Miller torched his former team with 28 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds…off the bench
The return of Andre Miller. A career underrated Andre Miller. The Reticent Alchemist.
No, he doesn’t talk much unless you speak it with him straight. It was good to see him back in town. For the feature linked above, he gave me one of my best interviews…where I got to know his Mom. Being a lifelong Sixers supporter because I’m from the area, Andre Miller represents the Mo Cheeks regime. He represents it well, for Miller averaged 15 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds in his three years here.
It has nothing to do with Doug Collins…who has done an amazing job in a very short time…but more with a past oh so glorious where number 10 dished right to Julius, left to Bobby adjacent to Andrew and everywhere to Moses. When I see Andre, I think of Mo. When the two were here, I did everything I could to link the two mainly because of their demeanor…which always leads me back to Julius Errrrrrrrrrving and also Philly’s beloved Spectrum. Yeah, I can go on. The past will always be the past, but this is about the present…
I was in the press room preparing some notes and in walks Andre off the bus to check out the dinner spread. As he walked out, I greeted him. Asked about his son…his Mom…how things were going. He said “Sixers are looking good huh? It’s looking good around here, ” in almost a not to subtle but well intentioned envy. I responded simply with a yes and gave him a few reasons why I thought so…mostly because of young leg maturity and a passionate coach willing to put everything into his team. I mentioned Jrue Holiday…who ultimately became his replacement and I felt a vibe. Walked him to the locker room. Told him I wanted to document his return. He said “for sure”. Andre was returning…but uh…this was no pleasure trip. Coming off the bench has to be hard for a player most teams and NBA fans have taken for granted. He can do it all on the floor: Shoot the mid range jumper, take you down on the block and post you up even if you are bigger…stronger…and get you the ball cutting off the interior pick and rolls when your eyes are right at the cup. As I said earlier, when I spoke of the current team, I knew he would have a big night so most of pre game questions…with the exception of Ty Lawson’s convo…had Andre Miller in mind. Let’s start with the man himself.
Michael Tillery: You all are pretty much doing the same things the Sixers are doing…
Andre Miller: Yeah. Forcing turnovers, getting out in the open court…trying to be active with our hands in forcing turnovers so it’s pretty much a similar style. We both can play big and also play small at different positions, so it’s going to be a good test for both teams.
MT: Why do you think your team is so much of a surprise?
AM: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if you could look at the short season…but obviously we have some guys who can play…who can play multiple positions. We have a couple of guys who can demand some double teams. It’s been a decent schedule so far…favorable but at the same time it’s going to get tougher.
MT: Second tour with the Nuggets. Speak of that experience.
AM: It’s cool. Of course different a situation now in my role. It’s part of the business I’m learning to deal with that I didn’t think would happen (reserve role) but you have to be professional about it.
MT: When you look across and see your former team playing well…what are your thoughts?
AM: I’m just happy for them guys. My time here…it’s probably the best group of guys that I’ve played with as far as their mentality…practice habits and working hard. It was a good hard working group and we played to our maximum as much as we could.
MT: Coach Karl has he changed at all since you’ve been here last?
AM: Obviously, he’s been through a lot with his sickness. It’s still tough on him traveling and all that so I try to make his job as easy as possible so he won’t stress out too much.
MT: Does he lean on you?
AM: No not really. That’s what you have coaching staff for. The coaching staff has pretty much helped him with the load. As players we just have to understand his situation and be supportive of it.
Ty Lawson is up. The quick fast-not-in-a-George Karl-hurry point guard…who is entering his third year out of UNC…is averaging 16 points, almost 7 assists and 3 rebounds in ’12. He’s settling into his own because the lead guard job is finally his. Let’s see what he has to say…
MT: Talking to Andre…you’re role has changed. I remember talking to you in Cleveland a few years back when Chauncey was the starter and you were coming off the bench. Your team is playing well. What’s it like for you to see some positive gains early in your career?
Ty Lawson: It feels good. I’ve been working all my life for it. Gives me a chance to start and play well as a team.
MT: You have a good mix of youth and experience…some guys that can get out on the floor and run. What’s your fit on the Denver Nuggets?
TL: Getting the ball up and down the court. Making sure people get open shots before I get them…and get my shot when I’m able to find a little groove and score points.
MT: George Karl will most likely be inducted into the Hall of Fame. You’re playing for that caliber of coach. What are you learning from him outside of him being sick the last few years?
TL: A lot of things. Different situations. Pick and roll situations. Offensive situations. Running the ball. Control. Learning to be a leader. He’s taught me a lot of things.
MT: Do you still get a sense of the Carolina system with Karl?
TL: We run like at Carolina but no.
MT: As the season progresses and Denver plays well, you’ll edge into that upper third of point guards in the league.
TL: It feels good. I gotta keep working. Trying to be as good as Chris Paul, Derrick Rose. I’m still working to get there. It’s added motivation.
MT: When I was talking to Andre, I asked him about Denver being a surprise to the league.
TL: Yeah I think so. At the beginning of the year everyone thought we’d be pretty much rebuilding…not doing good or making the playoffs. We just have to do what we are doing and not let the attention bother us…just keep playing.
MT: What did you do during the lockout?
TL: I was in Lithuania. I played over there for 3 months. Tried to keep my body right. Played more of a pick and roll game and the European system and just hang out. I played for a team called Zalgiris Kaunas.
MT: How was the experience?
TL: Definite culture shock. What 23 year old can say he traveled the world? Kazakhstan…other places to learn and make money during the lock out?
MT: What did you pick up that you brought home?
TL: The pick and roll (he says it definitively). Rotations of defenses and how to get open on offense.
MT: Game style?
TL: They have no defensive three seconds so they pack the lane. They are more physical. Very team oriented. They don’t want anyone scoring more than 20 points a game. Players score 11, 11, 9…8 across the board.
MT: The culture of Lithuania.
TL: They don’t speak too much English. They seemed like they never saw a Black person before so there were a lot of stares.
Coach Karl was next. I enjoy talking to the erstwhile man in charge because he’s intellectual. He speaks with history as his guide but with a cool confidence. I honestly think of jazz when I think of George Karl’s knowledge of the game. You notice the cancer taking a toll. He does most of his pressers sitting down. His voice is scratchy. Skin and eyes weathered…but he’s here where he is supposed to be and wants to be and isn’t going anywhere any time soon…
MT: I spoke to Ty and he talked about picking up the pick and roll while over in Lithuania. How has that translated this year on the floor?
George Karl: (has this look on this face like what the hell are you talking about man?) Who is this?
MT: Ty…Ty Lawson.
GK: He picked up the pick and roll in Lithuania (begins to laugh as do all of the other reporters picking up on the comedy of the moment)? He was playing 15 minutes a game in Lithuania.
MT: (had to get myself together because that was surely a funny moment) I also talked to Andre Miller. He’s that veteran you can lean on I’m sure in spells.
GK: Andre is a talented enough player he could start for 10 – 15 teams in the NBA but now he’s a veteran. He controls a bench that has to be in the top five in scoring. We come off the bench with guys that can really put numbers up. You can make the argument that our bench can be our starters on some nights. The five guys on the bench are all capable 25 minute a game players…or more. How we go through the team and how we rotate the team is because of him.
MT: How are you doing with the schedule?
GK: The schedule is crazy. It bothers me because it doesn’t have a lot of breaks…not a lot of rest periods. Not a lot of maybe…time to relax. You’re just constantly traveling. Watching film. Game planning. Tomorrow, will be the first time in a while where we’ll be able to make some phone calls and communicate as normal human beings.
It’s pretty intense. How to make it a positive experience? Part of it is knowing when to push it and when to not push it. Injuries are going to be interesting. How you manage injuries. Timo will not play tonight (back). Could we have pushed Timo to play tonight? Probably, but we don’t want to get into a situation where a two to three day injury turns into a two to three week injury.
The game was great. It was good for the Philly crowd…yes even in a loss. 15, 201 saw two teams on the same level go at it on both ends of the floor in a very exciting overtime affair. The Sixers were up big early based on quality defense but Denver closed the gap and eventually led 51-45 at the half. Then Andre Miller happened. He went off in the 2nd after Karl saw he and Lawson (16 points) together baffled the Sixers. It was their change of speeds…quick fast Lawson and deceptive speed Miller. Miller was hitting everything. He made three of four three point attempts. Got loose balls, rebounds, made jump step bounce passes in a cluttered lane that found the mark perfectly for assists. It was his game. I don’t know if the motivation was his backup role, the return to Philly or just a good week but this was Andre Miller’s day. The only big shot he did miss was at the end of regulation that would have won it.
Thad Young led the Sixers with 22 but it was Evan Turner’s (20 and 11 rips) relentless driving to the cup when the Sixers lost a double digit lead that was the spark. The Sixers found themselves down by 10 and Turner turned it up no matter who was under the basket. He had three three point play attempts in the second half. There was a critical offensive foul call on Evan that could have went either way late that stunned the Sixers.
Andre Iguodala also had a near triple double with 11 points, 9 assists and 10 boards. Iguodala had a critical miss at the line at the end of regulation that could have won the game and was 4-12 from the field. Straight bad luck and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time in front of a hungry crowd. Maybe Evan Turner should have taken the last shot, maybe not, but everything else Collins has done this season worked. Fans will point to a late Lou Williams (10 points) substitution of Turner (Williams missed a wide open three) but again, Collins knows this team.
A Jrue Holiday drive and indecision that resulted in a turnover going for the tie was the deciding factor. Before the turnover, everyone in the building knew Miller would score on the other end and it was just a matter of what Sixers player would be the hero…but not on this day. Jrue will learn from this I’m very sure. This was a game the Sixers would’ve been routed last year but they fought and they fought. It’s a shame that Iguodala will be seen as the goat when his all around play helped the Sixers stay in it.
Elton Brand had 16 and 7 rebounds. Spencer Hawes missed the game with an Achilles strain. Nikola Vucevic got the start and played well early but after he picked up his fourth, Collins mixed and matched Young and Brand down low. Nene killed the Sixers. He had 20 points and 14 rebounds. He was the force they needed him to be and it opened the floor for Miller and Lawson to eventually control the game via the pick and roll. Aaron Afflalo had 14 and Al Harrington 12. That team is deep.
Let’s start the post game quotes with George Karl who pregame told the media throng this game will be decided by a late turnover…
MT:You were almost prophetic saying the game would come down to a turnover. What did you know there coach (we laugh)?
GK: You know…we gave them an open three that they missed on (Williams) off the strong side. The second time Andre (Miller) didn’t come off the strong side and did what he was supposed to do. I don’t know who was covering the ball that forced the pass out (Holiday’s turnover).
The turnover wasn’t a huge part of the game as much as both teams respected the other’s defense. They are a good basketball team. I think they are going to get better. I hope and feel we are going to get better as well.
MT: Andre coming back here. How much stock do you put in a player returning to a former team where he had some success being you’ve been around the game for so long?
GK: I was in Milwaukee. I’m happy and excited to play in a place where you had many good years and then they decide you’re not good enough to be there any more. You always have a pride of revenge. Success is the best revenge and tonight we feel really good about.
Next up is Doug Collins. He wanted this win for the fans but maybe…just maybe…the Sixers needed to lose this game so they continue to work hard. They still sit at 10-4 despite having their home record having this one blemish. He was impressed with the Sixers defense in the first quarter but thought the team thought too much about offense in the second quarter. He counted 7 deflections in the first but only 1 in the second that led to Denver’s 32 points and a 15 point hole in that quarter. He thought it was the best he’d seen Andre Miller play. He didn’t call a time out on last possession because he wanted to catch the Nuggets slipping and said Holiday was upset that he didn’t take one more dribble to shoot that little jumper in the lane before the turnover. He trusts his guys and referenced two times in Game 5 last year in Miami where he didn’t call time outs and Jrue hit a three and Lou hit a three. He spoke of George Karl having so much confidence in Andre Miller that he still called his number despite being isolated vs. the Sixers best defender in Iguodala.
He said he started Thad Young in the second half to counter Karl starting Danilo Gallinari. He didn’t have another guy to match up to that spot and had to go small and match up Iguodala at the 4 vs. Al Harrington. He thought the lineup didn’t hurt the Sixers and said the game was a game where the Sixers had control, gave it away, fought back and then let it slip away.
MT: Evan Turner driving to the basket. Seems like he put his head down and attacked.
Doug Collins: We shot two free throws the first half. Two. They had three fouls. I told our guys if we wanted to get to the line that’s what we had to do. We had to drive that ball in there and get the contact and force them to put us on the line. We shot seventeen (free throws) in the second half. They shot maybe fifteen in the first half and ended up shooting seven in the second half and overtime. Where they get you is they can really spread you out. They can shoot the three. We had a spurt where we battled back and they hit two straight threes on us.
There were a couple of loose balls that we didn’t pick up. Every loose ball that they got they made us pay for tonight.
Evan was spectacular. I thought in the first half he was getting his legs underneath him from being out and once he did, he played fabulous.
Let’s go with Andre Miller here. Remember the pregame conversation we had? Let’s get Andre’s words…I can say he had a big smile and it decidedly different than his locker room persona here. He was very happy to get this win and do well getting it.
MT: You weren’t lying about coming home and playing well.
AM: Yeah I didn’t think we were going to pull that out for a second but we found a way off the back to back.
MT: What made you have this type of game. We know your game. You’re good on the block and have the deceptive speed Collins spoke of and popped the occasional three…
AM: I fell into some shots. The three pointer (the only other game he had three in a game was a game vs. Charlotte when he was with Cleveland on 12/5/00) is different every now and again. I shoot them when I’m wide open. When I see one go down, I’m gonna take another one. If not, then I’ll try to stay more aggressive and continue to go to the basket and look for my teammates doing the same. Everything else just fell from there.
MT: Did Coach Karl notice something that he was able to go with you and Ty the same time?
AM: That’s our goal. We started off good. In the second half we wanted to go small to force the tempo a little bit. It helped at times but then hurt us on the boards but at the end of the day we got the win.
Ok…time to get something from his former teammates. Let’s start with Elton Brand who said Andre is a “special player and one of the best to do it at the position”.
MT: Do you think Andre is underrated?
Elton Brand: Oh yeah. Absolutely. It was here he passed Larry Bird in assists and Larry Bird is one of the best big man passers ever. Who knows who he’s gonna pass next.
MT: Obviously you know his game but did you expect him to play this well tonight?
EB: No. I didn’t expect him to knock down those threes. Like coach said we had to follow him and put our best defender on him and he still hit shots. Tough, tough loss for us.
MT: What do you take from this game if anything?
EB: We take from this game is that if we get up fourteen, we step on the throttle. We don’t get satisfied and try to outscore a team. Our bread and butter is defense. When we turn the defense up, we get layups…easy looks. When we just tried to outscore them, that’s how they got back in it.
MT: Evan Turner getting to the hole and giving the team a spark…
EB: Night and day from last year. The rookie (ha!) is playing with great confidence. Let’s keep it up.
Speaking of the rookie [sic], Evan is next on the mic. On the offensive foul call he stated: “The call was already called. I saw the guy move when I was in the air. Where I’m from it’s a block but this game it wasn’t. That’s life.”
MT: Seems like you were the spark in the second half.
Evan Turner: Just tried to come out, come off the bench and help the team defensively, rebound, get out on the break and get to the bucket. I just got into a rhythm.
MT: You weren’t settling for jumpers at all and didn’t care who was under the basket. You just wanted to get there and get something…
ET: Yeah. Coach said we were taking too many jump shots. I thought once I saw an opening, I could get to the basket so I kept doing so but in the end it didn’t matter.
Gotta love that kid. He can’t stand to lose.
Two more to go. Thad Young is next. He played 38 minutes.
MT: You had a nice game tonight. What do these types of games…this was a playoff atmosphere…and you went up against Andre. What are your thoughts on this game?
Thad Young: We have to play each and every quarter. Our second quarter is what got us out of wack a little bit and got us behind. We fought our way back in and at the end we just didn’t make shots. We had good looks, the ball just didn’t fall for us.
Seeing Andre Miller and playing with Andre Miller…we know what he’s capable of. He definitely showed it tonight. He’s a good solid veteran player who can get you ten one night and twenty five the next night. We know what he’s capable of. We did a good job of containing him but he just hit tough shots. If a guy is hitting tough shots, we just have to live with it.
Last is Andre Iguodala. Dei Lynam asked him about his free throw woes. He was 3-4 but that miss could be seen as the deciding factor: “I just have to knock them down. Bottom line. That’s pretty much it.” He’s going to hear it from the fans the next game. This is a critical stage because honestly Andre has been playing well as of late. Doug Collins continues to trust Andre and he can’t get down when he misses a big shot because he’s expected to take them. I truly feel it’s a confidence thing with Dre. He’s got to shut out all the bs. Everything and do what he can do. I’m not one of these folk who thinks he’s not capable. I’ve covered this team and seen success and failure from number nine and I know he has it in him. Go get it Dre. Go get it.
MT: Your former teammate Andre Miller. He looked good tonight.
Andre Iguodala: He always plays well against us in this building. Last time when Portland was here, he knocked down a couple of threes as well. We gave him that shot but we know how special a player he is. He’s overlooked as far as talents but we all know how he can play and he showed it again tonight.