Ben Simmons was at the free throw line with 1 minute, 47 seconds left in the third quarter and the 76ers trailing the Brooklyn Nets, 89-78 in Game 1 of the NBA playoffs. When he missed the first attempt, a scattering of fans booed him. When he missed on the second attempt boos filled the Wells Fargo Center.
It wasn’t the first time on Saturday the Sixers heard the audible frustration of the fans. The were booed multiple times throughout the game, but Simmons was the target of the crowd’s ire in that moment. After the game, when asked about the frustration of the crowd, Simmons had a not-so-friendly suggestion for Sixers fans.
“If you’re going to boo, then stay on that side,” he said. “That’s how I feel, if you’re a Sixer fan and you’re going to boo then stay on that side.”
By the third quarter Simmons had hit just 2-of-6 shots and made one free throw, largely becoming invisible on the offensive end of the floor. The fans had been growing increasingly frustrated that he wasn’t asserting himself with one fan yelling, “Ben wake up," during a dead ball moment.
Simmons had less to say about his performance and why he was only able to produce nine points and seven rebounds including going just 1 of 5 from the free-throw line.
“I think just thinking too much and not being who I am, a playmaker” he said.
Taking a different position, Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid both said that the fans reaction was warranted and the way to quiet them is by playing better basketball.
“I understand it. They want to see us win. Hell, I want to see us win, too,” Butler said. “In the end I think we just got to do better. I guarantee if we’re winning they’re not booing. That’s the way to change it. Just got to go out there and win on Monday.”
It’s probably a little bit easier for Butler to walk away with more of a positive outlook on the situation after finishing with 36 points, nine rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. Not only was he one of the very few reasons the Sixers weren’t blown out by 30 points but the fans weren’t directing their anger specifically toward him.
When asked what Butler thought of Simmons’ comments about the fans, Butler left the situation in Simmons hands.
“Ben is a grown man,” he said. “If that’s the way that he feels, then that’s the way that he feels. I’m not going to talk to him about that.”
Someone might want to talk to Simmons about it though. Choosing to take a stand against the fans is not a great way to start off the playoffs. And, it’s no secret that Philadelphia fans are not the ones that you want to give more ammunition to.
“Philly fans are tough, everyone knows that,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “It’s sort of unfortunate, these guys competed at a high level, it’s the first game. ... I’m sure that they’re going to come out and try to respond next game.”
A response it’s definitely what’s needed from Simmons. If he is able to turn things around in Game 2, that might take away some of the sting, but will it be enough for Sixers fans to move past him telling them to go over to the other side?
We’ll find out on Monday.