Ben Simmons shrugged at the boos that erupted from the Philadelphia crowd every time the mercurial guard touched the ball.
The Nets guard even incited fans yet again for his reception of one of the most hated former Philadelphia stars in sports history.
“I thought it was going to be stronger,” Simmons said.
Tobias Harris scored 24 points and an energetic Philadelphia 76ers team played without Joel Embiid and James Harden ruined Simmons’ homecoming with a 115-106 win over Brooklyn on Tuesday night.
“I feel like this is a great win for us,” Harris said. “I knew going into the game we would all come out with this kind of energy and this kind of enthusiasm to get up and play.”
There was a lot of buzz from the moment the doors opened in anticipation of Simmons’ return. He contributed 11 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds to the melody of constant booing. Simmons even had a familiar late fade for the Sixers. He didn’t finish, went goalless in the fourth quarter and scored just two points in the second half.
Ben Simmons got a ferocious reception while playing against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.
Simmons was attacked by 76ers fans throughout the night as the Nets lost 115-106
Kyrie Irving scored 23 points and Kevin Durant had 20 before coach Jacque Vaughn pulled his starting lineup with 3 minutes remaining in the game.
“Everybody wants to see our team fail,” Durant said. Nobody likes Ben. Nobody likes Ky. Nobody wants me.
The expected marquee matchup was tempered with Embiid out with a sprained left foot, Harden still out with a strained tendon in his right foot and starting guard Tyrese Maxey also out with a broken left foot.
Embid vs. Simmons will have to wait, but fans of Simmons vs. 76ers were pretty good.
Simmons was interrupted, flagrantly fouled, silenced a crowd of 20,184 with 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 aplomb as he was booed for the better part of his 32 minutes.
“I feel like I’m in a good place,” Simmons said. ‘I’m happy. I do what I love. Being there and having that experience was incredible.’
He already had three assists when he went to the foul line early in the game. Simmons was booed but never seemed fazed and dunked both baskets. Simmons made a reverse layup minutes later for his first basket.
Most of the Sixers fans were well behaved, except for a couple of brief ‘(expletive) Ben Simmons!’ chants, and mostly saved the four-letter words for the tape on the back of their old No. 25 jerseys.
Simmons and second-year Sixer Georges Niang scuffled late in the first half with Niang giving his former teammate a light body shot that earned him a technical.
Harden couldn’t believe the call from the bench. Sixers owner Josh Harris looked horrified.
Simmons missed the technical free kick and the crowd roared as much as it did throughout the game. Simmons, however, came out on the court to steal and fumbled to Durant for a bucket.
The Sixers still took a 63-57 lead going into halftime.
It wasn’t all booing, it was all play. Simmons made 76ers fans go wild for him when he missed back-to-back free throws in the second half and set off a free fast food chicken promotion.
Simmons was greeted by his former team: here he is greeting Tobias Harris
Nets star Kevin Durant said after the game that “everyone wants to see our team fail.”
“I thought he was in attack mode, he was aggressive, he showed a lot of poise over the course of the night,” Vaughn said. “The experience of getting over it and leaving it behind, really good.”
Simmons averaged 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists over four seasons with Philadelphia, which drafted him from LSU, where he played just one season. His ever-present headaches, like his refusal to shoot beyond 15 feet, outweighed his gifted defensive and playmaking talents. Simmons’ relationship with the Sixers soured 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 thrown out of practice and suspended for one game. The punishment didn’t matter; the first pick in the 2016 draft never intended to play.
Simmons hugged Rivers in handshake line and met with friends and family sitting on the end line before heading into the visitor’s tunnel, and a final chorus of boos.
“I think it’s going to be like this forever,” Simmons said. “I really don’t see it changing.”