TORONTO • Ben Simmons may not have lit up the scoreboard as he would have liked, but the Philadelphia 76ers guard did get some measure of revenge on Toronto Raptors defensive supremo Kawhi Leonard.
The All-Star, who is known for his playmaking and open-floor scoring, contributed just six points and committed four turnovers on Monday.
But his sacrifice at the offensive end paid off, as he helped to contain fellow All-Star forward Leonard to set the tone in the 94-89 Sixers road victory that tied their National Basketball Association (NBA) Eastern Conference semi-finals at one game apiece.
While Leonard still led all scorers with 35 points, he scored just 15 in the first half as the visitors built a 13-point lead at the break. Much of that had to do with the defensive work of reigning Rookie of the Year Simmons.
Hailing the Australian for doing "a really good job on (Leonard)", Sixers coach Brett Brown said: "As far as Kawhi's brilliance, he's really, really good, we all get that. But having to scout and game plan and then it's happening 20 feet from you, it's exacerbated, it's magnified."
All-Star centre Joel Embiid also revealed the Sixers were determined to "do a better job than in Game 1" when Leonard scored a career play-off high of 45 points.
The Cameroonian said: "We kind of changed the game plan a little bit. Obviously, Kawhi is a great player so you just got to make it tough on him."
Leonard, acquired by Toronto last July in a blockbuster trade with the San Antonio Spurs, is one of the NBA's best two-way players who can often rattle any opponent.
Although there is no way to completely shut down a player of his calibre, Simmons did well to make him uncomfortable and get him out of his comfort zone, until the latter stages of the game when Leonard made things interesting.
And Sixers guard Jimmy Butler, who paced his team with 30 points, believes that with the series shifting to Philadelphia for Game 3 tomorrow and Game 4 on Sunday, they are now in a position to capitalise as long as they keep limiting Leonard's impact.
The All-Star added: "We just got to go down, lock in on our end of the court and not turn the ball over and continue to just contest him."
In Denver, Nikola Jokic had 37 points and nine rebounds as the Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 121-113 in Game 1 of their Western Conference semi-finals.