There was about as much energy in the Wells Fargo Center Monday afternoon during the Sixers-Bobcats game as their usually is on a Monday afternoon at the NovaCare Complex when Andy Reid is giving his day-after-game press conference.
The small crowd was quiet, as was the Sixers' offense. After making five of their first six shots, they then made five of their next 25.
But as has been the norm all season, breaking the silence was the strong, determined, never-stop-hustling play of forward Elton Brand. While the two teams were sleep-walking through the first quarter, Brand set the defensive tone for his team with successive blocks on Charlotte forward Dominic Brown.
In the fourth quarter, with the game very much in doubt, Brand came out of nowhere and blocked a layup attempt by Kwame Brown that would have put the Bobcats up three. Instead, the two points Brand preserved helped the Sixers force the game into overtime where they eventually pulled out a 96-92 victory.
Brand finished the game with 13 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. It was his 15th double-double of the season, after posting just seven last season.
But more than statistics, Brand has been the unquestioned leader of this young team all season. Never during a game or practice is there a down time for him. He runs off the floor when being replaced as fast as a kid chasing an ice cream truck. And he bounces off his seat like he just sat on a tack when coach Doug Collins calls for him. He listens to coaches as if he is still a youngster learning the NBA ropes, instead of a vet in his 12th season. He is the first to pull a teammate aside for words of encouragement, or a stern talking to.
Off the court, Brand is the ultimate professional. After crushing losses or improbable wins, he is always available at his locker for the media, ready to answer any and all questions. He understands writers facing deadlines, and should a problem arise with someone, he handles it professionally, correctly.
There is a lot this team, this group of painfully young players can learn from Brand, both on and off the court.
Are Brand's best days behind him, being as he will turn 32 in March? Perhaps. But there are many around the league who think that Brand right now is one of the best players at his position in the East. Of course, that's just reflective of what he does on the basketball court. Collins and his team have also greatly benefited from Brand in other ways.
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