It finally happened.
After a dramatic offseason, the Brooklyn Nets were back on the court and the NBA world got its first look at the trio of Ben Simmons, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Simmons made his Nets debut on Tuesday in Brooklyn’s preseason game against his former team Philadelphia, with the 76ers taking a 65-62 lead into halftime.
The trio played 19 minutes each before being rested for the remainder of the game, with the Sixers finishing 127-108 winners.
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‘Don’t need him to shoot it’ Nash on Ben | 01:10
Simmons told reporters post-game he thought he would be “nervous” making his return to the court but in a positive sign for the Nets, he instead said he was “excited”.
“Amazing,” he added, when asked how he felt.
“I’m grateful to just step on that floor in the NBA. So yeah, a lot of fun out there.”
He received plenty of praise from new teammates Durant and Irving too, who were glad to see Simmons put his nerves behind him.
“You spend a year off from the game and you play organised basketball again, that’s a nerve wracking feeling,” Durant said.
“To wake up that morning… you’re thinking about those minutes you’re going to play. So it’s good to see him get over those nerves.”
“I was telling him at halftime, when you’re playing with some high level players, despite what you’ve heard, we’re going to make the game easier for you and he’s gonna love playing with us,” Irving added.
Simmons finished the game with six points, four rebounds, five asssits and one steal while shooting 3-for-6 from the field and 0-for-2 from the free-throw line.
Fortunately for Australian the game was played at Barclays Center in New York, meaning he did not have to worry too much about the hostile reception he would receive from the Philadelphia faithful.
He also did not have to worry about defending former teammate Joel Embiid or fellow Sixers superstar James Harden, with both sitting out Tuesday’s game.
The Nets started with Simmons, Durant, Irving, Joe Harris and Nic Claxton while the Sixers opened with Tyrese Maxey, De’Anthony Melton, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris and Paul Reed.
Simmons scored his first points of the game with a strong dunk in transition off a Irving pass and later hit Royce O’Neale with a crosscourt pass for a 3-pointer.
Maxey though was the star early, scoring Philadelphia’s first 10 points in a big statement while Australian Thybulle also drained a 3-point shot to add to the Sixers’ tally.
Simmons played seven minutes in the first quarter, finishing with four points and two assists, although he also had two turnovers, before checking back in with just over two minutes left.
The Australian got plenty of time to find his rhythm in the Brooklyn offence, with the Nets getting Simmons’ hands on the ball early as opposed to always feeding Irving or Durant.
Simmons played as the point guard for the second unit when he was brought in for the latter stages of the first quarter.
Although the offence was not always flowing, as would be expected in a preseason game with a new line-up, Simmons did aggressively drive towards the rim to draw a foul.
“This is exactly what you want to see from Ben Simmons, being on the attack and getting to the free-throw line,” Sarah Kustok said in commentary for the YES Network.
“Another point of scrutiny is the free-throw line, continuing to go there and not being afraid to be in this position. Nash has talked about it both with Ben Simmons and Claxton, wanting to see them at the line and putting pressure on the rim.”
There were a sprinkling of Sixers fans in attendance, booing Simmons as the Australian missed both free-throw attempts.
But the fact Simmons was not afraid to take the contact and get to the rim in the first place was a good sign and proof of him answering Nash’s call.
The Sixers took a 42-26 lead into the second quarter, with Maxey (14 points, three assists, one steal) leading the charge while Isaiah Joe had a pair of 3-pointers off the bench.
Brooklyn struggled to shut down Philadelphia from deep, with the Sixers shooting 8-for-15 from 3-point land compared to 1-for-9 for the Nets.
The Nets continued to fall into a hole in the second quarter, going down by 20, before a 15-0 run saw them draw within five points of the Sixers.
Durant and Irving were heavily involved in that run while Patty Mills made a 3-point jumper and free throw, with Simmons also pushing the pace in transition for a Claxton dunk.
The Nets scored 36 points in the second quarter to go into the half trailing 65-62, with Maxey still leading the way for the Sixers with 20 points on eight shots to go with three assists.
Meanwhile, Simmons, Irving and Durant all played 19 minutes in the first half, with the Australian putting up six points, four rebounds and five assists.
Durant had 13 points, four rebounds and four assits while Irving had nine, four and four respectively.
Simmons laughs off leaving group chat | 00:37
Going back to Simmons, he was both used at point guard and centre during his Nets debut and Kustok said figuring out how he can be best used will be the key for Brooklyn moving forward.
“Overall it was solid,” she said in commentary of Simmons’ showing.
“You felt him working his way in, finding spots on the floor that he could be effective offensively. It’s not just about scoring, it’s about how he could facilitate and the vision he has on the floor.
“Of course, defensively he’s a force and a presence and I think just picking some of those points, whether it was pressure on the perimeter, coming from behind in transition, you saw a lot of that and just how much he can really take an opponent out of the offence. The more he was in the more comfort you could see.”