NBA Playoffs: How Will the Boston Celtics Slow Down Ben Simmons?

In the first playoff round of his career, Ben Simmons has shown no signs that he’s a rookie.  Averaging 18 points 10.2 rebounds and 9.0 assists-per-game on 50 percent shooting from the floor, he’s impressed many during the Philadelphia 76ers matchup against the Miami Heat. Simmons was the most important player for the 76ers in round one, a trend that will likely continue into their matchup with the Boston Celtics.

This series will kick-off tonight on TNT.

Figuring out a way to contain the 6-foot-10 point-forward is a major priority for head coach Brad Stevens.  During the regular season, Horford primarily matched-up with Simmons, although Boston also used a diverse range of wing players to slow-down Ben Simmons.  In the four games Simmons played against Boston, he put up a 12-6-4 stat-line, well below his season averages.

That being said, it’s tough to use their regular season clashes as a sample, considering they most recently played on January 18th.

A lot has changed since.  Philadelphia acquired veterans Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, and Boston lost Kyrie Irving to a season-ending knee surgery.  Simmons has also hit another level, starting when Joel Embiid went down with a facial injury in the last month of the season.  He nearly averaged a triple-double in his final ten games.

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Will Boston Keep Semi Ojeleye in the Starting Lineup?

After the Milwaukee Bucks won games three and four, Stevens decided to throw the rookie forward in the starting line-up to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.  Ojeleye did a surprisingly good job, holding him to 47 percent shooting through the final three games of the series.

Ojeleye was able to use his quick feet and strong physique to keep the Greek Freak out of the paint.  The first-year role player out of SMU has been a tough matchup for large forwards like Antetokounmpo and LeBron James.

Look at the strength Ojeleye displays in during this post up from Antetokounmpo in game five:

via Tomasz Kordylewski on YouTube

It makes sense that Stevens will stick with the 23-year-old in the second-round considering Antetokounmpo and Simmons are relatively similar matchups.  Antetokounmpo is more willing to take open threes (going 4/14 in the series), but both players are threats from outside and effective when going downhill towards the rim.

Ojeleye stifled Antetokounmpo multiple times when he tried to push the pace in game seven, like on this play during the third quarter:

via Tomasz Kordylewski on YouTube

Using his quick feet, Ojeleye consistently beats his matchups to the point of take-off, affecting their shot in the process.  As good as his defense has been, the Celtics will have a tougher time on offense against the 76ers.

Boston essentially plays a four-on-five on the offensive end when Ojeleye plays.  He can occasionally knock down the open corner three, or finish a cutting lay-up, but other than that he’s useless.  In fact, this is where the Boston Celtics might run into trouble playing him 30 minutes a game.

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How Much Will Jaylen Brown’s Injury Effect Boston’s Defense?

During the third quarter of game seven, Brown went down with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the rest of the game.  

Khris Middleton is guarded by Jaylen Brown during game seven. Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sport

As of Sunday Night, Brown is listed as doubtful for game one.  Although Stevens believes that Brown will return early in the series, there’s still some uncertainty. The uncertainty lies around what his overall effectiveness will be upon his return.

During the regular season Brown matched-up with Simmons the third-most frequently (behind Horford and Marcus Morris).  He likely won’t be the primary matchup for Simmons, but his switching ability lends itself to Boston’s overall team defense.  When Brown is off the court in the playoffs, the Boston Celtics defensive rating drastically falls from 105 to 114.3.

Philadelphia runs a lot of pick-and-rolls with Ben Simmons as a ball-handler, and although Brown likely won’t be involved in all of those actions (it’ll be Horford most of the time), Brown’s health is still crucial if the Celtics want any chance at handcuffing Simmons and Philadelphia.

Ben Simmons is the engine of the 76ers’ offense.  Although, slowing him down should be one of the main priorities for the Boston Celtics heading into this series.

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