It didn’t feel like a revenge game at all. Ben Simmons returned to Philadelphia for the first time as an active participant and started for the Brooklyn Nets. Yes, Simmons was booed every time he touched the basketball but it was almost an amusing afterthought.
The Sixers were playing without Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey. The stakes weren’t as high as they could have been during this Nets-Sixers showdown, compared to the last one. When Simmons came back to face the Sixers last March, there was a circus-like atmosphere in the air.
The Philly faithful harassed him as he watched in a designer outfit from the bench on that night. Simmons was once again serenaded with NSFW chants on Tuesday, but he wasn’t met with the same venom he was eight months ago. There wasn’t the same juice in the building.
Doc Rivers was asked to comment on Simmons about 90 minutes prior to tip-off at Wells Fargo Center. The savvy head coach really didn’t have much to say one way or the other as he politely deferred to Sixers fans to speak for him.
“That’s not for me,” Rivers said. “My thoughts are on trying to win the game.”
Simmons came into Tuesday night’s contest off his best performance of the season. He scored 22 points against Memphis on November 20, filling up the stat sheet with 8 rebounds and 5 assists in 35 minutes. He had strung together a nice three-game stretch that didn’t go unnoticed by his former coach.
“We got to worry about the team and Ben has been playing terrific the last three games,” Rivers said. “And KD’s [Kevin Durant] pretty good, too. We’re going to mention him and Kyrie [Irving], he’s back … Seth [Curry] with his shooting and Joe Harris, they got a bunch of flame throwers. The natural competitiveness from Ben will be there and the natural competitiveness from his teammates will be there, and that’s just natural. That’s whether they all got along or didn’t. It doesn’t matter really in these games.”
Jacque Vaughn Encouraged Simmons to Have Fun
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn was in a jovial mood during his pre-game media availability. He channeled Vince Vaughn, circa 2003, to describe what he expected from the Philadelphia fans when Simmons came strolling out of the visitor’s tunnel. He called it an “earmuff night.”
“It’s a Vince Vaughn earmuffs night tonight, you know what that is, and it has nothing to do with the weather,” Vaughn said. “I think he should embrace it, enjoy it. It’s a part of sports and Philly, they have great fans and what I want to see is his teammates have his back. Embrace him, enjoy this moment, you get to hoop in front of people who are cheering for you, against you, it doesn’t matter.”
Remember, a good amount of Simmons’ former Sixers teammates are either no longer on the team or dealing with injuries. Hard or hurt feelings were hard to come by on Tuesday. Tobias Harris, P.J. Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, Shake Milton, and De’Anthony Melton were the starting five.
Rivers said: “Well, the guys on our team that were here … most of those guys are on the injured reserve list.”
Doc Rivers Provides Joel Embiid Update
Many people had circled the November 22 date as soon as the schedule came out. Some had hoped to see Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons get matched up inside the paint. The Nets have been playing Simmons at the center position a lot. However, Embiid is dealing with a left midfoot sprain and sat out Tuesday’s reunion.
The Big Fella is out for at least one more game before he gets re-evaluated. He remains in good spirits, although some frustration has set in.
“He’s good. He’s injured and guys don’t want to be injured,” Rivers said. “And so he’s frustrated a little bit.”