On January 4 of last season, the San Antonio Spurs’ Jonathon Simmons referred to the Spurs’ bench as the “Juice Unit” following a victory against the Milwaukee Bucks, per the San Antonio Express-News’ Jeff McDonald. The reserves were “supposed to bring the juice,” he said.
Boy, did Simmons bring ever bring the juice for the second unit Tuesday night.
The 27-year-old swingman had himself a memorable night against the mighty Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, scoring a career-best 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench in a 129-100 Spurs blowout victory on the road. He also had four rebounds, three assists and an on-court plus-minus of plus-33.
But it wasn’t so much what Simmons did. It was more about how he did it.
He had several highlight reel-friendly plays that deflated the Oracle Arena crowd at key moments, energizing his own squad at the same time.
There was the three-pointer with one second left in the first quarter that gave the Spurs an 11-point lead at the end of the frame.
There was his high-arcing, buzzer-beating three at the end of the first half, which put the Warriors down 18 heading into the locker room.
He did his best LeBron James impression midway through the third quarter, helping the Spurs keep the Warriors at bay with a ridiculous chase-down stuff of Stephen Curry’s layup.
And lastly, he put a punctuation mark on his evening with an emphatic jam over everyone’s favorite 7-foot goofball, Javale McGee, in the game’s final possession.
Anyone who watched the Spurs last season knows that Simmons is an athletic fellow. He submitted plenty of highlights and was generally a satisfactory performer for Gregg Popovich in his rookie year, thanks to energetic defense, a decent three-point stroke and solid slashing. Pop called Simmons “pretty fearless,” according to Today’s Fastbreak’s Stephen Hunt.
But Tuesday night was different. Simmons contributed several highlight plays but seemed remarkably solid even outside of those moments. He played smart, disciplined defense, both positionally and within the team system; he didn’t force shots that weren’t there, and he made some nice passes on the move. Most of that wasn’t usually true in 2015-16.
While it was just one game, it was easily the best one Simmons has played as a professional, especially considering the opponent and circumstances. He rose to the occasion against an elite squad on the road and performed big plays in key moments.
It’s safe to say “Juice” has earned his rotation spot for the year. Danny Green will take some of his minutes when he comes back from his quad injury (Simmons played 28 on Tuesday), but that’s fine. Simmons should stick in the 18- to 20-minute range, with some extra burn against more athletic opponents.
More importantly, though, Popovich now has another player he can trust against the speed and versatility of the Warriors. All throughout last season, people who followed the Spurs tried to come up with the best combination of players who could match up with the Warriors’ “Death Lineup” of Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green.
It wasn’t easy to choose the right group. Of course, it ended up not mattering because the Spurs lost before they could face Golden State in the postseason.
The Warriors upgraded that lineup in the offseason when they signed Kevin Durant to replace Barnes — I believe the “MegaDeath Lineup” is what all the cool people are calling it.
Simmons has solidified his spot as one of the guys who can match up adequately with the MegaDeath Lineup, as well as the other young, athletic teams of the Western Conference. The 6’6″ shooting guard is obviously athletic, pretty versatile and now more disciplined on both ends, if Tuesday is any indication.
Combine him with Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and you have a really respectable unit that could give the Warriors some issues.
“Juice” Simmons brought the juice Tuesday night. The Spurs will be a heck of a lot tougher for the rest of the league if he continues to do so.