Brooklyn’s Ben Simmons endured a defeat Tuesday in the Australian’s emotional NBA return to Philadelphia as a short-handed 76ers’ squad lacking three top stars humbled the Nets 115-106.
The pre-game focus was on ex-Sixer Simmons playing his first game in Philadelphia since being traded to the Nets in February, but the home team lacking injured starters Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey stole the show.
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Tobias Harris scored 18 of his 24 points after halftime, De’Anthony Melton added 22 points and Paul Reed came off the bench to add 19 points and 10 rebounds to spark the 76ers. Shake Milton and Georges Niang each added 16 points.
“I just needed to get into a rhythm and once I was able to find that flow, I just stuck with it and made the right play,” Harris said.
“That was a huge win for us.”
Sixers fans loudly booed Simmons when he was introduced and every time he touched the ball, spite coming from a bad breakup with the 26-year-old from Melbourne after four seasons in Philly.
“I thought it was going to be louder,” Simmons said.
Simmons, taken by the 76ers with the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, played 32 minutes and scored 11 points, passed off 11 assists, grabbed seven rebounds, blocked three shots and made three steals.
“I thought he did a great job of just handling it and playing his game,” Nets forward Kevin Durant said. “There are a lot of emotions. You just want to play well. You know the fans are going to be involved and get excited.”
Simmons, who made 4-of-7 shots from the floor and 3-of-6 from the free throw line, signed autographs for a few supportive fans.
“It was nice to see I had support in Philadelphia still,” Simmons said. “I don’t think we had all bad times.”
The Sixers outrebounded the Nets 46-35 and made 16 of 32 from 3-point range, powered by Melton’s 6-for-11 and Niang’s 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
“We just said we’re going to need everybody’s effort and we need everybody to be as confident as ever,” Harris said. “For us it’s just figuring out ways to make sure everybody has that impact.”
Kyrie Irving, in his first road game back after an eight-game suspension over social media links to a film with anti-semitic tropes, led the Nets (8-10) with 23 points while Durant had a season-low 20.
“Just got to go through it and stay confident,” Irving said of Simmons handling the boos. “I think he did well.
“It’s good to hear their loud voices, hear their boos. Next time hopefully that motivates us to go out there and get that win a little bit more.”
The 76ers led 85-82 after three quarters and began the fourth with an 11-5 run while Simmons and Durant rested. When they returned, the Nets came no closer than seven points.
“Everybody wants to see our team fail,” Durant said. “Nobody likes Ben. Nobody likes Ky. Nobody likes myself. It might be like that at every road arena. It’s just something we’ve got to deal with.”
The 76ers (9-8) lacked Embiid, out with a left foot strain; Harden, out with a right foot sprain and Maxey, who has a broken left foot.
“Anytime we’re down that many starters, it’s everybody just coming together and realizing we needed each other,” Harris said.
– Morant returns in loss –
Simmons, the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year, with the 76ers, missed the start of last season with what was termed mental health issues after requesting to be traded. He was sent to Brooklyn in February and missed the entire season with a herniated disc in his back.
At Memphis, Ja Morant made an unexpected return from a Friday ankle sprain for the host Grizzlies and scored a game-high 34 points in a losing cause as Sacramento won 113-109.
De’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 32 points.