As the regular season wound down, there was a faction that hoped the 76ers wouldn’t sneak into the playoffs with the eighth seed, instead hoping for the lottery. Coach Doug Collins has never understood that.
And with the Sixers reaching Game 7 of the second round against the Celtics, there was no question in his mind how valuable the experience was for his young team.
“To me, a Game 7 like this is worth about 10 regular-season games, when you start talking about the magnitude of the game and all that goes with it and the chance that if you win you move into another round,’’ Collins said, before the Celtics ended the 76ers’ season, 85-75.
“I sort of chuckle at all those people that with about 10 [games] to go in the season wanted us to not make the playoffs and get the 12th pick of the draft instead of the 15th. I’ve never understood that mentality.
“I wonder how they think about that now that our guys have played, they’ve had some success, and they’ve grown.’’
Collins cited the fact that the Sixers won few close games in the regular season, that they didn’t know how to close. In the playoffs, it was a different story, closing out the Bulls in six games, snagging Game 2 from the Celtics on the road. They have learned what to do in such situations.
“That, to me, is why you get into the playoffs and why you give yourself this opportunity,’’ Collins said. “You never know what’s going to happen.
“We were able to find a way to win a playoff series. That’s why you’ve always got to give yourself a chance. You don’t know what’s going to happen.’’
Collins said the three players who benefited most from the playoff run were Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Lavoy Allen, three young players who performed well in the series. Allen made a big statement in containing Kevin Garnett through most of the series, after Garnett torched the Hawks in the first round.
Most of the Sixers’ regulars have four years or less of NBA experience - with Lou Williams (six), Andre Iguodala (seven), and Elton Brand (12) the exceptions - and few had significant postseason experience.
So in ways that Collins never could have coached, his team is growing up, gaining knowledge. The Sixers now know how to win, and how to handle difficult and pressure-packed spots.
Turner said he had come to understand playoff basketball, in a way he hadn’t before. It brought maturity, he said.
“It’s amazing,’’ Brand said. “Most of the young guys that have got an opportunity to play have won ballgames for us. Seeing these guys grow, it’s just due to how hard they work and the coaching staff.
“I don’t even know if they know the historical events that happened 30 years ago when Dr. J [Julius Erving] and Larry Bird, guys like that played. They’re just here to win.’’
Even before the loss, Collins said he likes what he saw.
“I have so much respect for our guys in how they’ve grown to play these pressure games,’’ Collins said. “That’s the fun part for me, to watch as the pressure has been ratcheted up a bit, our guys have really met the challenge.’’
Singling himself out
The Sixers have been known for playing team basketball, for not having one superstar. So Brand was asked if there was a chance that a member of the team could go off and score, say, 40 points in a Game 7 and lead the team to a win.
“Yeah, absolutely, with the amount of touches, we’ve got guys that can do that,’’ he said. “We’re strength in numbers, though. We’ll see, though. Someone could get hot. We spread it out a little bit, that’s why we have a lot of guys scoring in double figures.’’
Then he was asked whom it might be. “I think I might be the only guy who’s had 40 in the playoffs,’’ he said, “so talk to Coach, give me some touches.’’
Brand scored 40 points for the Clippers May 8, 2006, in a playoff loss at Phoenix. He had 36 in the final game of that series, a loss that knocked the Clippers out of the playoffs.
The moment that Paul Pierce fouled out - with 4:16 remaining and the Celtics up by 3 - was a big moment for the Sixers. “We thought we had a great chance to win - and then [Rajon] Rondo made some great plays,’’ Collins said. Even though the Sixers thought they had their opportunity, it didn’t work out that way. “I was like, ‘Let’s go. The closer is out of the game,’ ’’ Holiday said. “We wanted to come back and attack them, kind of lock up on defense. But Rajon Rondo did what he had to do.’’ . . . Asked his thoughts on facing the Big Three, in perhaps the last playoff run of their Celtics career, Collins said, “I don’t look at them as the Big Three. I look at them as a championship four. If you leave Rondo out, you’re making a huge mistake because that guy has become the motor that drives this team.’’ . . . The Sixers missed six free throws, three by Iguodala, who was plagued by free throw shooting issues throughout the series. He made 5 of 8 Saturday . . . Turner had five rebounds in the first seven minutes of the game, and three the final 41 . . . In talking at shootaround about the fact that this was his first Game 7, Holiday added, “Playing against Boston, I grew up a Laker fan, so I don’t really like Boston that much.’’Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.