Marcus Hayes: Sixers' Collins pushes right buttons

Posted: May 11, 2012

DOUG COLLINS is an excellent liar.

"I'm not in this for me," Collins said.

Not only was that untrue, it sounded un-American.

Collins won a playoff series for the first time in 23 years. He won for the only time without Michael Jordan, for the first time since the Jordan-era Bulls ran him out of town for coaching too hard.

He took a No. 8 seed and upset a No. 1 seed, the fifth time that has happened in NBA history.

He took a team that made an industry of losing close games early in the season and won three times against the Bulls, 79-78 in Game 6 Thursday. The Sixers were 3-18 until crunch time in games decided by seven or fewer points. They are 5-0 since.

Collins is a stat geek. He knows all those numbers.

He had the world on a string as he floated from his team's locker room to the postgame podium. He was sitting on a rainbow next to his grandson, 4-year-old Cooper Romanczuk.

And Collins lied and lied and lied.

Bad example, Pop-Pop.

"I'm at a different point in my life," Collins fibbed. "I'm not as selfish as I used to be."

His nose actually grew. Swear it.

Since the series began, Collins insisted that he has not considered what it would mean to him. That's more bull than Chicago could ever supply.

Of course, Collins has considered it. Collins considers everything.

His attention to minutiae made him an elite analyst, but he says he's a big-picture guy.

His micromanagement makes him an elite coach, but he swears he delegates to his superb young staff.

Playoff wins define coaches.

Playoff wins are a rare element, one contrived, not discovered.

This season, Collins' alchemy would make Merlin jealous.

Remember, it was Collins who stumped for Andre Iguodala to make the All-Star team. Collins who kept Iguodala in the game late Thursday night, when offense was dearest. Collins, who ignored Iguodala's fourth-quarter foul-line atrocities during the regular season; 33 percent in the last 3 minutes.

Collins, who rejoiced that Iguodala redeemed himself to a measure with big free throws in Game 4.

Collins, who beamed when Iguodala did it again, Thursday night, the winning pair with 2.2 seconds left.

Without a viable inside presence, against a team built inside-out, Collins won a playoff round.

The Sixers drafted two beefy big men last year; Nik Vucevic in the first round, Lavoy Allen in the second. Neither played 1 minute Thursday night. Collins' call.

The Bulls still outrebounded the Sixers by 23. The Bulls scored 29 second-chance points. Without center Joakim Noah.

It was 1989 the last time Collins reached a semifinal.

Only one of his Sixers starters was in elementary school in 1989. His best one, Jrue Holiday, wasn't even born.

Bill Clinton was a happy governor. Monica Lewinsky was a cute high schooler in Beverly Hills. And Collins was setting up Phil Jackson for a Hall of Fame run as his successor in Chicago.

Now, no coach in the NBA casts a larger shadow over his team.

No coach better obscures his visibly invisible general manager.

In the absence of a real star, or a vetted owner, or a dynamic front office, Collins acts as the face and the voice and the essence of a grateful organization.

"We're very, very lucky to have him. I'm very lucky to have the relationship I have with him," said first-year owner Josh Harris, who gushed about the staff as a whole: "They've gotten the maximum out of these guys."

They - especially Collins - have learned.

"He's gotten a little older. I think our young guys have helped him mellow out. It's kind of been therapy for him," Iguodala said. "I always heard he can be too hard on guys."

Collins used every trick of his craft this season, and into the postseason.

Knowing teams would be thin, Collins created two starting lineups, the second headlined by Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young, the team's best halfcourt scoring options.

Knowing the sensitivity of his lone All-Star, Collins cultivated weekly worship sessions at the feet of Iguodala. Collins cast Iggy as a gritty defender who played hurt more often than not, and Iguodala's ego was assuaged just enough to keep him engaged.

Then, when fate delivered Rose and Noah to the Bulls' sideline, Collins pounced.

Knowing his team would struggle to stop the Bulls' backcourt, Collins put lanky Evan Turner on backup Bulls point guard C.J. Watson, the overmatched understudy of Derrick Rose. Watson disappeared.

Knowing he lacked a real scorer, Collins tried to turn Holiday into Allen Iverson. Williams remains befuddled by double teams, Young lacked the heart and the heft to handle the Bulls' bigs; there was nothing else to do but make Holiday a gunner.

Knowing the league would listen, if only out of embarrassment, Collins cried foul after the Bulls beat his boys bloody in Game 5. Or, rather, he cried no foul. He whined about physicality of the sumo match in Chicago and whimpered about how his team could not transform itself into a "smash-mouth" club. Collins even sent Spencer Hawes to the postgame podium with claw marks on his face. Bulls bully Taj Gibson was blamed for the scratches.

But there might have been flash under Collins' fingernails.

Sure enough, the mosh pit of Game 5 became a waltz in Game 6, a tempo much more to the Sixers' liking.

Brilliant.

At 60, this is Collins' last stop.

Make no mistake: He takes great joy in this.

He just takes great joy in everything else even more.

Cooper's mother, Kelly, is expecting a third child in 2 weeks. Collins hopes to have beaten the Celtics by then.

It is a paradoxical existence.

As ever, he can't stop talking, but now he bites his tongue until it bleeds.

He makes big-money players like Iguodala and Elton Brand do midlevel grunt work and defer to young Holiday and callow Turner and mercurial Williams. Impossible, no?

"I don't believe in coincidence," Collins said of numerical illogic that placed his team in Round 2.

But he traffics in excellence. And he's an excellent liar.

Wait: Collins also said, "I can't tell you what this means to me . . . It's just off the charts."

Whoops.

Some truth slipped out.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com

 

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