By Bob Cooney
BOSTON – It had been a long time since 76ers coach Doug Collins could heap such praise after watching his team play. Problem was, following Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics, the subject of Collins’ adulation wasn’t his own team, but instead the Celtics.
Of course finding positives with his own team recently has been a little hard to come by. But the words that Collins spoke about his friend Doc Rivers’ team were ones that he no doubt wanted his players to hear.
Before and after the Sixers fell by 103-79 to the Celtics, Collins poured praise over Boston like gravy on mashed potatoes while at the same time sending a message to his club, if any one of them would care to listen.
“This team (Boston) is taking it to another level. They make you look bad,” he said. “(It was) the combination of us being bad and them making us look worse. They did it to Miami last Sunday, they did it to Indiana (Saturday). They’re playing great. The times we played them before we’ve made them make those jump shots against us from trying to stop them from getting in the paint and we’ve had pretty good success, but not (Sunday). Those guys knocked those shots down. Any time they touched the ball the shot went in. But you know we beat them twice pretty good, too (by a total of 45 points earlier in the season), so I can stand out there and take the ass whooping because I know how that feels. And Doc is great, he’s got his team poised, they’re getting strong at the right time and they’re going to be a handful, I would not want to play them in the playoffs.”
Of course there is probably no possible way the Sixers and Celtics will meet up in the playoffs, if the Sixers even make it. But the words Collins spoke seemed to be mostly directed at his players. While the Celtics are picking up their intensity level as the playoffs loom, the Sixers seem to be in a freefall with none of the players seemingly in panic mode.
The Celtics boast winning veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, players who know what it takes during a season to not only get through successfully, but to peak at the right time. That’s exactly what Boston is doing right now as the win over the Sixers was its 17th in 24 games.
And the way the Celtics have been doing it has been something that carried the Sixers to most of their success this season – defense. In allowing the 79 points to the Sixers, Boston held its fifth opponent in the past nine games under 80 points.
On the flip side, the Sixers allowed Boston to make 58.8 percent of its shots, often not getting out on shooters on screen and rolls, often losing Ray Allen when he was coming off one, two or three picks in one possession. That was another lesson Collins threw out there.
“It’s amazing, and I watched Ray on this one play that they run, they run him off picks three different ways and he goes one side and he comes back another and they swing it and the big guys cracks down on him,” Collins said. “I said ‘Do you know how well conditioned you have to be to run around like that in that kind of situation, maybe side to side, and come off and take a shot and knock it down?’ He’s truly amazing.”
Allen is also doing this now as a reserve player, a role he has never played in his stellar 15-year career. But he is doing it because Rivers wanted to get more defensive with his starters, so he installed Avery Bradley into the starting lineup three games ago when Allen returned from an ankle sprain. A player, a star player, doing something for the good of the team. Collins is certainly hoping the players on his squad took notice of that.
The recent up rise of the Celtics doesn’t surprise Collins, not much does in the NBA. But on Sunday, preaching to his players about what needs to be done was said in a different way, without saying it to them at all. Collins seemed to want to point out to the media that Boston knows how to win and does everything necessary to ensure that. He is hoping his team can one day get there.
“I think everybody’s sort of looking at Miami and Chicago as the two (top Eastern) teams, but I wouldn’t blink at Boston, absolutely not,” Collins said. “They can defend you and they’ve got matchups.”
Funny, but during his team’s hot start to the season, in which it won 20 of the first 29, many people were saying that about the Sixers.