The Nets needed a big contribution from Ben Simmons with Kevin Durant on the sideline due to an MCL sprain in his right knee. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Simmons’ contribution has remained insufficient as the Nets lost their fourth-straight game Thursday night at the Phoenix Suns.
And his latest contribution was most insufficient as the 26-year-old guard was ejected under four minutes into the second half after playing just 18 minutes.
"I don't want to say nothing because I ain't trying to get another fine," Simmons said after the game, via ESPN.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I am a 6-10 guy who likes to guard certain guys. I am going to be physical. I am not going to tone it down because the refs don’t want to see the physicality.”
The ejection began when Simmons was called for an offensive foul (his fifth of the game) on a moving screen before a pair of technical fouls were called in quick succession by referee Eric Lewis. After being tossed, Simmons, who was never demonstrative in his demeanor during the argument, nonchalantly walked back down the tunnel to the Nets' locker room.
Simmons’ beef was about getting a consistent call on screens.
"I think if you're going to call the game like that, then you got to be consistent," he said. "I think it's been like that all year. If you're going to call a moving back, then you got to be consistent [on] both ends. Same with the holding."
Down 71-55 at the time of the ejection, Brooklyn was down by 20 entering the fourth, but rallied, outscoring Phoenix 38-23 in the quarter, before losing by five, 117-112.
And in the three games without Durant that Simmons played, he has contributed just 17 points on 7-for-17 shooting (3-for-5 from the free throw line) but made up for it with 30 assists, 23 rebounds, and six steals. (He missed last Sunday's loss to the OKC Thunder due to back soreness.)
However, Simmons has done so while being whistled for 14 fouls and committing 13 turnovers and averaging just 26 minutes per game.
"We need him to be productive, and that is without the fouls," head coach Jacque Vaughn said. "That is helping us rebound the basketball. That is playing with poise and composure. That is pushing the pace for us.
"So unfortunately when you're a really good basketball player, your list is long and so are the responsibilities. And hopefully, we'll continue to ask of those things and challenge him and challenge this group to be able to answer those long lists."
Simmons is averaging 8.1 assists, and 7.3 rebounds in 27.4 minutes per game in January. But averaging just 5.4 points (down two points from his December average and four from November) on 5.3 field goal attempts per game (down a shot from December and November).
And the Nets, who climbed up to the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference during a long winning-run, now find themselves in a tie for fourth with the Cleveland Cavaliers
Brooklyn needs him to be a more consistent scoring threat and a player who can avoid foul trouble during this stretch without Durant.