In the locker room a few minutes later, after the Heat's 97-91 victory was in the books to win the series, four games to one, Collins looked at his players and told them to glance around the room. Think about what you have accomplished over the last eight months, Collins said. Appreciate your teammates. Savor the moment, because change is inevitable.
Even championship teams change from year to year. Rebuilding ones like the Sixers do, too.
"Teams are never the same the next year," Collins said later. "There are changes made. I'm big on being a teammate and understanding what it means to be on a team, and appreciate it, because some of the guys won't be in this room next year."
What it meant to be on this Sixers team this year, and what was on display throughout the game on Wednesday night, was to play hard, to play fast, to keep pushing, and to never think a deficit is too big. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the Sixers played with a relentless and unique intensity and speed that could not be simulated in practice, and Wednesday night, they took a page from the Heat's playbook, consistently driving to the hoop and scoring the bulk of their points in the paint.
The playoffs gave Collins five more games to evaluate his players, to see what they had, to see how they responded to the pressure and stress of postseason basketball. What he found was that Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Lou Williams, and Thaddeus Young thrived in that environment. Jodie Meeks did not back away from it.
Andres Nocioni and Jason Kapono could not get on the court, which was telling considering how much money each player is making this season. And the Sixers' big men struggled inside. After being one of the first players off the bench in Game 1, Marreese Speights got a DNP-coach's decision Wednesday night. Spencer Hawes was 2 of 7 from the field, with four rebounds and four points. Tony Battie played fewer than five minutes.
So consider the center position a good place to start when looking at what pieces to add in the offseason.
The other burning issue will be what the Sixers do with Iguodala. Will they keep him, or will they try to move him? And will anyone be willing to swallow the remaining dollars on his contract?
Iguodala had his best game of the series on Wednesday night. He was aggressive going to the basket, with a couple of dunks. He consistently hit his mid-range jumper in the fourth quarter, and finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists.
But he also took a questionable shot with the game on the line. The Sixers were down three. The thought had to be to either drive to the basket and try to draw a foul, or drive and kick it to a shooter behind the three-point line. Iguodala started to drive, then pulled up for a 20-foot fadeaway jumper. Best case, he would have hit it, and the Sixers would have trailed by one with about eight seconds to play. No chance for a foul, no chance for a three.
Iguodala stayed in no-man's land after the game. Asked if he expected to return to the Sixers next season, he gave a vague answer that seemed to indicate he was not interested in joining the Sixers' young nucleus for another year.
"I expect to be back in the NBA," Iguodala said. "It's always been a dream of mine to play ball. This has been a great ride so far, not just with the Sixers, just playing basketball in general. I'm really looking forward to getting some rest this summer, just letting my body recuperate and get back to 100 percent, and I'm really looking forward to next year being my best year in the league."
Asked a few minutes later to clarify whether he wanted to return to the Sixers, Iguodala said in a roundabout way that he did. It was as if Brand, seated at a table on a podium to Iguodala's left, kicked Iguodala under the table mid-answer.
"I think it's something I've always dreamed about, playing in the league," Iguodala said. "Once I got here, I think I've always wanted to be in one place, not having to move around a lot, being comfortable in one spot.
"So I still feel the same way, being able to continue to put a stamp on my career, not only my career but the Sixers record books. I always think about that, keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever - Dr. J, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Hal Greer, Wilt Chamberlain. The franchise has been here forever. And just for my name to be brought up for the guy with the most steals in team history is something I've always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take the team to the next level."
Time will tell who will share the Sixers locker room next season. The only thing we know for sure is that the team will not look the same.
Contact columnist Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or email@example.com.
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