PHILADELPHIA — Five-piece chick-fil nuggets and a husky voice.
Not to mention an improbable 115-106 win over the Nets in a game that saw Philly’s top three players sit out with leg injuries.
After the 76ers, the fans booed mercilessly star forward Ben Simmons from pregame warmups to the final buzzer in his first game at the Wells Fargo Center after the blockbuster James Harden dealthey left the arena with a five-piece chicken nuggets coupon — rewarded after Simmons missed back-to-back free throws — and a tense talking box for their troubles after the Nets suffered one of the most disappointing losses of a season full of them.
The Sixers were without Joel Embiid, James Harden and rookie star Tyrese Maxey. The Nets, who are as close to fully healthy as they’ve been all season, were 7.5-point favorites.
All of that disappeared once the game became about the villain.
40 minutes after Simmons spent extended time signing autographs for the first group of fans who cheered him on during a one-on-one workout before the game, the other 99% of fans in the arena booed the star power forward who once wore their jersey.
The whistle went 20 minutes before tip-off when Simmons rushed to the floor behind the lay-up lines.
It was deafening. It was relentless. It was a low-key sullenness that a frenzied fan base reserved specifically for when Simmons stepped onto the Wells Fargo Center floors as an active opponent, and only when he played poorly or fouled out.
Fans chanted “F—k Ben Simmons” on several occasions, including during garbage time when Simmons watched from the sideline.
And it was, to say the least, expected.
Sixers fans’ reaction to Simmons’ return to Philly has been the worst-kept secret in all of sports for a week. The Arena staff wondered if fans would cross any lines. Simmons himself joked that Sixers fans would never let an offseason stop them from booing him all night long.
“In Philly?!” he said with a face that went viral. “Come on now. I know what will happen. Philly fans, one thing about them: they’re incredible.”
Simmons first felt like an inactive player on the Nets’ roster during their trip to Philadelphia on March 10 last season.
There was a buzz outside the Nets team hotel that day.
This, however, was different. Being booed as a spectator is different than being booed as an active participant. It hits differently when the whistle comes every time you touch the ball, no matter how fleeting the touch.
It’s different when those boos come for a poor free-throw shooter every time he reaches the charity stripe.
It’s different when those whistles end up building momentum for the home team.
The Nets led by eight, but eventually surrendered their lead and trailed by as many as 16 points.
And when the wheels fell off due to the Nets’ inability to counter an undermanned Sixers team, it became clear that the whistle was the least of Brooklyn’s problems.
The Nets haven’t been able to stop Tobias Harris, who is the fourth-best player on the Sixers’ storied roster. They couldn’t keep either of Philly’s backups Montrezlo Harrell or Paul Reed off the boards or in the paint. They couldn’t contain Philly’s backup guards, Shaik Milton or De’Anthony Melton.
And while Simmons continued to show progress in his willingness to attack the rim, defensive intensity and athleticism hampered by offseason back surgery, the Nets still looked confused.
They still have a lot of work to do.