A spirited 76ers team that played without Joel Embiid and James Harden ruined Ben Simmons’ return to Philadelphia with a 115-106 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
Simmons, who has been improving since a terrible start to his Nets career, had 11 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds to the tune of steady boos. Kyrie Irving scored 23 points and Kevin Durant had 20 before coach Jacque Vaughn withdrew his starting lineup with three minutes remaining.
The anticipated big game was dimmed with Embiid Harden absent through injury. That means Embiid v Simmons will have to wait. But fans of Simmons v 76ers were pretty good.
The Australian was scolded, committed a flagrant foul, silenced the crowd during a layup and even Jordan shrugged after making free throws. Of utmost importance for a player who has battled mental health issues, Simmons played with poise as the boos rained down on him for most of his 32 minutes on the court.
He already had three assists going to the free throw line early in the game. Simmons was booed but never looked upset and sank both baskets. Simmons had a reverse layup minutes later for his first bucket.
Sixers fans were rambunctious rather than venomous, though there were a few short-lived “Fuck Ben Simmons!” chants. Most of the time, though, they saved the four-letter words for tape on the back of their old No. 25 jerseys.
Simmons had said before the game that he expected a hostile reception in Philly. “I can’t worry about everyone’s feelings,” Simmons said. “Ultimately, I’m not here to make everyone happy.”
Simmons and second-year Sixer Georges Niang argued late in the first half, and Niang gave his former teammate a slight stiff arm to the body that resulted in a technical foul. Harden couldn’t believe the call from the bench. Sixers owner Josh Harris looked shocked. Simmons missed the technical free throw and the crowd roared as loud as the entire game. However, Simmons took to the field for a bargain and hit the loose ball to Durant for a bucket.
It wasn’t all jeering, all play. Simmons caused 76ers fans to go wild when he missed consecutive free throws in the second half and kicked off a free fast food chicken promotion.
Simmons averaged 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists over four seasons with Philadelphia, which ranked him No. 1 overall out of LSU, where he only played one season. His problems, such as his refusal to shoot beyond 15 feet, outweighed his otherwise gifted defensive and playmaking talents. Simmons’ relationship with the Sixers deteriorated after the 2021 playoffs and he demanded a trade.
Simmons made a surprise return to the Sixers shortly before last season began, but was promptly kicked out of practice and suspended for one game. The punishment didn’t matter; the No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft never intended to play. And he never played for the Sixers again.
Playing against them on Tuesday seemed much more fun.