Ben Simmons was benched for the final nine minutes of the Brooklyn Nets’ 137-133 loss to the 76ers as the Australian was relentlessly booed by the Philadelphia crowd.
Simmons finished the game with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists, catching fire in the third quarter as the 26-year-old started to drive with aggression towards the rim.
The Australian scored all 12 of his points in that period, otherwise struggling to assert himself on the offensive end in a scoreless first half.
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It had ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins declaring at halftime that Simmons was “afraid of the moment”.
“While Tyrese Maxey’s been the X-Factor, Ben’s been no factor,” Perkins said.
“I’mma change his name to Ben Perkins, he had the same stat lines as me. It’s amazing how (he) goes from an all-NBA player to an enforcer now, that’s what he’s been. Three fouls.
“I’m starting to think he’s afraid of the moment.”
There was no better illustration of that than with one minute remaining in the first quarter, when Simmons passed up an opportunity at the rim to instead pass to teammate Yuta Watanabe.
“You see the lack of aggression from Ben Simmons and it is such a striking contrast to watch him,” Burke said.
“There’s times when he’s completely disappeared on the offensive end of the floor. He averaged about 10 drives per game in becoming a three-time All-Star in a Philly jersey. [Now] he’s about 3.5 drives per game and it’s hard to watch.
“He’s become a role player, an excellent defensive player, but a role player.”
Simmons showed exactly how valuable he can be in the third quarter when he and teammate Seth Curry kept the Nets in the game in the minutes without Kyrie Irving on the floor.
Irving told reporters after the game that Brooklyn looked “very good” when Simmons was at his aggressive best, like he was in the third quarter.
“We’re seeing flashes,” Irving said.
“We’re all seeing flashes and we just want him to keep it up.”
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The same goes for Nets coach Vaughn, who said Simmons “showed ability to play with more force” in the quarter but also needs to find a way to do it more consistently.
Vaughn left Simmons on the bench for the final nine minutes of the game, telling reporters that decision had more to do with Brooklyn being down and needing more shooting options.
The Nets coach though also touched on what he made of Simmons’ performance as a whole and whether he has given the Australian any specific advice on how to assert himself more.
“It’s the message I talked about before the game,” he said.
“We’re going to get every guy, and that includes Ben, to value every possession and play hard every possession. Just because you play the first half doesn’t mean you’re going to play the second half.
“We really want to get to a point where your teammate is depending on you, depending on you to do your job every single, every single possession. Ben showed ability to play with more force in the second half, which paid off, which is what we need.”
Vaughn also suggested it is less about him telling Simmons what to do and more giving the 26-year-old the space to think about his game and in time, change his mindset on the court.
“You become what you think about,” Vaughn said, sending a clear message to Simmons.
“So if you’re thinking about being aggressive, you will be aggressive. If you think about being a good teammate, you’ll be a good teammate. If you think about competing and playing hard, you do those things. You become what you think about.”
Thursday’s game was the first time Simmons had shared the court with Joel Embiid and James Harden since the blockbuster trade that sent him to Brooklyn in the first place.
The Australian was relentlessly booed by Sixers fans every time he touched the ball and the crowd certainly had all eyes on Simmons when he was guarding Embiid in various moments during the game.
“[The crowd] was like a party,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said post-game.
“It was hilarious. That’s when I turned to the coaches and said ‘this is a boxing crowd tonight.’ They want to see ‘em drop the basketball, turn and duke it out”
The fans probably would’ve booed his every breath if they could, such is the city’s hatred of Simmons, who requested a trade last season amid a deteriorating relationship with Embiid and got traded to the Nets for Harden.
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Embiid, who returned to the lineup after he sat out their last game with foot soreness, was largely outplayed by Nic Claxton, who had a career-high 25 points on 11-for-12 shooting, while adding 11 rebounds and two blocks.
The Nets trailed by 17 in the third quarter and were still down 116-102 in the fourth, before an 18-4 blitz tied the score. But they couldn’t get over the hump, and gave an 8-2 run right back.
A Irving bucket cut the Sixers’ lead to 133-131 with 45 seconds left, but Harden followed with a finger roll to essentially ice it.
Curry, who arrived with Simmons in the Harden deal, led the Nets with 32 points on 7-for-10 shooting from behind the arc. Irving added 30 points and 10 assists.
Maxey had 27 points and Embiid scored 26 on subpar six-for-18 shooting for the Sixers (31-16). Harden finished with 23 points — eight in the fourth quarter — and seven assists.
— with New York Post