Ben Simmons’ return to Philadelphia dominated headlines heading into Tuesday’s Nets-76ers matchup.

Sixers fans lived up to the billing, relentlessly booing Simmons from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Despite this, the former 76er showed up and played inspired, efficient basketball. The problem for the Nets was none of his teammates did the same.

Brooklyn was thoroughly out-hustled by a Philadelphia team down their three best players on their way to an embarrassing 115-106 loss. The game comes as a “wake-up call” for a Nets team that has had an alarming number of them just 18 games into the season. Head coach Jacque Vaughn said he had a transparent message for his players following the loss.

“There’s no way we’re going to win games if we don’t play hard every single possession every night. It’s as simple as that,” Vaughn said. “We’ll play the guys who want to play hard and we’ll keep it that simple.”

Lackluster Rebounding

The hustle numbers Tuesday were glaring for a Nets team in need of a win on the front end of a back-to-back. Philadelphia grabbed 19 offensive rebounds to Brooklyn’s 4 while the Nets lost the second-chance points battle 25 to 7.

“Rebounding is you want it or I want it. And I am going to box you out or am I not going to? Too many times tonight we made the choice to not box out and we paid for it,” Vaughn said. “They had 19 more shots than us, that’s hard to overcome. We have a choice and we said that in a timeout. Are we going to defend? Are we not going to defend? Are we going to take each possession serious or are we not? Too many times tonight we made the choice not to.”

Kevin Durant echoed a similar message for a Nets team that has struggled on the defensive glass all season.

“Same s***,” Durant said of Brooklyn’s struggles Tuesday. “(They took) 20 more shots than us and seven more three-pointers. That’s the game.”

Brooklyn’s defense was just as uninspired as their effort on the glass. The Nets allowed a 76ers team led by Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, De’Anthony Melton, Georges Niang and Paul Reed to score 66 first-half points and shoot 50 percent from three.

Unengaged three-point defense

Philadelphia made 16 threes to Brooklyn’s nine, a difference that proved to be too large for Vaughn’s squad to overcome. Despite several defensive breakdowns, Durant said the 76ers should get credit for their hot shooting.

“A lot of those are crossover, stepback threes that are just backbreakers,” Durant said. “So I wouldn’t necessarily say we had a horrible defensive night.”

While the 76ers made some tough shots, abysmal three-point defense has been a recurring theme for Brooklyn. The Nets rank 26th in opposing 3-point percentage (38.1 percent) while allowing the 22nd-most three-point attempts in the league. The film shows Brooklyn continually over-helping off shooters, making unnecessary gambles, and appearing unengaged off the ball:

Vaughn took note of Brooklyn’s lackadaisical three-point defense, calling his team out for low-IQ decisions.

“I think that was a big part of their run at the beginning of the game,” he said of Philadelphia’s hot start from three. “I think 21 points off seven threes and then you get a couple guys feeling good about themselves and the next thing you know the bucket looks a little bigger.”

“Definitely some breakdowns where we’re deciding to help in two-point land where a guy’s going to shoot a fadeaway and we give up a three,” he continued. “That’s just not smart basketball.”

Brooklyn’s point-of-attack defense was also a disaster. The 76ers’ guards frequently penetrated leading to rotations and openings on the offensive glass and/or three-point line.

Simmons shines again

After looking like one of Brooklyn’s biggest question marks after early struggles, Simmons has ironically become the team’s biggest silver lining as of late. The three-time All-Star turned in another high-level two-way performance Tuesday, posting 11 points, 7 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks in 32 minutes.

The two-way effort was again emblematic of the vision Brooklyn had for Simmons this season. The Aussie was everywhere on the floor, defending, rebounding, pushing the pace, screening and facilitating:

Tuesday’s game marks Simmons’ fourth straight in double figures. The former number one pick has averaged 14.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists on 26 of 33 (78.8 percent) shooting over that span.

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Simmons’ performance in as hostile an environment as it gets is an encouraging sign in regards to his confidence moving forward. Despite the non-stop booing from Philadelphia’s fans, Simmons made hustle play after hustle play and even engaged with the crowd on several occasions.

“They weren’t out there on the floor, so I didn’t think they were going to be an issue either way,” Simmons said of the unruly crowd. “I thought it was going to be louder.”

The 26-year-old said he enjoyed having fun with the fans when asked about flashing them a shrug after knocking down his first two free throws. Simmons’ increased comfortability will continue to provide a major lift for a Brooklyn team in need of high-level defense, ball-handling and rebounding.


The loss brings the Nets to 8-10 on the season. Brooklyn won’t have much time to dwell on the performance as they look to get back on track in Toronto against the 9-8 Raptors Wednesday.