Ben Simmons is back… in a big way!
In Simmons’ first game in nearly three months due to injury, he flirted with a triple-double in limited court time to help the Brooklyn Nets earn a huge 147-114 blowout victory at home against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday (all times AEDT).
The Australian had 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting, eight rebounds, 11 assists, a steal and a block with no turnovers in 18 minutes at +27 plus/minus.
Watch an average of 9 NBA regular season games per week LIVE on ESPN, available through Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial today >
“Extremely impressive,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said of Simmons after the game.
“The ecosystem we live in is built around and feeds off each other. We hold each other accountable, you saw how others played so well tonight thanks to the impact of Ben Simmons. It’s so simple.
“The looks we got, the number of threes, the fast break points, the uncontested looks and the pace we played with…we did it on both ends of the court and Ben deserves immense credit for the way he played tonight.
“Once he said he was ready to go, I had no qualms about him being able to pick up the pace for us and get back to the high-energy, high-octane pace high with which he played with this group.
“You see how much of an impact he has on other people, he makes other guys better. He loves doing that and when you meet a guy who wants to do that every night, it’s contagious.
“The movement of the ball tonight, he was the reason… you can’t ask for anything more, especially with the time he missed.”
It was a career-high performance for the Nets and a career-high in assists (41) as they improved to 19-27 on the season, while Mikal Bridges (33 points) and Cam Thomas (24 points) also achieved great performances.
But Simmons’ emphatic return was the bigger story, with the Australian impacting the game from the moment he stepped onto the court and changing the entire mood in Brooklyn.
Coming into the game with six minutes left in the first quarter – and a smile on his face – Simmons was immediately active with several rushing plays to help change the dynamic of the game.
Simmons grabbed two rebounds and racked up six assists in just five minutes – described as “five glorious minutes” by YES Network commentator Ryan Ruocco – to help spark a 14-0 run for the Nets as they edged the ‘Utah on the scoreboard.
A no-look pass to Royce O’Neal under the basket was a highlight in an early sign from Simmons.
“That’s what they want to see (from Simmons)… there’s so many ways he can impact a game, you saw it in transition. We had to flatten the defense,” NBA legend Richard Jefferson told the YES Network.
“That’s what Ben Simmons brings to the game.”
Just as importantly, Simmons and his teammates were clearly having fun.
Exciting ball movement helped the Nets drain eight threes in the first quarter, with the home team taking a 43-25 lead in the first shift as fans at the Barclays Center went crazy.
And Simmons, limited in minutes and only playing in short spurts, had a huge role to play in this series with some big moments as a +12 in the first term.
Simmons’ epic first quarter saw him become the first Nets player to record more than six assists in a first term since 1996-97.
“I played with Jason Kidd for what seemed like a decade, that’s very, very difficult to do – six assists in four minutes. You haven’t played basketball in months, and that’s your ability, that’s the high-level ability that he brings to the game,” Jefferson added.
“It’s really been the injuries that have kept them on the field…if he’s healthy, he’ll make an impact.”
Jefferson also highlighted how Simmons’ strengths perfectly complement what the Nets need after falling into a midseason slump.
“What’s interesting about Simmons is he’s so clear that the talents he has are exactly what this team needs and this team is a perfect fit for him,” he noted.
“But of course the flip side of that is you hesitate to get too excited because his availability has been a major issue since he arrived.
“Back injuries, hip injuries, whatever a player is dealing with or if it’s a knee injury – it can be frustrating because you’re not sure of the timeline. But I will say this, on the offensive side, you know his impact. His size on the defensive end.
“He’s a person that can help this team…what he can do and the impact he can have is special. There’s a reason he was the number one pick. There’s a There’s a reason he was an All-Star. There’s a reason he was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He’s got all those talents.
At halftime, Simmons had two points, six rebounds and seven assists in nine minutes with a +18 rating.
“Just playing the game, I know how to play the way I play it, pushing the pace of my guys and sharing the ball,” Simmons told the YES Network at the main break.
“It’s a simple game – you’re going to miss a few shots, make a few shots, turn the ball over, get some assists – it’s simple to me. Go ahead and push the ball.
The big moments followed one another in the second half.
Late in the third period, Simmons grabbed the ball from Lauri Markkanen, ran the floor and launched a huge slam on the counterattack, forcing a Jazz timeout.
“Ben Simmons is showing you a little bit of everything tonight,” Ruocco said.
Jefferson added: “This is what Nets fans have been waiting for: a healthy Ben Simmons. Doing it on the defensive end and leading on offense.
Simmons in the fourth term showed off his athleticism, taking flight to complete an alley-oop pass from Mikal Bridges.
The Australian was doing it on both ends of the pitch, blocking a Talen Horton-Tucker drive minutes later which saw Simmons land awkwardly on the ground and appear to be somewhat uncomfortable while holding his knee.
The former No. 1 pick finally left the game with 3:30 remaining, to loud applause from Brooklyn fans, amazed by his “tremendous comeback,” as Ruocco put it.
“You could feel his impact on the basketball game from the second he walked in, literally from the first possession,” he said.
Giddey’s Thunder crushed by NBA’s worst | 01:04
Nets center Nic Claxton spoke before the game about the excitement of welcoming the Australian back into the fold.
“He definitely helps us. It’s good to have him back with the group,” starting center Nic Claxton said of Simmons. “Of course, he brings this extremely high basketball IQ, being able to defend multiple positions on the defensive side of the ball, rebounding. So we are really happy to have him back.
“He’s been diligent, he’s been locked in with his rehab. Of course, no one wants to go through what he’s going through with his back injury and everything, but you know, he’s happy to be back. I’m just excited to see what everything will look like with him returning to the group.
The expensive and oft-injured Simmons has been limited to just six games this season due to a nerve impingement in his left lower back.
He has logged just 39 appearances since Brooklyn acquired him at the 2021-22 trade deadline over former MVP James Harden.
But after missing the last 38 consecutive games, Simmons practiced with G League Long Island this weekend and was upgraded from probable to available in the Nets’ latest injury report, meaning he should dress for the first time since November 7.
“I’m excited. He’s a big part of what we want to do,” Cam Johnson said of Simmons. “I only got to play the first game of the season with him, and even then- there I was kind of back (from my own hamstring injury), so it wasn’t really complete. So I’m really excited to get back on board and get that chemistry back and the way we want to play.
Johnson is right in that the Nets — struggling at 18-27 heading into Tuesday’s game and sitting outside even the Eastern Conference play-ins — have seen far too little healthy rotation.
Their presumed seven of him, Simmons, Claxton, Mikal Bridges, Cam Thomas, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith have only been available once all season, on opening night. They will no longer be together against Utah with Finney-Smith injured.
Lakers show signs of life in double overtime | 01:39
The Brooklyn trio of Simmons, Bridges and Claxton logged just 4:18 with Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith, and 4:32 with Dinwiddie and Johnson. This trio only played one minute each with Thomas and Finney-Smith and Thomas and Johnson.
Essentially, they have no idea what these lineups are actually going to look like.
They can just count on being better with Simmons than without him, a switchable 6-foot-10 defender who can guard multiple positions and who was averaging 10.8 rebounds when he dropped.
“It’s a huge advantage,” Johnson said. “He can really guard, and he can also rebound on top of that. So like I said, anything we want to do as a team, it fits that mold.
Claxton is considered one of the best switching centers in the NBA.
Following a disastrous attempt to drop coverage, Brooklyn played much better defensively last month after returning to a switching pattern. Even though his minutes are limited, Simmons should only contribute to that.
“I think it just adds more versatility to the group in general, just having another guy that’s used to changing, someone that I’m used to playing with and I have l “I feel like we did some really good things on the defensive end last year, so just being able to continue to add to that,” Claxton said.
Simmons is making $37.9 million this season and $40.3 million next season.
-Parts of this story were originally published in the New York Post and reproduced with permission.