Simmons had 11 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds to the tune of steady boos. Kyrie Irving scored 23 points and Kevin Durant had 20 before coach Jacque Vaughn pulled his starting lineup with three minutes left in the game.
The expected marquee matchup was dimmed with Embiid out with a sprained left foot, Harden still out with a tendon strain in his right foot and starting guard Tyrese Maxey also out with a broken left foot.
Simmons was heckled, drew a flagrant foul, shushed the crowd on a layup, and even Jordan-shrugged after hitting free throws.
Of most importance for a player who has battled mental health issues, Simmons played with poise as boos rained on him for the bulk of his 32 minutes.
“I thought it was going to be louder,” said Simmons on the boos from the 76ers fans in attendance after the game.
He already had three assists when he went to the free-throw line early in the game. Simmons was booed but never looked rattled and sank both baskets. Simmons had a reverse layup minutes later for his first bucket.
Sixers fans were mostly well-behaved — save for a couple of short-lived “(expletive) Ben Simmons!” chants — and mostly saved the four-letter words for tape on the back of their old No.25 jerseys.
Simmons and second-year Sixer Georges Niang tussled late in the first half and Niang gave his former teammate a light stiff-arm to the body that earned a technical foul.
Harden couldn’t believe the call from the bench. Sixers owner Josh Harris looked appalled.
Simmons missed the technical free throw and the crowd roared as much as it did all game. Simmons, though, hit the court for a steal and knocked the loose ball to Durant for a bucket.
The Sixers still took a 63-57 lead into the break.
It wasn’t all jeers, all game. Simmons did make 76ers fans go wild over him when he missed consecutive free throws in the second half and triggered a free fast-food chicken promotion.
Simmons averaged 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists over four seasons with Philadelphia, which drafted him out of LSU, where he played the paint, outweighed his otherwise gifted defensive and playmaking talents.
Simmons’ relationship with the Sixers deteriorated following the 2021 playoffs and he demanded a trade.
Simmons made a surprise return to the Sixers shortly before last season opened but was promptly kicked out of practice and suspended for one game.
The punishment didn’t matter; the No.1 pick of the 2016 draft never had any intention of playing.
And he never played for the Sixers again.
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