‘It paid off’: Simmons feels vindicated on NBA return

Jasper Bruce |

After 12 weeks and 38 games out with a back injury, Ben Simmons returned in style for Brooklyn.
After 12 weeks and 38 games out with a back injury, Ben Simmons returned in style for Brooklyn.

Ben Simmons has come up just short of a triple-double on return to the NBA in a performance the Australian felt vindicated his determination to recover from a long-term back injury.

Brooklyn guard Simmons had missed 12 weeks and 38 games with a nerve impingement, the latest in a string of injuries that have scuppered his first two years at the Nets.

But in his return on Monday night (Tuesday AEDT), Simmons was agitator-in-chief as the hosts rode early dominance to a 147-114 shellacking of the Utah Jazz.

“It took a lot of effort and patience and time to get back to where I’m at now,” Simmons said.

“Every single day, every morning, every day, I’m working to get back on the floor.

“For me, and everyone that has seen that and seen my discipline over the last two months, it’s great to see it pay off.”

Simmons took a heavy fall going up for a block in the final four minutes of the game and was substituted out, but confirmed afterwards he was OK.

Had he stayed on court, Simmons would almost certainly have recorded his second triple-double as a Net but instead finished with 10 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds from only 18 minutes.

Brooklyn, who had won only two of their previous nine, finished with their most-convincing victory and biggest score of the season, as well as their first back-to-back successes since December 27.

Ben Simmons.
Ben Simmons scores a lay-up, one of his five baskets, in Brooklyn’s big home win over Utah. (AP PHOTO)

Teammates Mikal Bridges (33 points) and Cam Thomas (25 points, seven rebounds) led all scorers.

“Other people played so well tonight because of the impact of Ben Simmons. It’s that simple,” said Nets coach Jacque Vaughn.

“Ben deserves an extreme amount of credit for the way he played tonight.”

Brooklyn were up by two points when Simmons checked in for only his seventh appearance of the season, and first since early November.

By the end of his first stint, he had inspired a 14-0 run that had them ahead by 16.

The Nets led by at least nine points for the remainder of the game and for good measure Simmons had set a franchise record by quarter time.

Since records have been kept, no Nets player had recorded six assists from the bench in the opening term.

It took only six seconds for Simmons to notch his first.

Showing no signs of his back injury as he belted up the court in transition, the top pick of the 2016 draft found an open Royce O’Neale, who shot from deep.

“I told (his Nets teammates) as soon as we checked in, ‘They know what time it is’,” Simmons said.

Simmons sat down after five minutes, only one assist shy of the most recorded by a Nets player in a quarter this season.

He forced a Jazz timeout late in the third period when he picked Lauri Markkanen’s pocket and streaked up the court to dunk.

Lauri Markkanen (23) and Ben Simmons (10).
Brooklyn’s Aussie guard Ben Simmons dribbles past Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen in New York. (AP PHOTO)

In the fourth, Simmons tipped in a lob from Bridges that pushed him closer to a triple-double and electrified the Brooklyn crowd.

Simmons had only joined the team for shoot-around on game day, having trained with the side’s G-League affiliate Long Island at the weekend.

The 27-year-old had no inkling as to how heavily he would feature in Thursday’s home clash (AEDT) with the Phoenix Suns.

“That’s going to be up to them, the medical staff,” Simmons said.

Elsewhere, fellow Australian Josh Giddey notched 13 points and four rebounds for Oklahoma City, who dropped a second consecutive game with a 107-101 loss to Western Conference leaders Minnesota.

Dallas edged past Orlando 131-129 as Luka Doncic put up 45 points and 15 assists at home and Jamal Murray’s 35 points steered Denver over Milwaukee, 113-107.