NEW YORK • Ben Simmons played the role of villain with gleeful ease.
Every time the Philadelphia 76ers guard touched the ball in Game 3 on Thursday, hearty boos followed, with each jeer from the Brooklyn home crowd seemingly energising him.
After Nets forward Jared Dudley, who had zero points on the night, air-balled an open three-pointer in the third quarter, Simmons celebrated with outstretched arms.
When he challenged a call, the reigning Rookie of the Year laughed in the 33-year-old veteran's face.
In the end, the Australian scored 31 points as the Sixers won 131-115, taking a 2-1 lead in their first-round National Basketball Association play-off series.
With a smirk and plenty of cocksure drives to the basket, Simmons silenced the critics who questioned his shooting ability, especially Dudley, who before the game called him "average in the half court" and Brooklyn fans, who had hung a missing person sign outside Barclays Centre with his mugshot.
He went 11-for-13 from the field and nine-of-11 from the free-throw line, while chipping in nine assists.
Hailing "one of Ben's most dominant games", Sixers coach Brett Brown said: "I give Ben a tremendous amount of credit. We needed it all tonight, especially without Joel Embiid.
"He feeds off that (booing), but it's not that he's beating his chest, he's got tremendous inner confidence."
And, in the absence of their starting All-Star centre, who was ruled out about 15 minutes before the game because of knee tendinitis, the Sixers also showed that they have plenty of other star power.
Forward Tobias Harris, who had struggled in the previous two games, finished with 29 points, while guard J.J. Redick had 26.
The Nets were paced by 26 points each from guards Caris LeVert and D'Angelo Russell.
Asked about Dudley's criticism, Simmons claimed he was more focused on how his team now had "the pieces to complete games", adding: "I don't really have energy for it, man.
"Honestly. It's done. People are going to say what they want to say. It is what it is. I've just got to play."
The third-seeded Sixers will play sixth seeds Brooklyn at the same venue in Game 4 today.
Elsewhere, Derrick White poured in a career-high 36 points on 15-of-21 shooting to lift the San Antonio Spurs to a 118-108 home win over the second-seeded Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of their first-round play-off series for a 2-1 lead.
Having ended a six-year play-off drought, the Nuggets, who were led by 22 points from centre Nikola Jokic, will hope to stay afloat in Game 4 today.
REUTERS, NY TIMES