PHILADELPHIA – Ben Simmons and Sixers fans are friends again.
Simmons posted a triple double to propel the Sixers to a 145-123 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 of the best-of-seven, first-round series Monday night. The series is 1-1 with Game 3 scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday in Brooklyn.
“I was just trying to be me,” Simmons said.
The Sixers took control with a dominating third quarter, outscoring the Nets 51-23 in that period. Simmons finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. He sank 8 of 12 shots. Simmons also harassed Nets leading scorer D’Angelo Russell on defense, forcing Russell into a 6 for 16 shooting effort.
“When you see (Simmons) play with that type of energy,” Sixers center Joel Embiid said, “it makes you want to play the same way. I felt tonight (Simmons) was fantastic. That’s the energy we need for the rest of this series and the playoffs.”
Simmons performance was a welcome sight for Sixers fan after the way he struggled in Saturday’s Game 1. He made just 4 of 9 shots and drifted unnoticed through much of that contest. Fans booed Philadelphia throughout the game and let Simmons hear it when he missed two foul shots in the second half.
Afterwards, Simmons chafed at the booing.
“If you’re going to boo then stay on that side,” Simmons said. “That’s how I feel. If you’re a Sixers fan, and you’re going to boo, stay on that side.”
That remark did not go over big.
On Monday, Simmons was much more aggressive. He grabbed a defensive rebound and drove the length of the court for a layup three times in the game’s first three minutes.
After one successful drive, he waived his arms urging the crowd cheer. The fans stood and roared. In the second half, Simmons cupped his hand to his ear the way former Sixers great Allen Iverson did when he wanted the crowd to make some noise.
All was forgiven
“I was thinking about the boos from last game,” Simmons said with a laugh when asked about his interaction with the crowd. “I have a lot love for this city and the fans here. Every time I step on the floor I try to play as hard as I can. The hustle I try and give each and every game is not only for my teammates and my family, it’s for the city.”
Simmons wasn’t the only Sixer to have a bounce back performance from Game 1.
Starters JJ Redick and Tobias Harris were a much bigger part of the offense. The duo each shot 2 of 7 in Game 1. But in Game 2, Harris scored 19 on 5 of 12 shooting, Redick made 2 of 5 3-pointers and scored 17. Embiid scored 23 and grabbed 10 rebounds in 21 minutes despite a sore left knee.
Boban Marjanovic (16 points, eight rebounds) and Mike Scott (15 points) played well off the bench. Scott was 1 of 8 from 3-point range in Game 1. On Monday, he was 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.
The Sixers 145 points is a franchise record for a playoff game, breaking the mark of 141 set in Game 1 off the 1967 NBA finals against the San Francisco Warriors.
But the game wasn’t that easy for Philadelphia.
The Nets trailed by one at halftime after sinking 10 of 23 3-point attempts in the first two quarters.
But the Sixers scored the first 14 points of the third quarter. That stretch was part of a 21-2 run that gave Philadelphia a 20-point lead four minutes into the period.
The Nets were 0 for 6 from 3-point range in the third quarter. Simmons held Russell to one unsuccessful field goal attempts in the quarter.
“They picked up their intensity,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “They contested shots. They got into us. I would classify it as extreme physicality. They denied us, held us, pushed us. I thought we did a good job of holding the first in the first half. In the third quarter, we didn’t respond.”
Simmons capped the 21-2 run with an eye-opening hustle play. He deflected a pass, batted the ball back in bounds, outsprinted a Nets player for a possession and then dribbled the length of the court for an acrobatic layup.
The fans again stood and roared their approval.
The Wells Fargo Center emptied out in the fourth quarter. Fans went home feeling better about Simmons and the team as a whole.
“That was a great game,” Embiid said. “I feel like if we play the same way – sharing the ball, being aggressive, penetrating, finding shooters, Ben doing his job, me being dominant and defensively not allowing them to make so many 3s – that’s the formula. We just have to do it three more times, and we’re going to be good.”