By Terrance Turner
April 24, 2022 (updated April 25)
The Brooklyn Nets’ season is over.
The Nets lost their series against the Boston Celtics after the Celtics won Game 4 tonight, 116-112. The Nets got swept in this playoff series, losing all four games they played against Boston. Kevin Durant had 39 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds; Kyrie Irving added 20. Blake Griffin was a standout on defense, aggressively guarding Boston scorers and vying for rebounds, and taking charges. The Nets played valiantly, managing to cut the Celtics’ lead to three — and later trim it to one — in the fourth quarter.
But it wasn’t enough. Jayson Tatum scored 29 points, Jaylen Brown had 22, and Marcus Smart added 20 points and 11 assists in Boston’s victory over Brooklyn. The Nets surprised many NBA observers by losing four consecutive games, getting swept in what many thought would be a hard-fought six-(or seven)-game series.
And they did it all without Ben Simmons.
Simmons wasn’t even in the arena for tonight’s Game 4 loss. According to Sports Illustrated’s Howard Beck, Simmons was not at Barclays Center because of his ongoing back issues. Simmons’s absence comes just hours after he and agent Rich Paul reportedly met with Nets general manager Sean Marks on Monday and the team’s leadership to discuss what it will take for the 25-year-old to make his debut for the franchise, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. In addition to a herniated disc in his back, Simmons is also working to improve his mental health before returning to the court. “We needed more support, more help, to get there,” Wojnarowski said.
Simmons was a three-time NBA All-Star with the Philadelphia 76ers before falling into a slump in 2021. During the playoffs, he became the worst-ever free-throw shooter in NBA postseason history (32.8%). On August 31, 2021, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story saying that Simmons was headed for the exits. During a meeting in L.A. a week before, Simmons told 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, general manager Elton Brand, and head coach Doc Rivers that he wanted out.
Simmons later demanded to be traded, which caused friction with at least one member of his team. (76ers star Joel Embiid called the situation “disappointing” and “kinda disrespectful to all the guys that are out here fighting for our lives.”) Simmons missed all of training camp and even put his Philly condo on the market (for $3.1. million) in October, per the Inquirer. That same month, he was suspended by the 76ers for one game, for conduct detrimental to the team. (Simmons was thrown out of practice after he declined several times to sub in for a drill, sources told ESPN.)
I just thought he was a distraction,” said Rivers after that practice. “We told him to go home.”
By that point, Simmons’ refusal to engage with the 76ers had become a constant theme: the team fined him for missing meetings, practices, and on-court workouts. Then he was fined $1.4 million for missing four preseason games — making him the most fined player in NBA history
The fines briefly stopped when Simmons informed the team that his absence was due to a mental health issue. But what exactly that issue is (or was) remains unknown. The team resumed fining Simmons after he missed a six-game road trip in November, per Sports Illustrated.
On Feb. 10, 2022, Simmons finally got his wish. He was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in a deal that involved James Harden and Paul Millsap. A month later, Simmons was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back. He had an epidural. On April 19, ESPN reporters Ramona Shelburne and Shams Charania both said that Simmons was “pain-free”. Simmons began participating in practices and shootarounds, and Shelburne said, “he’s going to ramp it up.”
But just hours before his playoff debut, Simmons suffered back soreness and was ruled out of Monday’s Game 4 against the Boston Celtics. The Nets are 0-3 in their playoff series against the Celtics and will be swept tomorrow night if they don’t win.
Commentator Reggie Miller blasted Simmons on Twitter: “This dude has ZERO competitive fire,” he wrote. “As small a chance as the Nets have to come back in this series, you still have KD and Kyrie, all you need is to win ONE game and take it from there.. #ManUp
ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith lit into Simmons tonight. “I feel bad for anybody who was his teammate. He quit on LSU, he quit on the Philadelphia 76ers and now, he ain’t showing up for the Brooklyn Nets. We can make all the excuses and point to all the rationales that we want to,” Smith griped, adding: “I do recall that despite him not playing, he still filed a grievance to collect $20 million that he has not earned.”
“This is one of the most pathetic situations I have ever seen in my life,” Smith said. “It’s like pulling teeth to get this man to play basketball.”