The game was on Martin Luther King's Birthday, which got Collins reminiscing about his college coach. When he took over the Illinois State program in 1970 - two years after King was struck down - Will Robinson became, at age 61, the first African American head coach of a Division I men's basketball program.
"Coach Robinson was an incredible guy," Collins said. "He talked to me every single day, and it wasn't really about becoming a great basketball player. It was about becoming a good man."
Collins recalled a game in which he took a shot in the face. As the athletic trainer tried to staunch the blood flowing from his nose, Robinson came over to him.
"He said, 'I'm going to find out if you can play now,' " Collins said. "I said, 'What are you talking about, Coach?' He said, 'A man finds out who he is when he sees his own blood. What you got?' I never forgot that."
It is impossible to play a long NBA season at nosebleed intensity. Players understand that and pace themselves accordingly. Right now, though, the Sixers are playing every game with the kind of relentlessness that you normally don't see until the playoffs. For the most part, their opponents have been unable or unwilling to match them.
That was certainly the case at the Wells Fargo Center. The Bucks run their offense through center Andrew Bogut, who is coming back from a concussion. Every time the ball went to Bogut down low, there was Spencer Hawes or Tony Battie swatting and clawing at it. Bogut played fine, but you could sense that he just wasn't as locked into this particular game as the Sixers were.
In the fourth quarter, with the Sixers up by nine, Bogut got the ball down low. Before he could even scan the court for a teammate to pass to, Battie had reached in and popped the ball free. It went out of bounds off Bogut, and Collins reached out and gave Battie a palm-stinging high five.
Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala was matched up with Stephen Jackson, holding him to nine points on 3-for-12 shooting.
The Sixers have created an energy gap in most of their games and they have exploited it for a 10-3 record, best in their division.
"Hopefully, we don't hit the wall - if there is such a thing," Battie said. "We have a lot of games packed in together."
But so does everyone else, which may help explain why the Sixers have won six games by 20 or more points.
"In the past," Hawes said, "if you were down 15 points or something like that at the end of the third quarter, you gear up and try to make a run. You put all your guys in. I'm not a coach, but I imagine the strategy has to be a little bit different this year, having so many games. Maybe some nights you concede games if you have two or three more in succession."
The Sixers have grasped this lockout-created reality and used it to their immense advantage. That begins with Collins.
There has been a fair amount of discussion about the Sixers' lack of a true superstar in a superstar-driven league. For now, that has been the opposite of a problem. With shorter prep time and fewer practices, it is easier for a team to focus on defending a star player or two.
"They don't really have a superstar player," Bogut said. "That's what makes them so tough. They are very, very balanced. . . . Our defense is pretty careful to stop one or two guys."
Can it work over the long haul? Can Collins find ways to keep this team playing with that edge, as if someone had bloodied its collective nose?
It should be entertaining, at least, to find out. The schedule, which has been relatively forgiving, offers sterner tests this week. Denver comes in Wednesday, and Atlanta on Friday, then the Sixers play LeBron What's-his-name and the Heat in Miami on Saturday.
With this remarkable start, they have built themselves a little cushion and a lot of confidence. Collins should be proud. This is a team, and a coach, Will Robinson would have loved.
Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, email@example.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.
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