SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz fans, still bitter about last season’s Rookie of the Year award that Ben Simmons won over Donovan Mitchell, began booing the Philadelphia 76ers star during pregame introductions and continued every time he touched the ball for most of Thursday night’s game.
But the booing faded in the fourth quarter, and fans instead were fleeing for the Vivint Smart Home Arena exits, as Philadelphia put the finishing touches on a 114-97 win that featured the 17th triple-double of Simmons’ young career.
“I love being able to come into an arena and hear boos and chants, whatever it is, see signs and come in here and win by 20,” said Simmons, who stuffed the box score with 13 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals and a blocked shot. “I mean, there’s nothing better than that.”
Simmons raised the ire of Jazz fans in April when he was asked during an ESPN interview which other rookies had caught his attention and he responded, “None.” The comment was perceived as disrespectful to Mitchell, who was in the process of becoming the first rookie since Carmelo Anthony 13 years earlier to lead a playoff team in scoring.
Mitchell and Adidas launched a marketing campaign in response, questioning whether Simmons should have been considered a rookie after sitting out the previous season because of an injury. Mitchell wore Adidas sweatshirts to games in the following weeks that had the definition of rookie or a “ROOKIE?” across the chest.
Simmons scoffed when asked by a Jazz beat writer before Thursday’s game about the Rookie of the Year race.
“It wasn’t a f—ing race,” Simmons said to the Salt Lake Tribune reporter. “Did you see the votes?”
Simmons received 90 out of 101 first-place votes for the award after averaging 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists for a 52-win Philadelphia team.
Simmons played a significant role in making sure Thursday’s game was no contest. He got off to a slow start as a scorer, missing five of his six shots from the field in the first quarter, but had five rebounds and four assists in the frame. He scored six points on 3-of-3 shooting in the second quarter, highlighted by a pretty, double-pump, reverse layup in transition to prevent reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert from blocking his shot, and was closing in on a triple-double by halftime.
“Coming out with a level of aggression when he’s getting booed in starting lineup intros I think was good,” said Sixers shooting guard JJ Redick, who had a game-high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting. “He needed to just put his foot on the gas pedal, put his stamp on the game, and he did that.”
Simmons had 9 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists by the end of the third quarter, as the Sixers stretched their lead to 16. He got the triple-double on a 15-foot fadeaway that put Philadelphia up 20 with 7:35 left in the game.
“He spoke with his play,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “With the exception of those [seven] turnovers, he had a triple-double and was dominant. We’re all going to look at the numbers and what I remember the most, and I think the tape will confirm it, is how dominant he was defensively.”
Mitchell scored 23 points on 10-of-20 shooting, but Simmons and the Sixers spoiled the night the Jazz star unveiled his new Adidas signature shoes.
Simmons heard rookie-themed heckling throughout most of the game, turning around after throwing an inbounds alley-oop to Jimmy Butler to inform a Jazz fan on the baseline who called him “trash” that he had a triple-double.
“I mean, they had a long time to prepare to have good things to say to me,” Simmons said. “They’re still stuck in, like, Rookie of the Year stuff. Same old jokes. It was kind of disappointing. You have that long to prepare, and that’s all you have to say? Come on.”