Ben Simmons silenced the critics with a 22 point, nine rebound, eight assist performance as the Philadelphia 76ers routed the Washington Wizards 120-95 to grab a 2-0 playoff series lead on Wednesday.
Joel Embiid also scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds as the heavily-favoured Sixers got contributions from a number of players including starting power forward Tobias Harris, who had 19 points and nine rebounds.
Simmons scored 12 of his 22 in the first quarter, delivering a breakout playoff performance after being criticized for scoring just six points in Sunday’s game one of the series.
“I’m here to win and I’m doing what I need to do to help my team win, whatever it is. I’m not trying to prove anybody wrong or anything like that. I’m trying to do my job to win,” Simmons said.
The top-seeded 76ers now have a firm lead in the best-of-seven East series with game three scheduled for Saturday in Washington.
“I told him, ‘You’ve got all the space and all the time in the world. Just attack,'” said Embiid of Simmons. “He’s physical and he’s athletic and he can make plays.”
The Wizards weaved their way into the postseason by grabbing the eighth and final seed, but it hasn’t been an easy road.
Their frustrations mounted on Wednesday when Russell Westbrook left the game with an injury and then had a run-in with a Philadelphia fan as he was walking down the tunnel.
Less than two minutes into the fourth, Westbrook appeared to injure his right ankle and headed to the locker room. A Philadelphia fan dropped popcorn on Westbrook, who then had to be restrained.
“It is very disrespectful,” said Wizards coach Scott Brooks of the fan who, was escorted out by security. “Philadelphia is better than that … hopefully that fan is banned from games. They wouldn’t do that down the street.”
Bradley Beal scored a team-high 33 points and Rui Hachimura chipped in 11 points for the Wizards, who have been unable to slow down the 76ers’ high-powered offence that boasts plenty of playoff experience.
Westbrook scored 10 points and handed out 11 assists. But the all-star point guard struggled Wednesday, shooting just two-of-10 from the floor and missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc.
“They were attacking in high efficiency shots and we couldn’t make a bucket,” said Brooks.
Elsewhere, Donovan Mitchell returned from an injury to score 25 points as the Utah Jazz withstood a 47-point performance from Ja Morant to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 141-129 and level their series at one game apiece.
Mitchell made his much-anticipated return from a sprained ankle to drain five threes in 26 minutes of playing time. Rudy Gobert had 21 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks for the top-seeded Jazz, which rebounded after losing game one to eighth-seeded Memphis.
Mike Conley had 20 points and a career-high 15 assists, and Bojan Bogdanovic added 18 points in the win.
Morant broke the Grizzlies’ franchise playoff scoring record which was held by Conley. He now has 71 points in his first two career playoff games. Dillon Brooks ran into foul trouble but still managed to score 23 points in the loss.
In New York, Derrick Rose scored 26 points off the bench to lift the Knicks to a 101-92 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in game two of their first-round series.
Julius Randle recorded 13 of his 15 points in the third quarter and added 12 rebounds for the Knicks, who levelled the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
Game three is on Friday in Atlanta.