Shorthanded Sixers, fans spoil Ben Simmons’ return to Philly – The Mercury News

Shorthanded Sixers, fans spoil Ben Simmons’ return to Philly – The Mercury News

PHILADELPHIA — A five-piece Chick-fil-a nuggets and a hoarse voice box.

Not to mention an unlikely 115-106 win over the Nets in a game where Philly’s three best players each sat with foot injuries.

After 76ers fans mercilessly booed star forward Ben Simmons from the pregame warmups to the final buzzer in his first game back at the Wells Fargo Center since the blockbuster James Harden deal, they left the arena with a five-piece chicken nugget coupon — rewarded after Simmons missed back-to-back free throws — and a strained talk box for their troubles after handing the Nets one of their most disappointing losses in a season chock full of them.

Like the other disappointing losses the Nets had this season, the team did not look sharp for all 48 minutes.

“Overall, the approach. Boils down to that,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said about what went wrong Tuesday night. “Just overall as a group how serious, how focused, how dedicated were we on every possession. Overall, just not what we needed. That’s the great thing about basketball: You pay for it if you don’t bring it.”

The Sixers were without Joel Embiid, James Harden and budding star Tyrese Maxey. The Nets, who are as close to fully healthy as they’ve been all season, were 7.5-point favorites.

That all went out the window once the game became about the villain.

Forty minutes after Simmons spent extended time signing paraphernalia for an early group of fans who cheered him through his pregame individual workout routine, the other 99% of fans in the arena booed the star forward who once wore their jersey.

The booing began 20 minutes before tipoff when Simmons darted onto the floor for the layup lines.

It was deafening. It was relentless. It was the pent-up vitriol the rabid fan base preserved specifically for the moment Simmons stepped foot onto the Wells Fargo Center floors as an active opponent, with the only cheers coming when he made a bad play or committed a foul.

On a number of occasions, fans chanted “F—k Ben Simmons,” including in garbage time, as Simmons watched from the sidelines.

And it was expected, to say the least.

“I think it’s gonna be like this forever. I mean, I don’t really see the change there,” Simmons said about the fans booing him all night. “But obviously, it’s one step in the right direction for me as a player and I think it was a good experience.”

The Sixers fan reaction to Simmons’ return to to Philly was the worst-kept secret in all of sports for the week. Arena staff wondered if fans would cross any lines. Simmons, himself, joked Sixers fans would never let a season away from the court deter them from heckling him all night.

“In Philly?!” he said with a face that went viral. “Come on now. I know what’s coming. Philly fans, one thing about them: They’re incredible.”

Simmons first got a taste as an inactive player on the Nets’ roster during their March 10 trip to Philadelphia last season.

That day, the booing started outside the Nets team hotel.

This, however, was different. It’s different getting booed as a spectator as opposed to an active participant. It hits different when the boos come every time you touch the ball, no matter how fleeting the touch might be.

It hits different when those boos come for a poor free throw shooter every time he’s up to the charity stripe.

It hits different when those boos eventually compound into momentum for the home team.

The Nets led by eight but eventually surrendered their advantage and trailed by as many as 16 points.

And as the wheels fell off due to the Nets’ inability to get stops against a severely short handed Sixers squad, it became clear the boos were the least of Brooklyn’s problems.

The Nets couldn’t stop Tobias Harris, who is the fourth best player on a stacked Sixers roster. They couldn’t keep either of Philly’s backup bigs Montrezl Harrell or Paul Reed off the boards or out of the paint. They couldn’t contain Philly’s backup guards, Shake Milton or De’Anthony Melton.

And while Simmons continued to show progress in his willingness to attack the rim, his defensive intensity and the athleticism that was hampered due to off-season back surgery, the Nets still looked discombobulated.

They still have loads of work to do.

“It’s my second game back so I’m just trying to get my feet underneath me,” Kyrie Irving said. “Trying to fit in with everybody for the time being just trying to get back into the flow of things. We just got to look ourselves in the mirror and say that we didn’t give the effort tonight and on the defensive end I just think it starts with our attention to detail. That’s it.”


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