Ben Simmons mercilessly booed as Nets lose on his playing

A spirited 76ers team playing without Joel Embiid and James Harden spoiled Ben Simmons’ return to Philadelphia with a 115-106 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.

Simmons, who has been improving since an awful 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 pulled his starting lineup with three minutes left in the game.

The expected marquee matchup was dimmed with Embiid Harden absent through injury. That means Embiid v Simmons will have to wait. But Simmons v 76ers fans was pretty good.

The Australian was heckled, drew a flagrant foul, shushed the crowd on a layup, and even Jordan-shrugged after hitting free throws. Of most importance for a player who has battled mental health issues, Simmons played with poise as boos rained on him for the bulk of his 32 minutes on court.

He already had three assists when he went to the free-throw line early in the game. Simmons was booed but never looked rattled and sank both baskets. Simmons had a reverse layup minutes later for his first bucket.

Sixers fans were boisterous rather than venomous, although there were a couple of short-lived “Fuck Ben Simmons!” chants. But they mostly saved the four-letter words for tape on the back of their old No 25 jerseys.

Simmons had said before the game he expected a hostile reception in Philly. “I can’t worry about everyone’s feelings,” Simmons said. “At the end of the day, I’m not here to make everybody happy.”

Simmons and second-year Sixer Georges Niang tussled late in the first half and Niang gave his former teammate a light stiff-arm to the body that earned a technical foul. Harden couldn’t believe the call from the bench. Sixers owner Josh Harris looked appalled. Simmons missed the technical free throw and the crowd roared as much as it did all game. Simmons, though, hit the court for a steal and knocked the loose ball to Durant for a bucket.

It wasn’t all jeers, all game. Simmons did make 76ers fans go wild over him when he missed consecutive free throws in the second half and triggered a free fast-food chicken promotion.

Simmons averaged 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists over four seasons with Philadelphia, who drafted him No 1 overall out of LSU, where he played only 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 following the 2021 playoffs and he demanded a trade.

Simmons made a surprise return to the Sixers shortly before last season opened 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 had any intention of playing. And he never played for the Sixers again.

Playing against them on Tuesday seemed like much more fun.