Sixers’ Ben Simmons might guard Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard more in Game 2
The Philadelphia 76ers had hoped to deploy Jimmy Butler as a potential defensive stopper on Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Toronto Raptors. As one of the better perimeter defenders in the league, Butler seemed to be the appropriate matchup.
Instead, Leonard torched Butler and the Sixers for 45 points and 11 rebounds, completely dominating the game in a 108-95 Toronto win. Not only was Leonard incredibly productive, but he was shockingly efficient, making 16 of 23 field goal attempts.
Sixers head coach Brett Brown stuck to his guns and mostly relied on Butler to guard Leonard one-on-one, and Leonard scored 28 first-half points before a switch was made to Ben Simmons
After the game, there was some question as to why Philly didn’t consider putting Simmons (who is taller and longer than Butler) on Leonard more often.
According to ESPN NBA writer Dave McMenamin, Brown was adamant that more he still preferred Butler in that defensive matchup, but also conceded that Simmons may draw the assignment of Leonard more in Game 2.
“Could we see [Simmons] more on Kawhi? Maybe,” Brown said. “Maybe some of the others we need to [be] better and give him help with crowds. … Our intention was multiple defensive players on Kawhi out of that group that I just said.”
Certainly, the Sixers need to give Leonard different looks on defense, but they might consider making the immediate adjustment by starting Simmons on Leonard. That would likely shift Butler onto Kyle Lowry, who scored just nine points in Game 1. This change gives Butler the ability to hedge and help far more frequently while keeping the rest of the matchups intact.