Ben Simmons showed his composure to shrug and smile through the boos and flirt with a triple-double during his NBA return to Philadelphia.
But it was the 76ers, missing three of their biggest names, who had the last laugh in a 115-106 win over Brooklyn.
The Aussie finished with 11 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals – not adding to his run in a fourth quarter dominated by the home team.
The injured trio James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid were all absent for Philadelphia but Tobias Harris (24 points), Paul Reed (19 points, 10 rebounds), De’Anthony Melton (22 points) and a fiery Georges Niang (16 points ) intensified.
It was Simmons’ first appearance at the Wells Fargo Center since his inglorious exit to Brooklyn midway through last season.
He had asked for a trade after being ridiculed for the team’s weak outing in the 2021 Finals, Simmons’ reluctance to shoot the ball and a lightning rod’s low free throw percentage for fans looking for someone to blame .
The ravenous boos and chants of the famous Sixers parish crowd greeted him on the pitch and whenever he had the ball.
But Simmons, who has struggled with mental health issues, almost seemed to enjoy it.
He had three assists in 90 seconds, however, then smiled wryly and shrugged after ironically taking his first two free throws.
Some “F*** Ben Simmons!” the chants were followed by ecstatic cheers when the man of the moment missed both free throws in the second half, sparking a free chicken promotion.
Simmons stood for a block, then slammed the one-handed jam and exchanged words with Niang after firing a flagrant foul for an innocuous elbow to the stomach.
A steal and then a desperate dive handed the ball to Kevin Durant (20 points) for an easy two and it was a three-point game with a quarter to play.
But Harris took the lead in the final period; the Nets falling to 8-10, the 76ers down to 9-8 with the highly anticipated game between Simmons and Embiid put on hold.
- Simmons ends 470-day NBA absence
- Simmons at best despite Nets’ NBA defeat
- Brooklyn slump to seven-year worst in NBA
- Nets post win after tumultuous NBA week
- Nets’ Simmons on song in NBA at Toronto