PHILADELPHIA — If there was any lingering animosity from last year’s rookie beef between Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons, it certainly wasn’t on display during Utah’s 113-107 loss in Philadelphia on Friday.
In their first head-to-head battle since the much-publicized 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race, Simmons got the edge against Mitchell, ending with a near triple double with 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Mitchell finished with a game-high 31 points, including 13 in the fourth, but shot 13 for 35 from the field in 33 minutes. He had to put up shots offensively to keep his team in the game, which is how the sophomore guards are used differently for their teams.
Simmons isn’t necessarily relied upon to score alongside All-Star center Joel Embiid and new addition Jimmy Butler. However, he’s still finding his role as Philadelphia is off to a 10-7 start, with Simmons putting up 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game.
“Mentally it’s been, at times, frustrating because you don’t know what the team wants or needs from you,” Simmons said of the team’s various starting lineups so far. “I think we’ve finally found a place where … we have Jimmy in here, it’s kind of settling down to where we know what guys need to do on the floor; what their roles are.
“This game, I felt a lot more comfortable knowing what Coach needs from me and knowing what kind of guys we have on the floor.”
Mitchell’s role is clear as Utah’s primary offensive threat, averaging 20.4 points, 4.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds in Utah’s 7-8 start. However, his 31 points on 35 field goal attempts and zero assists in a game were the first in a contest since Carmelo Anthony’s career-high 62-point, zero-assist performance on Jan. 24, 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Info. He’s seeing players come at him differently on a nightly basis.
“We haven’t played the whole league, so different people will play him different ways,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “I think the biggest thing for Donovan, regardless of how he’s being played is to throw himself into the game and throw himself into the game on the defensive end.
“There’s a balance between attacking and reading, and for him to find that, but I liked seeing how aggressive he was tonight,” he added. “He’ll shoot the ball better, but I thought you could see it in his eyes, he was attacking and making plays, and that’s what we needed him to do.”Comment on this story
Although the Simmons-Mitchell battle didn’t end up being the story of the night, it was certainly marketed ahead of time. The Sixers' Twitter account shared a pregame graphic in the style of a fight poster with Simmons and Mitchell’s headshots both on them titled “Live From Courtside Battle on Broad.” Posters were also handed to fans sitting courtside, too.
However, Mitchell is putting that behind him as he’s locked in on Year 2.
“Last year is last year, it’s in the past,” Mitchell said. “You can’t really live off of last year, we’re both here to try to prove something new, and that’s all I’m worried about.”