PHILADELPHIA — Ben Simmons committed the cardinal sin after the Game 1 loss: he reprimanded the fans.
The point guard couldn’t have played worse in the series opener, and the Sixers were thoroughly outplayed by an inferior team. But Simmons was offended by the boos inside Wells Fargo Center, including those directed at his ham-and-egger performance.
“If you’re going to boo, then stay on that side,” Simmons said. “That’s how I feel. If you’re a Sixers fan and you’re going to boo, stay on that side.”
Simmons backtracked a day later, but the ordeal was an interesting subplot to Monday’s Game 2. First of all, it’s never smart or appropriate to tell fans paying hundreds of dollars – if not thousands – how to react. They paid for that right, so long as they’re not personal or obscene. These are also fans from the same city who booed Santa Claus. Second of all, the Sixers deserved the boos after trailing for the final 38 minutes against the Nets. Third of all, Simmons was awful and has a lot to prove individually in the playoffs, so the idea that he deserves the benefit of the club is flawed.
His ugly line in Game 1 — 9 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 4-of-9 from the field, 1-of-5 from the line, minus-21 — continued a trend from his previous playoff series against the Celtics last year. Like Boston, the Nets sagged off Simmons and dared him to shoot. And just like with Boston, the strategy worked — allowing the Nets to clog the paint and stifle Philly’s offense.
Simmons couldn’t capitalize, and the Sixers lost their fifth playoff game in their last six — with Simmons struggling in almost all of them. A giant as a point guard at 6-foot-9, the 22-year-old couldn’t score on Brooklyn’s much lesser athletes.
“I think I could be more aggressive," Simmons said. "I got [Jared] Dudley and the other kid guarding me, so I got to be more aggressive attacking them."
The ‘other kid’ is Treveon Graham, a G League call-up who played 17 minutes in Game 1. And Simmons is right — he needs to be more aggressive. Since Simmons can’t shoot, a good comparison at point guard has always been Rajon Rondo. The difference is Rondo raised his game in the playoffs, while Simmons had wilted heading into Monday’s Game 2. He also needs to be better — especially if he’s going to blast the fans.
Simmons probably realized that and changed his tune in Sunday’s practice.
“It's Philly. That's what's going to happen," he said. "I mean, I love it. That's how Philly is. If you can play or you can't, they're going to give you the s---, talk s---, it is what it is. If you're not playing well, they're going to let you know. But, I mean, I love being here. I love the fans here. I wouldn't want to be in a place where they didn't really care or only showed up when times were going well. So, I mean, a few years ago, we were winning 10 games."
Simmons is a big reason why expectations have changed since the Sixers were winning 10 games in 2016. And his struggles were a big reason why Monday’s Game 2 was approaching must-win territory for Philly.