LAS VEGAS (AP) — It’s July, and it’s the NBA Summer League.
But Saturday night the Thomas and Mack Center felt more like a playoff game, with a near-capacity crowd taking in the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers, as the game featured the top two picks from last month’s NBA Draft.
No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, who made his Summer League debut with the 76ers last week in Salt Lake City, had his first run-in with second pick Brandon Ingram.
While Simmons seemingly won the battle on the stat sheet, it was Ingram’s assist with 1.8 seconds left in the game that led to D’Angelo Russell’s buzzer beater that lifted the Lakers to a 70-69 victory.
Simmons finished with 8 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Ingram had just seven points and four rebounds.
“There was a lot of hype coming into this game. You’re trying to get the jitters out and try to play the game, but I think there was a lot of energy in the building tonight,” Ingram said. “The game doesn’t end until the clock is out (and) I just know D’Angelo is a good player and he just knocked down a big shot.”
Though the Sixers played in Salt Lake City’s Summer League, and the Lakers played incredibly Friday night in their league-opener, both teams appeared rattled from the opening tip, in the national spotlight for a matchup that has been hyped since last month’s draft.
Both Simmons and Ingram came out aggressive early on feeling they needed to impress a national television audience as well as those in attendance. Nevertheless, with the Salt Lake Summer League under his belt, Simmons said he wasn’t bothered by the crowd or the ballyhooed showdown between him and Ingram.
“It was Lakers versus Philly tonight, whoever you matchup against you’re trying to go hard,” Simmons said. “I came out last night (to the Lakers’ game) so I knew they were going to go crazy every lay-up. That’s L.A. fans for you, they’re great.”
Russell created the first exciting moment of the game when he drove past the 76ers’ defense to the right side of the basket, and stuffed a left-handed slam dunk at the 4:38 mark. It sparked a little bit of ribbing between him and Simmons, as the two were teammates at Montverde Academy in Florida. At one point in the first half, Simmons got in Russell’s ear after Lakers’ power forward Larry Nance Jr. collected his fourth foul, while Russell pawed at the ball before Simmons was able to inbound under the basket another time.
“That’s my guy,” Russell said of Simmons. “Win or lose, we know what we went through to get to this point. Going to high school, we know how tough it was. But Ben’s going to be a great player.”
Though this was Russell’s second year at the Summer League, the 6-foot-5 guard said even he had jitters in front of the raucous crowd. Last year’s single-day attendance record of 12,422 was shattered with a reported 16,208 in attendance on Saturday.
“This crowd is so electric and it definitely makes you nervous; coming out in the beginning of the game I had jitters, so I can’t imagine what (Ingram) had,” Russell said. “It gets easier, and I’ll keep preaching to him that it only gets easier and he’ll be fine.”
Lakers coach Luke Walton was all smiles, as well, with a packed house to cheer on his team, which is now 2-0 after the first two days, and how it persevered both nights.
“The Laker fans are some of the best in all of sports. From what I can remember playing preseason games here 15 years ago, it was always like this. We’ve had great support in this city and to hear them cheer and see the numbers show up, it was great,” Walton said. “But to me most importantly is we competed and that’s the attitude I want us to have. To see the young guys get after it in a Summer League game is really encouraging. We’re just getting a gauge on where Brandon is, it’s a big jump into the NBA for a kid his age. He’s a phenomenal defender. He’s long, he gets his hands on the ball and gets a lot of deflections. Just to see him play within the offense and do all the things he’s done for us is incredible, in that a guy that young knows how to do that already.”