'He rises to the occasion': Ben Simmons leads way for 76ers

Despite what Donovan Mitchell may think, Ben Simmons is a rookie by definition and had no qualms letting his opponents know that, while he may be playing his first season, he already has the mindset of a hardened playoff veteran.

Ahead of Game 1 against the Miami Heat, Simmons said he didn't have any pre-game nerves and was "ready to play".

Play he did, finishing with 17 points (5-13 from the field), 14 assists and 9 rebounds -- falling just shy of his 13th triple-double of the season -- as the Sixers took a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven series with their 130-103 win. Simmons' 14 assists were the second most all-time by a rookie in his playoff debut, behind only Magic Johnson's 16.

"Playing a team, like the Heat, you gotta come in and be locked in the whole game," Simmons said after the contest. "There are no breaks. That's the biggest thing I've noticed with this first [playoff] game than the regular season is you've got to be locked-in the whole game."

Simmons opened the first quarter with an aggressive mentality, attacking the rim and finding open teammates when Miami's Justice Winslow used his length to limit Simmons' drives to the rim. If you were using a race car as an analogy to describe the Australian's start to Game 1, you'd say he was in the red right from the tip.

The Sixers' point guard said he was extremely focused prior to the game.

"I was just locked-in the whole time," he said. "I try not to change [routine] too much before the game. I like to get here nice and early, get through my routine, stretching."

Simmons has played with a poise that belies his inexperience all season, earning the praise and respect of both the coaching staff and his teammates. J.J. Redick said he didn't expect the magnitude of the moment to alter Simmons' approach in the Sixers' playoff run.

"Ben is not really affected by pressure," Redick said at morning shootaround. "I think he rises to the occasion. There's a competitive juice that he has for big games. He takes things personally; he cares, he wants to win. Those are all attributes that will serve him well in the playoffs."

The Sixers have been playing without center Joel Embiid since March 28 because of an orbital fracture and concussion sustained against the New York Knicks. In his absence, Simmons' own game has grown as he's become the focal point of a 76ers team that has been thriving playing at a faster tempo without their injured centre. Without Embiid, the 76ers have gone 9-0, and are currently on a 17-game winning streak.

"We've learned a lot about ourselves playing without Jo, and knowing we can compete at the highest level when he's not here," Simmons said.

A huge reason for the team's ability to continue to progress without Embiid has been Simmons' ability to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the team. Despite his tender age, Simmons has flourished as the Sixers on-court leader this season.

"I think I've been put in a position to where I have to be one of the leaders even though it is playoffs, or whatever the case is. I'm one of the youngest guys, but that's what I want to be so it's no problem," he said.

"For me, [it's] just being more aggressive, attacking the rim, knocking down free-throws when I get the opportunity, and just moving the ball, playing the way I play."

In a scary forewarning for the Heat, Simmons says he wants to carry the same mindset he had Saturday into Game 2 on Monday.

"I'm ready to play the next game," he said. "I feel good, but I'm not satisfied."