Nets’ Ben Simmons has “unbelievable” night in win over Trail Blazers

Nets’ Ben Simmons has “unbelievable” night in win over Trail Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Kevin Durant didn’t mince words after watching Ben Simmons play the best game of his short Brooklyn Nets career in Thursday night’s 109-107 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

“Unbelievable,” Durant said after watching Simmons score 15 points, grab 13 rebounds and dish out seven assists in 32 minutes.

“I’m just happy for him because he’s been trying to get his form back, trying to find his rhythm. Tonight I think he did a good job just speaking up, commanding the offense, commanding the team on the defensive side of the field . ball. He was incredible tonight. So we’re going to keep building on that and hopefully we can get this next one, but he controlled the game and was able to get us back into it.”

After playing well in Tuesday night’s blowout loss to the Sacramento Kings, Simmons took his game to another level Thursday by attacking the rim when he got on the floor. More importantly, he showed no hesitation when the Blazers decided to use a “Hack-a-Ben” strategy in the closing minutes and send him to the foul line.

Simmons, who went 3-for-4 from the line down the stretch, played at the level the Nets hoped to see since trading for him just before last season’s February deadline.

“I love those moments,” Simmons said. “I’m not going to shy away. That was their plan. It obviously didn’t work. We were able to convert a couple of free throws, get some stops. Just keep building. I like those moments.”

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Simmons’ performance capped off the Nets’ best win of the season. Veteran swingman Royce O’Neale got a late tip-in just before the buzzer that sealed the victory – and his first career triple-double – and Yuta Watanabe also contributed 20 big points off the bench.

But it was Simmons who left his teammates and coach Jacque Vaughn full of confidence after the game.

“It’s very encouraging,” Vaughn said of Simmons’ performance. “Most of the minutes he’s played, he responded really well … We envisioned him doing everything for us. The defensive versatility of guard [Jusuf] Nurkic and also Damian Lillard. A lot of people can’t do that. And we can continue to grow with him and understand him, his game, how he takes advantage of him, with whom. It’s very encouraging.”

Vaughn said the difference for Simmons was that he “just feels good” after missing five games with a swollen left knee. Vaughn said he had a simple message for Simmons entering the game: “Play hard.”

Simmons, who has struggled all season to find his rhythm, clearly took it to heart after struggling all season to find his rhythm.

“I’m coming,” Simmons said. “I’m getting there, man. It’s going to take some time, but I got mine back. My teammates got my back, my coaches.”

The Nets also have confidence knowing that suspended guard Kyrie Irving could return as early as Sunday after missing the last eight games due to a team-imposed suspension for “adverse impact of his conduct” related to a social media post he made about a book and film that contained anti-Semitic ideas.

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“Obviously, it’s a big win and you put someone that talented, that good at the game of basketball back into your unit, we’re all looking forward to it,” Durant said of Irving. “We’re playing a different type of basketball than we were when he last played. So I know Coach [Vaughn] looking forward to adding another weapon to our offense and he’s making some great plays for us so I know he has more things up his sleeve for Ky.”

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