PHILADELPHIA — Those who showed up to boo and curse out inactive former 76ers star Ben Simmons went home miserable over what transpired on the court, too, courtesy of a dominant two-way performance by Kevin Durant and the Nets.
Brooklyn’s holdover stars silenced a venomous Wells Fargo Center crowd that loudly chanted “F–k Ben Simmons” multiple times — before redirecting its anger towards the home team. The Nets cruised to a blowout win Thursday over misfiring James Harden and the Sixers, 129-100, in the first meeting since the blockbuster trade between the teams one month ago.
“It was a good environment to start, but it didn’t finish that way,” Durant said. “It didn’t feel like that when we left the court. It felt like a regular game, like I’ve been saying.
“But I liked how we approached the game, and played with physicality and didn’t let any of that stuff affect what we wanted to do. The crowd, no matter who we played tonight, I felt like we were locked in.”
Durant netted 25 points through three quarters on 10-for-17 shooting with 14 rebounds and Kyrie Irving followed up his 50-piece earlier this week in Charlotte with 22 points and five assists as the Nets nudged back above the .500 mark (34-33) with their second straight road victory.
“Guys rose to the occasion, we got a second win in a row, and let’s see if we can keep building,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “I think it’s great for our confidence. We’ve had such a rough stretch here with injuries and we’re trying to put this thing together and build some cohesion.
“It brings everyone together a little bit and gives us belief and confidence in what we’re trying to do.”
MVP candidate Joel Embiid paced Philadelphia (40-25) with 27 points and 12 boards — including 15 of 19 from the free-throw line. But Harden — mostly guarded by Irving — clanked 12 of his first 13 shots in the opening half and shot 3-for-17 overall for 11 points.
Both 76ers stars finished with a minus-30 rating in their first loss in six games since Harden was acquired on Feb. 10.
“We got our [butt] kicked,” Harden said.
It was lovely. I enjoyed it,” Irving said of the win. “It’s great for our league when you can build up that many emotions on a night like tonight. I felt like we committed ourselves to playing aggressive defense. … When you step foot in an environment like this, we knew there were going to be high-intense fans and wanted to relish in it.”
The 25-year-old Simmons showed up to take his lumps from his former fans after requesting a trade from the Sixers last summer. He sat out all season before last month’s deadline deal, while also citing mental health concerns as a reason for staying away. The three-time All-Star still needs to ramp up his conditioning after also dealing with back soreness since the trade.
“You come at Ben,” Irving said, “you come at us.”
The game clearly had a playoff feel from even before the opening tipoff, with Sixers legends Julius Erving and Allen Iverson among those in attendance. Dr. J even clanged the replica Liberty Bell before the game.
Barely one minute into the game, the home crowd broke into its first of several loud “F–k Ben Simmons” chants, but Durant zipped down the lane and yelled something at Iverson and Erving following an emphatic dunk. Irving also buried a couple of early 3-pointers, and both stars netted 11 points in the first quarter as the Nets raced out to a 40-23 lead.
Meanwhile, Harden nailed only one shot in the quarter, but it was a 3-pointer to surpass Reggie Miller and move into third place on the all-time list, behind only Stephen Curry and Ray Allen.
Brooklyn led by as many as 24 in the second quarter and shot a sizzling 64.1 percent from the floor in carrying a 72-51 lead into intermission with the cushion extended to 32 by the end of the third.
“We look at Ben as our brother,” Durant said of Simmons. “We knew this was a hostile environment … but it’s hard for you to chant at Ben Simmons when you’re losing by that much.”