Signs of embracing the blue-collar ethic

Posted: March 07, 2013

LEAVE IT TO BLUE to transform the ethic.

Aaron McKie did the same sort of thing a decade ago, when the Sixers were the best they had been since his childhood.

McKie, of Simon Gratz and of Temple and other hard-knocks origins, helped manage the Iverson years as a sometime starter and a fulltime sheriff.

Now an assistant with the Sixers, McKie last week explained to the young, rudderless assemblage why head coach Doug Collins and the paying customers were so disgusted with their recent efforts.

"He told us, 'It's a blue-collar city. They want to see effort,' " said Evan Turner. "Since then, we've tried to play hard. Play rough. We're holding each other accountable."

Indeed, in the four games since Collins channeled Jim "Playoffs" Mora after a home loss to woeful Orlando, a postgame press conference that created a national stir, the Sixers have been a different team.

No more snickering on the bench after a monster slam . . . by the opposition.

No more easing into games; everybody's as sweaty as Collins by tipoff.

Collins' most dire accusation after the Feb. 26 loss to the Magic was that three starters were not even perspiring at the game's start. His career hindered then cut short by injury, Collins, himself a Sixer, always played the game with the respect it deserves. He never was booed off the court, as Turner and Co. were a week ago.

Playing hard does not necessarily translate into wins. The Sixers have since beaten Golden State but lost in Chicago, in Washington and, Tuesday night, to a slick Celtics team, by eight, their ninth loss in 10 games. Had they played like they played against Orlando, they would have lost by 28.

"The resilient effort, I thought, was really good," Collins pointedly said afterward.

Asked if he had been pleased with the overall effort since the Magic meltdown, he bristled:

"That only happened one night. I don't want to belabor one night," Collins said. "We played hard all the time."

Unprovoked, Collins then revisited the effort issue: "Our guys have fought all year. They've fought all year. I made one comment after one game. I don't want to make it look like we're not an effort team. I don't want that to be revisionist history."

Revisionist, indeed.

Collins had, of course, questioned his team's effort before the Magic game. After a loss in Minnesota coming out of the All-Star break, Collins said, "It was terrible. No energy. No life - at all. It was terrible. I mean, I can't candy-coat it any more than that."

In fact, Collins revisited the loss at Minnesota during his comments after the Magic game: "I did not think guys prepared themselves during the All-Star break to come back and play."

Add in the fact that the Sixers had been chronically slow starters for much of the season, and, yes, Collins had every right to question focus and leadership and effort.

Not lately. Of all people, Turner - the bench snickerer, the ref jockey, Mr. Jump Stop - Tuesday night set a precedent. He attacked the basket. He repeatedly challenged fearsome Celtics center Kevin Garnett. As it happened, Garnett blocked Turner's first challenge, just under 5 minutes into the game.

Turner was not deterred. Neither were the other Sixers. They ran off three straight baskets.

Turner got even brasher in the second quarter. He took Garnett to the basket and scored, then hit a jumper in Garnett's face as the Sixers struggled to stay close.

At one point, the Sixers' season dealt with components; with concocting a scheme to amplify players' strengths and with devising offensive and defensive systems that would allow for easy insertion of center Andrew Bynum, once his knees healed.

That plan assumed that the Sixers would play like professionals; that they would give a man's effort for a man's pay 82 times.

A week ago, schemes and systems and even Bynum became immaterial.

Since then, the Sixers have, for the most part, played like it's a business.

Subtract a 10-minute stretch to start the game Sunday at Washington and the beginning of the second half Tuesday, and the Sixers played hard. Hard enough to beat the Magic 10 times out of 10.

Again, playing hard never directly translates into winning.

But playing soft almost always means losing.

It creates a culture of fatalism, of inferiority, of apathy.

Certainly, losing to the Celtics is no shameful thing. Not the way it happened, anyway.

The Celtics are of a superior class to the Sixers, even without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, whom they lost for the season. Entering Tuesdasy's game, the Celtics stood seventh in the Eastern Conference. They have won 12 of 16 since losing Rondo. Doc Rivers, one of the game's better coaches, consistently has been demanding of his team and candid about its failings.

So has Collins.

The two are friends. They see the game through similar prisms.

They played the NBA game with similar effort.

They ask the same of their own players. Collins now is getting it.

Arnett Moultrie fouled Jeff Green on a layup later in the quarter, a soft, bad foul . . . but a foul the Sixers would not have committed a week ago.

Because no one would have run the floor hard enough to foul Green a week ago.

With 4:04 left in the third quarter, trailing by 11, Turner again made a run at the basket, attracted two defenders . . . and kept going.

Chris Wilcox fouled him.

With about 4 minutes left in the game Turner charged at Garnett again. Hawes tipped in the miss and cut it to 10.

In the last minute, Turner picked Paul Pierce's pocket, beat Garnett to the basket, finally drew a foul and got credit for the basket, which cut it to eight.

Finally drew a foul, because Turner drew plenty of contact all night. A third-year player with a reputation for avoiding contact, Turner realizes that getting those sorts of calls is part of the NBA's vetting process. They will come.

"You look ridiculous when you don't get them," he groused. He finished with 18 points, but on 6-for-19 shooting.

"Now, he's got to finish," Collins said.

That's how you play rough.

Like Blue used to do.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

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