Philadelphia 76ers: How Ben Simmons shut down D’Angelo Russell

Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Ben Simmons provided stifling defense on Nets star D’Angelo Russell in the Philadelphia 76ers’ dominant Game 2 win.

After a demoralizing Game 1 loss, the Philadelphia 76ers were forced back to the drawing board after being punched into the mouth by the Brooklyn Nets’ backcourt scorers, led by All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell scored 26 points and added four assists, and although he struggled at times with efficiency, Russell for the most part had no issue getting to his spots and finding clean looks.

In Game 2, after excellent adjustments from Brett Brown and near-flawless execution from Russell’s main defender Ben Simmons, Russell had a much tougher night. The dynamic scorer finished with only 16 points — his lowest total since March — and had only two assists to go with his four turnovers. The constant pressure the Philadelphia 76ers applied to Russell and Simmons’ ability to force Russell to his right side helped Philly flip the script in Game 2.

Forcing Russell right

In the first half, Simmons tried to force Russell to go right, but the strategy didn’t work exactly as planned. On some plays, Simmons ran into a screen and was forced to switch off. On others, Simmons played too far off Russell and allowed the guard to take clean three-point looks. At the end of the first half, Russell had racked up 16 points on 6-14 shooting and his team only trailed by one point.

After Brett Brown’s expletive-laden halftime speech, Simmons came out even more focused defensively in the second half. There weren’t any mental lapses this half, and the results showed: in the second half, Russell was held to zero points and only one assist. And the shots Russell did attempt, like those in the second video below, were off-balance, difficult looks from Russell’s right side — in other words, exactly the looks the Sixers wanted him to take.

Pressure, pressure, pressure

The lockdown defense Simmons played didn’t just begin when Russell touched the ball. From the moment the Nets gained possession to the moment the Sixers won it back, Simmons was hounding Russell all over the court. Russell’s second half struggles didn’t just come because he was missing shots. He wasn’t even taking them, finishing the half 0-2 from the field.

This defensive intensity from Simmons was demoralizing for the Nets. When the pressure really picked up at the beginning of the second half, the Philadelphia 76ers went on a 21-2 run to blow the game wide open. And on a few plays, Simmons’ ball denial turned into turnovers and timeout-forcing transition baskets.

Adjusting to adjustments

Since the Philadelphia 76ers’ defensive strategy in Game 2 was so effective, there’s no doubt Kenny Atkinson will come back with some wrinkles of his own in Game 3.

Perhaps he’ll have Russell bring the ball up the court every possession to negate Simmons’ proficient ball denial skills. Perhaps he’ll run more flare screens and backdoor cuts for Russell, taking advantage of Simmons’ aggressive defense and using it against him. No matter what, Brett Brown has to be ready for however the Nets come out in Game 3, and Ben Simmons has to be prepared to execute and lock down Russell once again.

dark. Next. Sixers' end of season player rankings

The series might depend on it.