Irony was at play inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philly on Thursday night.
Ticket prices were through the roof. Fans were camped outside the Brooklyn Nets hotel heckling Ben Simmons as the team boarded their bus to head for the pregame shootaround, and Dr. J. even rang the bell before the game to get the night started.
It was all for nothing.
The Nets ran the Sixers out of the building in arguably the most anticipated game of the regular season. They said it was supposed to be a hostile crowd. They said Simmons was torturing himself by sitting on the bench in street clothes. Well, they lied. Brooklyn led wire-to-wire in a game in which they scored 40 points in the first quarter, was up by 21 at the half, and had a lead that grew to 36 points as the Sixers fell 129-100 to New York City’s best team.
Before the game, Sixers coach Doc Rivers said, “Why would I address a guy in street clothes,” when asked if he’d discussed Simmons with the team. The fans were supposed to address it for him. Well, that was the plan, but it didn’t wind up happening. The fans that started the night booing their former point guard, were booing their own team by the third quarter.
“It was very quiet towards the end,” Kevin Durant told TNT’s Stephanie Ready after the game. “We didn’t hear anymore Ben Simmons chants from the Sixers fans. It was more Nets fans in here than anything.”
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While all the focus was on Simmons, it was as if everybody forgot that the Nets were a team that felt disrespected. Andre Drummond and Joel Embiid have never gotten along, and after a few months of acting as if they liked each other, the two big men were able to battle in the paint all night like they usually do as opponents. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant got a chance to face James Harden after he left them for his desired destination in Philly. Durant and Irving combined for 47 points, while Harden was held to 11 points after shooting an abysmal 3-for-17 from the field, largely due to Irving’s defense. And then there was Seth Curry, Doc Rivers’ own son-in-law that was traded away as if he wasn’t the Sixers’ second-best player this season. He finished with 24 points.
Thursday night was a disaster for Philadelphians, especially when you consider their reputation and the building this game was taking place in. If you’ve never been to the Wells Fargo Center, or whatever it was called in the past, it’s not a very “luxurious” arena. It was built in 1996 and looks and feels like Philly. From the nosebleed seats to the floor seats to the VIP areas in the back where the buffets and open bars are, everything about it screams “blue-collar.” It’s the furthest thing from a “warm and inviting” place. That’s why a city with a fanbase that once had people eating horsesh*t in the middle of the street to celebrate a Super Bowl win was the perfect place to heckle and harass a grown man that turned down a wide-open dunk in a crucial playoff game all because he was afraid of the moment.
The loudest boos from the fans were directed at the Sixers on Thursday night, not the person who the entire city had directed their hatred toward all season. And when something like that happens, it makes you wonder if Ben Simmons was really the problem in Philadelphia after all.