When Allen Iverson was the King of Philadelphia, the 76’ers won games by simply outworking their opponent. That installment of Sixers team played tight defense and relied on The Answer’s ability to destroy whomever was in front of him. This is a different team. This team gets its scoring from a myriad of hard workers and up and comers. The defense is similar and Philadelphia is winning games it would have lost in recent past. On the MLK Jr. holiday, the Sixers keep it moving in a positive direction and remain undefeated at home in defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 94-82. The road gets tougher for Philly. The next three opponents are Denver and Atlanta at home and Miami in South Beach.
As you’ll read below, this is far more than a recap. Thad Young and Doug Collins both give insight of MLK. Collins references his college coach Will Robinson. It was a great day to be a reporter because these type of stories don’t happen often. Thanks Coach Collins.
Whenever the Sixers play the Bucks, my eyes and mind fade back to the past. This is the 183rd time the teams have played one another (Sixers have won 93, the Bucks 90) and of course Doc comes to mind and so does Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, Paul Pressey, Bob Lanier and Junior Bridgeman (pictured). To put it in perspective, Marques was to Doc what Drexler was to Jordan. Get that? Read around a little, this was a great rivalry in the early 80’s.
That was then and this is now…
Doug Collins spoke of his concern for the Bucks best players in Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings. Bogut is a challenge because he gets on the block, is big and can score in ways common and uncommon. Jennings is a blur. He speeds past or shoots in the face of his defender.
There was not much the Sixers could do with Bogut. He had 20 points, 11 boards, 4 assists and 3 blocks. Jennings on the other hand was bottled up and forced into 3-11 shooting with only two assists. Jrue Holiday wasn’t having Jennings destroy him like Brandon’s basketball inspiration, the aforementioned Iverson did to so many others on this very same floor. Jennings gets into the lane and gets right to the rim. The Sixers sent big after big his way after the drive to not make things easy. Milwaukee as a team was forced into bad shots, had 16 turnovers and scored just 82 points.
Holiday is becoming a star. Jrue had a season high of 24 and also had 5 assists and a very important 5 steals. He’s very comfortable in all aspects of the game in a great no nonsense kind of way. He’s matter of fact in the locker room as well which is something I dig. I spoke to him about the sense of comfort I allude to: “the (important) thing is reading the game…the team we’re playing against. Getting a good scouting report. A lot of rest is helping (Sixers are in the first third of a 18 out of 22 homestand). When you’re rested, your mind is focused on the scouting report which carries over to the game”
I asked him about a number of victories he or the team was looking for during this homestand to get a sense of where the young point guard’s head is:
“You have to ask Doug (smiles). I’m down to win all of them. All the home games. All the away games. If we go undefeated from here on out, I’m cool with that.”
Don’t misconstrue those words to be anything arrogant of logically misplaced. There is a confidence this young player should use as a weapon. The funny thing about Jrue is his defensive prowess is expected, but it’s still shocking to look at the box score and see another game of 5 steals. He will dunk on you with his right or left. His shooting range is extending to the three point line and his jumper is looking soft at times.
The critical thing for the Sixers is they continue this stellar team play. Every night it seems we the press are surrounding a different player post game in the locker room. With Evan Turner out with a thigh contusion, Holiday, along with Iguodala and Lou Williams, stepped up and controlled the back court. Lou Williams didn’t have a particularly great offensive game shooting 6-17, but he did make 3-5 from behind the arc. You could see the frustration on his face trying to fight through shooting woes, but he was able to grind out 17 points in 26 minutes to go along with 6 assists.
Andre Iguodala, who was named a finalist for the 2012 US Olympic team, had his usual all around game. This was the fourth straight game he amassed three steals…the longest steak since Iverson did so in 5 straight from 3/4-3/11/05. He also had 21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks. I do notice a scoring eye in Andre lately. Depending on the opposition and tenor of the game, Andre either sets up his teammates for buckets or creates space to score his own. The crowd pleasing dunks are better this year because he’s getting them as part of Sixers wins. He’s business like…the entire team is business like.
The difference in the game was three point shooting. Milwaukee was 3-14 while the Sixers were 11-23. In a 12 point victory, that makes all the difference in the world. The Sixers are now 6-0 at home.
Philadelphia recorded 10 steals for the fourth straight game…the longest since the Iverson streak of the same dates. Milwaukee had 16 assists and the aforementioned 16 turnovers. Over the past seven games, opponents have just 115 assists with 127 turnovers. Philly is also defeating the opposition by 15 points…a league best. The Sixers have outscored the opposition by a total of 194 points through the first 13 games. Dating back to ’85-’86, only the ’96-’97 Chicago Bulls outscored opponents by a wider margin in same 13 game span (225).
Spencer Hawes, the crowd favorite, had another double double…scoring 11 and pulling down 10 off the glass. Sixers fans have to get down to the arena to hear how the fans respond to Spencer. Get those $17.76 tickets while you can because I truly feel the Sixers record after this homestand will also be a league best. Of course, Miami and Chicago are head and shoulders above every other Eastern Conference team. It will be interesting to see if the Sixers can score against bigger and better teams…if they can get baskets down low when they have to and continue to play defense when Doug Collins wants them to.
Thaddeus Young did not have good game by his measure. He shot 1-8 for just 2 points. He did have 2 steals and a block. I mention Thad because he’s a Memphis native. This is MLK Day, so I wanted to get something from him on a Memphis local level but first the game:
Michael Tillery: Obviously you didn’t have a good offensive game. Talk about doing whatever it takes to help your team win.
Thad Young: I think I was still waking up (we laugh). You can’t have a good game every game so you just try to do other things to stay focused to help your team win games. I went out to try to stop guys…to show on screen and rolls, block shots and give my team extra possessions. I got a few extra possessions for my team so I just try to do other things.
MT: These type of games where the team shoots 44% but shoots 47% from behind the arc. You’re winning these games early this season because you’re hard to guard.
TY: It’s definitely hard to guard. We do have guys that can go out there and make open shots. We are a team that is going to pass the ball around, pass the ball around…get you moving…get you rotating, then get you in trouble. We can either drive the ball or pull up for the jump shot. We have so many players who can score.
MT: Coach talked about the importance of MLK Day. I see you have a poster right here (a poster of Martin Luther King Jr. sits on a chair next to his locker). Obviously you’re younger but what does MLK mean to you?
TY: Well, I’m from Memphis so I grew up around the history. They actually recently gave MLK his own street in Memphis. That’s a great thing. There’s a lot of history. I’ve been to the Civil Rights Museum countless times just from school field trips and stuff. It’s almost an every year thing. I know the history and I’m just proud he fought for us so that we can live another day and not fight as hard just for the little things anymore.
MT: The Lorraine Hotel…
TY: It’s an exhibit now. They have the rooms set up just how they were. The spot where he was assassinated is an exhibit. People come and see it each and every day. Ever so often, I go myself. I think everybody should. You are learning about history…Black History and also about Civil Rights.
Finally, Sixers head coach Doug Collins. The interesting thing yesterday was I was struggling with asking a game question or an MLK question. Doug made it easy for me after these remarks:
“Today is a big day. Martin Luther King’s birthday is a huge day. It’s very important to me. I played for the first Black coach in Division 1 basketball, Will Robinson, who taught me a lot about this game. About being a man, about struggles that he went though as a young man getting to where he is. Not getting a chance to be a head coach until he was 61 years old when someone finally gave him a chance. So today is a very important day to me. Makes me thing very much of my college coach.”
Doug almost lost it here. As he spoke, you could almost feel the emotional memories rushing through him. Doug is an emotional man so if you say the right things, he will express it and give you a nice story when doing so.
Philly writer Donald Hunt asked Doug to expound on Will Robinson:
“Coach Robinson was an incredible guy. You can’t believe the amount of stories…I just sat in his office and he just talked to me every single day. It really wasn’t about being a great basketball player, it was growing up to be a good man…and the price he paid as a young man to do the things he did. The young people that he took on in his life…in Detroit…to teach them how to be young men and grow up to have good lives where they could provide for their families.
Coach was a big part in me making the Olympic team. John McClendon was his dear friend…the coach at Tennessee State then. He called Coach McClendon and said I have a kid here that needs to be on your team.
He got Spencer Haywood in ’68 who nobody knew anything about either. Coach (Robinson) was all about the right things. He called me Champ because he couldn’t remember my name (all of the media crack up in laughter). He would say Champ if you aren’t ready to fight in life, you ain’t gonna make it. I’ll never forget one game…and I guess it’s part of my personality but we were playing a game one night and I got my nose bloodied. I went over to the huddle and the dapped me up…and he (Coach Robinson) says I’m gonna find out if you can play now. I said what are you talking about coach? He said a man finds out who he is when he sees his own blood. He said whatcha got? I never forgot that”
I wanted a little bit more, so I asked coach to elaborate on Coach Robinson not getting a job until he was 61 and how it affected him personally:
“Well I think it’s like anybody. I think he felt he should have got it as a younger man. He was never bitter. When he did a chance he did a great job. He told me another story I thought was very interesting…he was from Steubenville, Ohio and was a scratch golfer in high school. Back then it was hard for Blacks to even get on the golf course. When he was playing for the state championship, they wouldn’t let him play against the white kids. They made him play by himself. They followed him around so he wouldn’t cheat. He lost by one stroke. He looked at me and said Champ, if they let me play that kid and he had to look me in the eye, he would have never beat me.
God bless you.”
Doug walks off the podium…reminiscing I’m sure.
On a day the country remembers Martin Luther King Jr., the legacy of a basketball coaching tree shines in full brightness. If you don’t know why this team has the makings of something special, simply point to history and your eyes will see the glory…