 42 steals from 18 games this season, leading Philadelphia-based sportscaster Marc Zumoff to call Simmons a "thief" for the way he stripped Indiana of possession when it counted most.
Noah Levick of NBC Sport Philadelphia said the Sixers star truly resembled a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
"Saturday night against the Pacers, he acted like one," Levick wrote of Simmons. "Amid all the concern about Simmons' offence and the question of whether he'll ever be a willing and able jump shooter, he's racked up some gaudy defensive numbers.
"Simmons has been excellent defensively in important moments, too. He intercepted Jeremy Lamb's inbounds pass Sunday in a similar fashion as his game-sealing swipe of Frank Ntilikina's inbounds the night before at Madison Square Garden."
Writing for The Athletic, Rich Hoffman said of Simmons' play against the Knicks: "What stands out most here is how quickly Simmons processes his next move. It's one thing to get the deflection, but it's something entirely different to know what to do the split-second after it."
After victory over the Pacers, Hoffman's colleague Mike O'Connor added: "Defensively, this game should serve as a catalyst to put Simmons in the national conversation for an All-Defensive team.
"He made four or five outrageous plays that very few players in the world can make, including his two late steals that sealed the game.
"It wasn't a perfect night on offence, but Simmons' monster defensive performance was incredible to watch."
Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer said Simmons showed "tremendous defensive anticipation and quickness" while Philly Voice's Kyle Neubeck heaped praise on him for his work at both ends of the floor.
"This is how he should always be playing on both ends. Simmons is built like few guys in the league are, with a combination of size and speed that allows him to switch everywhere and should let him will himself to the line," Neubeck said.
"Defensively, he was as good as it gets. Simmons stonewalled Myles Turner on post-ups multiple times on Sunday, with one ending in a 24-second violation for Indiana, and he was the man for the Sixers in crunch time.
"He made Indiana feel him for 48 minutes, and as much as people like to ride Simmons for his offensive disappearances late in games, his late-game defence has been absolutely elite this season, with Simmons coming up with three huge plays down the stretch to ice the game.
"It is a huge reason they have emerged with so many wins late, and he deserves credit for that."
Simmons' massive impact when the Sixers don't have possession stems from a desire to be a difference-maker. "I love being able to get steals and make guys turn the ball over," he said.
"I have a sense of pride in that. It gives us energy."
Simmons' teammate James Ennis is a huge fan of the "incredible" point guard while Brown said his gun player is a shoo-in for the All-Defensive team if he keeps going the way he is.
"The plays that he can make from an athletic standpoint, the plays that he makes from a physical standpoint in that part of the game - we saw last night, you saw two tonight - are just elite," Brown said after the win over Indiana.
"You hear me sort of cheerlead the cause of him being on an NBA All-Defensive team and it's examples like that that to me make it a no-brainer."