NBA

Sixers' Collins has it under control

Doug Collins (Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE)
Doug Collins hasn't won a playoff series in 23 years, but he's close.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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CHICAGO

Doug Collins has become the voice of reason, the voice of calm, the voice of composure. It’s like Ozzie Guillen becoming the voice of wisdom, the New Orleans Saints the symbol of compassion, Mitt Romney the life of the party.

In the second quarter Tuesday, when Philadelphia’s Elton Brand and Chicago’s Taj Gibson dropped to the court for a loose ball, and Gibson threw a cheapshot elbow to Brand’s neck, and players from both teams joined in, and Collins, the Philadelphia coach, came running down the sideline to the officials, that was it! The bomb had been ticking all along inside Collins, hadn’t it? The explosion was coming! I knew it!

Nope. Collins yelled, but then went back and talked to his team: “You can’t play out of character. You can’t say, 'We’re going to run out there and play smashmouth basketball,' because that’s not what we do. We do that, and we fall into the trap that they want to put us in.

"That’s why I told the guys ... 'Just stay with what we’re doing. We’re going to be OK.' "

The Bulls beat the Sixers 77-69 in a mucked-up, ugly game. The Bulls stopped the Sixers’ free flow to cut Philadelphia’s series lead to 3-2.

Can the Bulls come back and win this thing, even without Derrick Rose?

Yes, they can. No, they probably won’t. The Sixers are young and inexperienced, and really aren’t that great. But they’re likely to win this thing anyway because Collins is going to hold them together with his wily experience and calm nature.

Did I just say that? This guy has spent his career displaying his genius, then burning out players before developing them and being politely asked to leave. Now, he has been the star of this series by displaying a new grown-up self.

"Look, I’ve been around a long time in this game," he said. "You can’t let one game all of a sudden get you spinning in the wrong direction. We didn’t expect to beat the Bulls four straight. This is a damn good team."

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FAN-TASTIC

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Oh, Collins must be burning inside for this series. Right? He must be dying to just shake some sense into his young team. If so, it isn’t showing. And it’s almost impossible to believe that after all the twists and turns of his career, he is here, calmly leaving an arena after a game wearing a backpack.

Collins has not won a playoff series as a coach since he led the Bulls over the Knicks in 1989. He was fired after losing the next round.

Jrue Holiday, Collins’ guard today, wasn’t even conceived until four months after the Bulls won that series 23 years ago.

Collins has had far too many downs and not enough ups for someone as talented as he was as a player, broadcaster (the best), and coach. And there is something that just seems right now about seeing him, at 60, after all these years, melding a young team.

"Oh, he’s still Doug Collins," Sixers’ forward Andre Iguodala said. "But he’s been a good match for this team."

We might be seeing a new age of old age here.

Gregg Popovich, 63, artfully led an aging San Antonio Spurs team through a jam-packed schedule and into the favorite’s spot for the NBA championship. New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, at 65, won a Super Bowl. Davey Johnson, who’s 69, has managed the Washington Nationals into first place.

Collins is leading a young team with a no-star system in a superstar league.

How much does it mean to him to have another chance to be in this spot?

"Not a lot," he lied. "That’s one thing I do, is just try to keep them ... we’ve got a young group and I want to manage the extremes. The highs and lows."

He is talking about the highs and lows of his players, not his own. And the truth is, he doesn’t seem to be having to fight off the old Collins to manager his own extremes.

It’s not that the Sixers have become a power in the NBA. If it weren’t for Rose’s torn ACL, the Bulls would have won this series already. But still, the Bulls are the experienced ones here, not the Sixers.

Collins changed his lineup after the loss in Game 1, putting Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner into the starting lineup. He moved down Lavoy Allen to get more help from the bench.

And in the final weeks of the season, Holiday, in his third year, has gotten better. Turner, in his second year, has started to become a complete player.

POLL

  • Who will win Game 6 in Philly?
    • Bulls
    • Sixers

"We found a way to grind a couple games out, and we knew what we had to do, especially with some younger guys," Collins said. "I thought Evan drove the ball to the basket a little bit, got knocked around and (the task was in) trying to keep him focused, where he doesn’t start losing his attention a little bit.

"Jrue (after some missed shots), saying, 'Hey, keep shooting that ball.' Just trying to encourage the guys the best I can. I don’t really focus on what it is for me. I just try to stay away from there."

But it has to mean so much to Collins to be here. He has been through so much.

He was on the 1972 U.S. Olympic team that lost to the Russians after the officials stole the game. Collins was the one who sank what should have been the game-winning free throws. He started his NBA career strong with Philadelphia, making four All-Star Games before blowing out his knee. He was Michael Jordan’s coach with the Bulls, but was fired and replaced by Phil Jackson before the dynasty began.

He lasted three years as Detroit’s coach, two as Washington’s. And he spent seven more years away before taking the Philadelphia job last season.

Maybe Collins has learned from his past. Maybe he’s glad to have one more shot to build a champion. Maybe he’s just a little older now, making him a little more mellow.

Or maybe that bomb is still ticking inside. Whatever it is, in the face of an ugly game with a scrum meant to intimidate, the voice of calm and composure is exactly what the young Sixers and their old coach needs.

Tagged: Bulls, 76ers, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner

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