When it was over, when an impressive 86-82 win over the Miami Heat was in the books, Doug Collins knelt in a back hallway at the Wells Fargo Center and draped his long arms around four precious pieces of his life. Ryan. Kate. Collin. Cooper.
Collins' four young grandchildren were together for Easter Sunday and together for the biggest moment of their grandfather's triumphant return to Philadelphia. It was a win few people thought the 76ers would get. It was a win Collins knew his team could get.
In the grand scheme of the series, the win probably means nothing more than the Sixers will have three more practices, one more shootaround, and another game at Miami. But for Collins and his young team, the win means everything. It validated what Collins has been telling his players, that they were close; they just needed to pay more attention to the details, like getting on the offensive glass and getting out in transition. It showed the players that they could hang with one of the most talented teams in the NBA, that they, too, could hit the big shots when it mattered.
And it gave the team confidence and something off which to build. It is not a series win, but for this team at this point in the franchise's resurrection, it isn't nothing, either.
Collins was about as pleased as he could be. This is what he dreamed about when he took the Sixers coaching job last year. The fans were loud, clapping their ThunderStix, waving their white rally towels and chanting, "Let's go, Sixers." His team played hard, rushing to a 16-point second-quarter lead and not collapsing after the Heat went on a 22-2 run to take a 45-41 lead just before halftime.
The young players made huge shots down the stretch, and when they got down six points with 1 minute, 35 seconds to play, no one panicked. Just the opposite. It was big shot after big shot. A running jumper by Evan Turner. A Jrue Holiday step-back three-pointer. Another three by Lou Williams, with Dwyane Wade in his face. And then two game-clinching free throws by Turner.
After missing eight straight shots during a five-minute stretch to trail the Heat by six, the Sixers scored the final 10 points of the ball game.
Collins never had any doubt.
Trailing by 84-82 with 8.1 seconds left, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra called a timeout. In the Sixers huddle, the players told Collins, "We're going to Miami."
Collins responded: "Look, you guys get us there, I'm going with you."
On the ensuing possession, LeBron James drove on Andre Iguodala, and lofted a soft jumper that Elton Brand got a hand on, altering the shot just enough. Thaddeus Young grabbed the rebound, and Turner sealed the game at the foul line.
"For anybody who wondered what our team was going to come out with today, I think that was answered," Collins said. "It's what they've been all season long, and I can't tell you how much I really appreciate them."
The players know that. They know Collins trusts them to make good decisions, which is why he did not call a timeout to set up the play when Williams buried the three-pointer. They know he thinks they have grown over the course of the season, when they started 3-13 and ended up 41-41 and seventh in the East.
And now they know that Collins is right, that his adjustments work, and his advice is sound.
As happy as Collins was for his players, they were equally as happy for him. For guys like Holiday and Turner and Jodie Meeks, it was their first ever playoff win. For Collins, it was his first in 14 years.
"He was excited pulling that one off," Brand said. "It was great for him, because he works so hard. He didn't want to end the season. It's been a good season for him."
Holiday said the win "means the world" to the players because "we didn't want to go home." Likewise, Holiday said, for Collins.
"Honestly, I think it means just as much, especially having his family there, his grandsons, his son," Holiday said. "You can tell how much he loves us. You can tell how much he really cares about us, and I think to share this win with us, he really appreciates us."
While Collins' daughter Kelly and wife Kathy are frequently in attendance at home games, his son Chris, an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, made it to his first game of the season on Sunday. It was special for Collins to have his family together. His three grandsons, ages 8, 3, and 2, all wore white No. 20 Sixers jerseys with COLLINS across the back.
"I think it means a lot," Chris Collins said. "The reason he came here was for a day like today. Just where the franchise was at, the things he talked about, to see a sellout crowd. This is where he played, so for him this is his team. To watch his guys compete the way they did, really going toe-to-toe with [one of], if not the most talented team in the league, it is special. His team is playing with his personality."
Now, they live to play another day. It might not mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it meant a whole lot to the 59-year-old man who coaches the team.
Contact columnist Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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