PHILADELPHIA — The night started with the fans booing Ben Simmons every chance they could get, but by the end, they were headed for the exits early after the Nets had a dominating performance in a 129-100 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
On a night where the focus was on Simmons’ return to the building he called home for four seasons, the Nets used it to showcase just what the team can do on a big stage with a near-full roster on the floor. Brooklyn came charging out of the gate with an added purpose and never relented during the course of the 48-minute contest.
“I thought the competitive spirit, connectivity and execution were great,” Nets coach Steve Nash said about the win. “Pretty good with the gameplan, but more importantly you know just our spirit and fight was there. Guys rose to the occasion and we got a second win in a row. Let’s see if we can keep building.”
Brooklyn’s win pulled them within two games of the seventh-place Toronto Raptors and five games back of the sixth-place Cleveland Cavaliers.
Thursday was a total effort from the Nets, who had three players score 20-plus points, the team set a new season-high for the number of steals with 15 and tied a season-high 13 blocks, all while never allowing the Sixers the chance to hold a lead. And Brooklyn held former Nets star James Harden to just 11 points on 3-for-17 shooting, which marked his worst shooting performance since joining the 76ers.
“Just taking the assignment and doing what I could to make it tough on him,” Kyrie Irving said about guarding Harden. “Obviously I just wanted to make it tough. Be in his airspace and commit to really being in the right positions often. Just seeing where I could make some gambles, take some risks. I had a few fouls going into halftime that I didn’t really want. Just learning from that and taking the challenge.”
The Nets also held Sixers star Joel Embiid to just 5-of-17 shooting from the field in the win.
Kevin Durant had a 25 point night on 10-of-17 shooting from the field and he recorded his 12th double-double of the season. Seth Curry had 24 points in his own return to Philadelphia and Irving put up 22 points in the Brooklyn win.
The lead-up to the game had been focused on Simmons’ return to Philadelphia and the expected response from the fans, who had been chomping at the bit to voice their displeasure with the 25-year-old point guard. While the atmosphere wasn’t nearly as vitriolic as anticipated, Sixers fans booed Simmons at every turn.
When Simmons took the court alongside fellow Aussie Patty Mills, all eyes turned to Simmons and a chorus of thunderous Boos rained down. Fans continued to boo and heckle Simmons while he was on the court, with some fans screaming for him to take a shot and others chanting “f–k Ben Simmons.”
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The latter was chanted only a handful of times throughout the evening, especially quieting down as the Nets took full control of the game. Asked afterward if the team was trying to help silence the Philly crowd, Kevin Durant said the team’s effort was a way to have Simmons’ back.
“We look at Ben as our brother,” Durant said. “So we knew that this was a hostile environment and we knew that he didn’t have an opportunity to play, so we wanted to come out there and have them focus on the court more so than just always focusing on him. They focused on the court tonight. It’s hard for you to chant at Ben Simmons when you losing by that much.”
Brooklyn quickly took control of the game right from the opening tipoff, capturing a 13-7 lead by the 7:42 mark of the opening quarter. By the time the opening 12 minutes had been finished, the Nets had taken a 40-23 lead after Irving hit a 27-foot three with .1 seconds left on the clock.
The Nets continued to control the play as the game went on and the closest that Philadelphia would come in the second quarter was 13 point deficit after Harden hit his only two free throws of the night. The Nets continued their assault into the second half as the game quickly became out of reach for the Sixers.