PHILADELPHIA — Ben Simmons and 76ers 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 in which they outscored the Nets 51-23. 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 him 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.”
The triple-double was the second of Simmons’ playoff career. He joins Wilt Chamberlain (eight) and Charles Barkley (two) as the only Sixers with multiple playoff triple-doubles.
Simmons’ performance was a welcome sight for 76ers fans 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 well.
Simmons’ effort in Game 1 combined with his performance in last season’s playoffs caused some people to wonder if he is the type of player who can succeed in the playoffs. His inability and unwillingness to shoot from the perimeter become accentuated in the postseason when defenders play 5 to 6 feet off him and clog the lane.
But 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 waved his arms urging the crowd cheer. The fans stood and roared.
All was forgiven.
After another basket in the second half, Simmons cupped his hand to hear, the way former Sixers standout Allen Iverson did when he wanted the fans to make some noise.
“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.”
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 attempt 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 fort) n 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.”