Kevin Durant had 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists to rally the Brooklyn Nets past the Philadephia 76ers, whose fans turned on “missing” star guard Ben Simmons.
The Nets were missing Kyrie Irving, who isn’t with the team due to his refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine, while Simmons sat out the home opener for personal reasons with the Sixers still in the dark over when the three-time All-Star will return.
The 76ers could have done with Simmons’ defence to shut down a closing 16-1 charge from the Nets, who posted a 114-109 victory.
The Sixers tossed up airballs on consecutive possessions early in Brooklyn’s run. The Nets had never led or tied until LaMarcus Aldridge’s dunk with 48 seconds left made it 108-108. He sank the free throw for the one-point lead.
Durant made two free throws to seal Brooklyn’s comeback from 14 points down.
Joel Embiid scored 19 points on a sore right knee suffered against New Orleans in the opener. He left for the locker room in the final moments of the first half on Friday and warmed up at halftime with a wrap on his knee, but started the third quarter.
Tobias Harris and Seth Curry each scored 23 points for the Sixers.
Boomer Patty Mills played 30 minutes for the Nets and had two rebounds, two assists and 11 points.
Simmons has not played since his offseason trade demand. He met with the Sixers before the morning shootaround.
Coach Doc Rivers said it was a “productive day” and hoped it was a start towards bringing Simmons back into the fold.
Rivers didn’t want to predict when Simmons might rejoin the Sixers – if the guard returns at all.
“We’re going to make sure Ben’s with the right people and see where that goes,” he said. “He is part of the team. We have certain rules, obviously. The other day, that didn’t happen. But today was a good day.”
The 25-year-old Australian had become the No.1 target for Sixers’ fans derision and they came dressed to mock the absentee guard.
The most popular was a form of a Mister Softee T-shirt with an ice cream swirl on Simmons’ head.
Another fan dressed in a red clown wig and clown nose and taped “CLOWN” over his No.25 Simmons jersey. The parking lots found bootleg T-shirt sales of Simmons on a “MISSING” poster.
Durant and Harden (20 points) were a two-player show until the fourth and the Nets had no answers when Tyrese Maxey, Simmons’ replacement, scored five straight points early in the quarter that pushed the lead to double digits.
Tobias Harris hit Boomer Matisse Thybulle on an alley-oop that made it 108-98 that even made Embiid rise off the bench in celebration.
The Sixers would not score again until Seth Curry made 1 of 2 free throws with 15.2 seconds left to make it 111-109 and the collapse was complete.
The Sixers did their best to defuse potential anti-Simmons chants – a Flyers game in the same building this week got profanely loud toward Simmons – by sending Embiid out to address the crowd.
Embiid thanked the fans for coming after having to stay home most of last season amid the pandemic and asked they support Simmons because “he’s still our brother.”
The crowd listened and no sustained chants of any substance ever developed.