PHILADELPHIA — The Nets lost to the injury-depleted 76ers on Tuesday night, 115-106, in what could have been called Ben Simmons Night.
Simmons, who was booed every time he touched the ball in his playing return to the Wells Fargo Center, had a double-double with 11 points and 11 assists, plus seven rebounds.
Simmons was understandably fired up. During one late second-quarter sequence, Simmons shushed the crowd with a finger to the lips after a basket. He later stared down and gestured at the 76ers bench after a steal.
Simmons also gifted the fans free chicken nuggets when he missed two free throws in a row in the third quarter (that’s a promotion that is good for any visiting player, not just Simmons).
But the Nets were done in by Dix Hills product Tobias Harris, who scored 24 points playing with a sore hip and ankle. The 76ers were without the injured Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, but they had 20 offensive rebounds to the Nets’ four and shot 50% on three-pointers.
De’Anthony Melton added 22 points and Paul Reed had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the 76ers
Kyrie Irving scored 23 points for the Nets (8-10) in his second game back after an eight-game team suspension. Kevin Durant had 20, ending his seasonlong streak of games with at least 25 points.
“We’ve just got to look ourselves in the mirror,” Irving said, “and say that we didn’t give the effort tonight.”
Simmons had nothing but good things to say about Philadelphia and its fans ahead of his return. He continued the glad-handing in a big way when he signed autographs and posed for selfies with early-arriving fans after his pregame workout.
“For me, I felt like I’m in a good place for me to just come in here and play basketball,” Simmons said. “I’m happy I’m doing what I love, so to be out there and have that experience was amazing. Obviously, it wasn’t the result we wanted. It’s frustrating to lose a game like that. But I think it’s a good step forward.”
Philly fans had been looking forward to seeing Simmons match up with Embiid, but Embiid was out with a foot injury. Simmons didn’t expect to have an easy time of it even without the trio of 76ers stars on the floor.
“I think the fans will make up for it,” Simmons said.
But, he added after the game, “I thought it was going to be louder.”
Simmons refused to play for the 76ers last season because of back and mental health issues and was traded to the Nets in February. Injuries kept him from playing for the Nets, too.
Last March 10, Simmons sat on the bench in street clothes as the Nets blew out the 76ers in his first return to Philadelphia.
Tuesday was different. Simmons has been playing his best basketball in two years. After missing four games with a knee injury and getting eased back in off the bench, Simmons started at center on Sunday and scored 22 points with eight rebounds and five assists in a 127-115 win over Memphis.
Simmons opened Tuesday’s game by assisting on the first three baskets — two for Nic Claxton, one for Irving — as the Nets took a 6-0 lead.
But what looked as if it was going to be an early blowout with the Nets up 10-2 changed as the depleted 76ers ended up taking the lead. The Nets trailed after one quarter, 33-26.
The Nets went down by 12 points in the second before retaking the lead. Still, the 76ers went back on top and had a 63-57 advantage heading into halftime.
The Nets took their first lead since midway through the second at 69-68 when Irving found Claxton with a no-look pass for an open dunk. But the 76ers led 85-82 going into the fourth and the Nets, who play in Toronto on Wednesday, pulled their regulars with just more than three minutes to go.