PHILADELPHIA — Ben Simmons consistently had the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter with a chance to create offense Tuesday night.
The Sixers’ standout rookie played the final 9 minutes, 15 seconds of Philadelphia’s 101-98 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
He didn’t attempt a shot.
“I think they’re a very competitive team, obviously a playoff team,” Simmons said. “Those types of teams we need to get wins against. At the same time, we’re learning from playing against those teams, so I think it’s great for us.”
Simmons’ fourth-quarter performance Tuesday continued a trend in which he has been reluctant to shoot in the fourth quarter of games against quality opponents.
The Sixers are 1-3 against Eastern Conference playoff teams this month. Simmons scored a total of eight points in the fourth quarter of those games — all on dunks.
The Sixers aren’t the type of team that can rely on one player to create fourth-quarter offense. That’s why Simmons needs to contribute more.
“We don’t have people who are going to dance with the ball and get it done by themselves,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “Whatever we do, we have to do as a team.”
The 6-foot-10 Simmons showed Tuesday why he is one of the NBA’s top rookies and a player with enormous potential.
He got his seventh triple- double of the season with 10 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Simmons is now tied with Magic Johnson for the second most triple doubles by a rookie in NBA history. Oscar Robertson (26 triple doubles with the Cincinnati Royals in 1960-61) is the rookie leader.
But his lack of fourth-quarter scoring Tuesday showed Simmons’ limits as a player. The Sixers (36-30) and Pacers (40-28) played with post-season intensity. The defense was physical. Indiana slowed the tempo and made the Sixers play a half-court game.
In games played at that pace, Simmons’ scoring is more important than ever. But he seems to have almost no interest in shooting in the final minutes of big games.
Simmons lack of a perimeter shot has been well-documented. He’s 0 for 10 from 3-point range this season.
But several times Tuesday he had the ball on the baseline, near the lane, and in position to make a move for the rim. On each occasion, he whipped the ball back out to the perimeter. Sometimes that worked. He found J.J. Redick open for a 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter.
Could Simmons not be shooting because he doesn’t want to get fouled and step to the free throw line in pressure situations. Simmons is shooting just .579 from the foul line this season.
Philadelphia began Thursday in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. But the Sixers are 1-3 against Eastern Conference playoff teams this month. Philadelphia beat the Cleveland Cavaliers (108-97) but lost to the Milwaukee Bucks (118-110), the Miami Heat (108-99) and the Pacers.
“We’re close to being amongst a pretty elite group, we’re just not there yet,” Brown said. “I think that the month we have coming up, the remaining games, we can admit the truth and try to find a way to fix that and move up as high as we can in the Eastern standings.”
Simmons grew up in Australia with a poster of Allen Iverson on the wall.
Simmons talks to the former Sixers great every chance he gets — the last time was earlier this week at the team’s Youth Gala charity event at The Fillmore Philadelphia.
“It was special to have him there and be able to talk to him as another point guard giving me a lot of advice,” Simmons said.
Iverson should give just one word of advice the next time he talks to Simmons.