Ben Simmons was the primary storyline coming into Wednesday's game between his Brooklyn Nets and his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, but he was on the bench in crunch time of a 137-133 loss.
"So if you're thinking about being aggressive, you will be aggressive," Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn told reporters when asked why Simmons was on the bench at the end of the game. "If you think about being a good teammate, you'll be a good teammate. If you think about competing and playing hard, you do those things. You become what you think about."
While it is something of a confusing quote, there were some stretches when Simmons was more aggressive than usual on the offensive end.
He finished with 12 points, five assists and five rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting from the field. It was tied for the second-most field-goal attempts for the LSU product since a Dec. 28 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
However, 10 of his points came in the third quarter during a particularly aggressive stretch. That seemed to disappear at times in the fourth quarter, and he didn't return to the game when he was subbed off with approximately nine minutes remaining.
"You become what you think about," Vaughn continued when talking about the aggressive stretch from Simmons. "You think about being aggressive, you become aggressive."
Simmons was also asked about the late benching:
Brian Lewis @NYPost_Lewis
What was the message Ben Simmons has gotten from Vaughn about repeatedly sitting late: "I really had no message from him. I think it's more just wherever team needs. When we're winning I have no problem with it; if we're losing then I got an issue." <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/nets?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#nets</a>
He was loudly booed whenever he touched the ball, and the home fans were surely thrilled that it was James Harden who made the biggest plays in crunch time. After all, Philadelphia acquired Harden from the Nets last season in the trade that sent Simmons to Brooklyn.
Seth Curry caught fire and hit a three-pointer to tie the game in the fourth quarter after the visitors trailed by as many as 17 in the second half, but Harden responded with back-to-back triples to give Philadelphia the lead back. He also stripped Kyrie Irving on a key defensive play and scored a layup in the last 30 seconds to extend the lead to four.
The flurry came just in time to prevent the 76ers from blowing a game which they largely controlled.
They have now won six in a row and earned some temporary bragging rights on Brooklyn before a potential playoff showdown.