It’s fair to say that the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets are intertwined at this point.
Separated practically by the state of New Jersey, the Sixers and Nets are not only geographic rivals, but conference adversaries as well. As of Jan. 26, the Sixers are second in the Eastern Conference, with the Nets just two games behind them in fourth. But, of course, that’s not what we mean when we say there’s reason for animosity between the two.
In Feb. 2022, after months of inactivity and uncertainty about the status of Ben Simmons as a Philadelphia player, a blockbuster trade was finally made. The Sixers sent Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks in return for James Harden (and Paul Millsap).
Last time the Nets traveled to the Wells Fargo Center, both Embiid and Harden were out for injury, so it wasn’t the full-fledged battle fans had been waiting for. Suffice to say, fans have long anticipated a heated duel when Brooklyn came to town for the first edition of Joel Embiid vs. Ben Simmons.
Heated is definitely the word for what transpired Wednesday night in South Philadelphia as the Sixers defeated the Nets for their sixth straight win.
Right from the start, the Philly faithful got involved. Anyone listening knew when Simmons was holding the ball, even without watching, as a storm of boos rained down over the Center when the ball was in his hands. Every. Single. Time.
“First play, Ben [Simmons] is guarding Joel [Embiid]. [The crowd] was like a party. It was hilarious,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters postgame. “That’s when I turned to the coaches and said ‘this is a boxing crowd tonight.’ They want to see them drop the basketball, turn and duke it out.”
A few times throughout the game, it looked like fans might in fact be treated to a boxing match.
Embiid was in full “Troel” form, fueled by the obvious contention between the players on the court, even with those he hasn’t played alongside. Embiid and Nic Claxton picked up a double technical foul after barking at each other late in the first quarter, an accurate tone-setter for a game that featured seven technical fouls.
Double techs for Embiid and Claxton.— ESPN (@espn) January 26, 2023
Nets-Sixers is chippy already pic.twitter.com/i6xoltTnQg
“He said something he shouldn’t have,” Embiid said postgame. “That’s why when I walked up to his face, I told him to say it to my face again. That’s why he looked away and he didn’t say it again because he knows why. There’s not a lot of times when I get in those situations. I’m not going to allow any sort of disrespect and that’s why he couldn’t say to my face again.”
Embiid dished out a little disrespect of his own later in the game, breaking out his D-Generation X celebration after earning an and-1, leading to an interaction between the big man and the injured Kevin Durant on Twitter. It was the first time in awhile we’ve seen the thrust from Embiid, as he’s been more reserved as of late. But, boy, did the crowd (in the arena and at home online) enjoy it.
Joel Embiid with an And-1 and DMX hip thrust— Sean Barnard (@Sean_Barnard1) January 26, 2023
15-yard flag for getting the third pump in. Thrust the Process is back pic.twitter.com/WvL778V9uD
Another high-tension moment came from an unexpected source: Georges Niang. Niang forced a travel out of Simmons after a physical battle and afterwards baited Simmons into pushing him for a technical foul. Again, much to the pleasure of the Philadelphia crowd.
The Crowd Gets Elated Off Ben Simmons & George Niang pic.twitter.com/hSKlTfPDCP— Ultimate Sports & Entertainment (@Ultimatesport5) January 26, 2023
Despite the fun had among fans, Rivers wants to make sure his players don’t get caught up in it and lose focus.
“There’s a difference between intensity, playing with emotion, and being too emotional,” said Rivers. “I thought, our side of it, we were on the wrong side of that a lot and we’ll take the win. Both teams are coming from a West Coast trip, you didn’t know how that was going to go. I thought both teams performed well, but that’s a good test for us. We have to be better as far as handling our emotions.”
Emotions aside, the Sixers posted their sixth straight win Wednesday night. Fans don’t have to wait long for a rematch of this one, as the Sixers will face the Nets again, possibly with Kevin Durant, on Feb. 11.