PHILADELPHIA - As Doug Collins talked about his charges after the Sixers beat the Celtics, 82-75, to force Game 7, it was notable that he hardly was asked about a single player. There was one question about Jrue Holiday and another about Thaddeus Young. But other than that, it was all about what the Sixers did and what they forced the Celtics to do.
Because their win Wednesday night wasn’t just one player taking over. It was all of them. Five Sixers scored in double digits, perfect for a team without a star.
It was a young team learning how to win on the biggest stage.
“We gave ourselves a chance, Game 7,’’ Collins said. “All we wanted was to win tonight and give ourselves a chance to go into Boston and see what happens on Saturday in Game 7.’’
They could have made it a lot easier on themselves. The Sixers missed 11 free throws, hitting 17 of 28, the only thing that really kept the game close.
In a game that was as ugly as a game can be, the Sixers survived. They survived by not focusing on the fact that it was an elimination game before tip-off. They survived by playing together after it.
Unlike the Celtics, who seem to need one player to step up and do it all every game - see, Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo - the Sixers don’t have one player likely to do that on offense.
So they all combined to extend the series, even though they couldn’t hit their free throws, even though they were outrebounded, even though they went 1 for 9 from behind the arc.
It was about team defense, about showing different looks to Rondo, about defending the paint. It was about believing that they could do it.
“I believe our guys have great confidence,’’ Collins said. “That’s the beauty of youth. Sometimes they look at things a little bit more naively, which is great. Maybe not as much analytically as what I do.
“I just want our team to play with no fear.’’
That was what Collins told his team before the game. He wanted the players to be “intense, competitive, tough’’ on the defensive end. He wanted them to play “free’’ on offense. He believes his team is doing that.
As he was talking at the podium, Collins mentioned Holiday. He mentioned Evan Turner. And Andre Iguodala. And Elton Brand. And Lou Williams. And Lavoy Allen. He mentioned his team. He mentioned seeing what they can do, learning what they can do.
There’s more to learn, of course.
“It’s a Game 7,’’ Brand said. “If we would have won the Atlantic, had a better record than them, it could have been at home. Everything’s a learning process. We’re seeing how imperative it is to have home field advantage. Now we’re going on the road, and we have to win out there.
“It’s going to be tough. We’re going to have to battle, but we’re going to have to try to find a way.’’
And continue to believe that they can beat the Celtics, even in their own building, in Game 7.
“The one thing as a coach I think you have to do, especially with a young team, is you have to try to continually make them feel confident, and understand that everything’s going to be OK if we just keep working. That’s what I’ve really tried to do with this team, and they’ve grown.’’
They have become the kind of team not satisfied with making it through the first round, with pushing the Celtics to Game 6. They have become the kind of team that just might be able to win Game 7, even against a team with much more experience.
Their ignorance could mean bliss on Saturday.
Collins said he would remind his team to play with confidence and poise. To weather the bad stretches and play as a team and with the confidence they can beat the Celtics, even in Boston.
“We’re going to get greedy,’’ Collins said. “We want more. We’ve fought and we’ve worked and we’ve gone through a lot as a team. We’ve grown.
“We’re competitors. I love what our guys did. They competed. Every possession was a battle. This Celtic team is so hard to guard, and our guys did a really good job tonight. I want to go into [Game 7] with the idea, let’s see what we can do. Let’s see if we can go get us a win.’’