Ben Simmons isn’t naive to the reception that is likely waiting for him when he steps onto the court at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. While Tuesday’s return to the City of Brotherly Love may not be Simmons’ first trip back, he knows that the home fans will not be too kind to him.
“I know what’s coming. That’s part of the game,” Simmons said Sunday night after the Nets win over the Memphis Grizzles Philly fans, one thing about Philly fans is they are incredible. They are die-hard Philly and they are everything Philly, whatever it is. I respect that about the city. It’s a sports town. I was talking to I think Yuta [Watanabe] before the game about what it’s like to play in Philly, and it’s an incredible opportunity to put on whatever jersey it is.
“That’s Philly, and it’s a unique experience.”
Simmons’ departure from Philadelphia was filled with drama as things with the team soured following the 2021 season and the point guard took time away to work on his mental health. He was eventually traded to the Nets in a blockbuster deal that sent James Harden to Philly in return.
The Nets star was on the bench in street clothes when the Nets visited Philadelphia in March following the deal and the Philadelphia fans booed Simmons relentlessly. And all eyes were on him when he walked onto the court during warmups in that game.
— Christian Arnold (@C_Arnold01) March 10, 2022
Despite that, the city still holds a lot of sentimentality for Simmons, who spoke highly of it on Sunday.
“I was 18 years old coming into Philly, so it’s really the only place I’ve lived as an adult. So I have a lot of love for that city,” Simmons said. “People don’t know that, but a lot of my best friends are from Philadelphia. My brother still lives in Philadelphia. So regardless of the situation, whatever happened, happened. But I got a lot of love for that city still, so I look forward to going down there and playing.”
All of this comes as Simmons appears to finally be turning the corner after a rocky start to the season. He has increasingly played better and better over the past three games, which now includes his best game of the year in Sunday’s win.
The Nets point guard had 22 points — a season-high — and shot 11-of-13 from the field in 34:32 on the court in his first start since Oct. 29. Additionally, he had eight rebounds and five assists.
The improved effort has certainly garnered a lot of attention over the past three games, but there was one player that didn’t seem to blink at the effort.
“I expect this from Ben, so when he play well, I’m not going to get excited about it,” Kevin Durant said.
But after eight games where Simmons struggled mightily and dealt with continuing injury issues, he now has three straight games where he has shown why the Nets went out and added him to their arsenal.
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“I think immediately you saw force that he played with whether it was his pace and his attack of the rim, and it was a relentless attack towards the rim and really just spraying the basketball,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “The pace that he created for us tonight, it will make it hard for people to guard us.”
Tuesday’s game is sure to have the juice behind from the fans eager to let Simmons know how they feel, but on the court, some of the intrigue has started to fade away. Both Joel Embiid and James Harden will not play due to injuries.