NEW YORK — The crowd at Barclays Center on Thursday night gave Jared Dudley warm cheers when he first checked into Game 3 of the Sixers’ first-round series against the Nets, aware of the unpleasantries recently exchanged between Dudley and Ben Simmons.
By the time Dudley took his first shot of the night — an air ball with 1:48 left in the third quarter and the Sixers leading by 15 — there was a meek scattering of boos as Simmons raised his arms and stared at the veteran. Dudley finished scoreless in his 16 minutes, while Simmons had 31 points on 11 for 13 shooting and nine assists. The gaping disparity between the two players was never more obvious than during the Sixers’ 131-115 win over the Nets (see observations).
Simmons, for his part, brushed aside a question about whether he’d proven he was more than the “average” half-court player Dudley said he was.
“I don’t know,” he said.” I’m not worried about it.”
“I try not to pay too much attention to what’s going on social media or what people say just because they’re going to say what they want to say. I’m not going to let that affect me on the floor. I’m going to do my job when I step on the floor and play the point guard position the best I can.”
Brett Brown gushed about a second straight excellent performance from Simmons, who helped split the offensive load with Joel Embiid out because of left knee soreness. Simmons responded to the Nets’ heightened physicality with him by making 9 of 11 free throws and became the first Sixer to ever score 31 or more points and shoot 80 percent or better from the floor in a playoff game, per Basketball-Reference.
Whether he’s getting booed or there’s something else going on as it relates to scrutinizing Ben, he is tremendously confident in himself. He has put in a tremendous amount of work to earn that privilege. I’m so happy for him to play like he played tonight. … I think he feeds off that but it’s not like he’s beating his chest out there. I think internally, he’s got tremendous inner confidence.
Simmons’ inner confidence often manifests as arrogance. He knows he’s in a different class than Dudley and was happy to show the world. The 22-year-old plays with a smirk that suggests he savors dominating inferior opponents.
Though the Sixers still need two wins to advance to the second round and diminish Dudley’s place in the national spotlight, Simmons already wants to move on. In his mind, Dudley isn’t worth worrying about.
The questions about how Simmons will fare against the Eastern Conference’s elite teams or his ideal role in the Sixers’ half-court offense — largely off the ball since the return of James Ennis and corresponding increase in Jimmy Butler’s time at point guard — are still present.
For now, though, he says the questions posed by and about Jared Dudley are far from his mind.
“I don’t really have energy for it,” Simmons said. “It’s done. People are going to say what they want to say. Just gotta play.”
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