Sixers steal win for a coach who hates to lose

Posted: November 01, 2013

Brett Brown watched on television as the Miami Heat raised the championship banner Tuesday night and the feeling went through him again, four months later, but still there.

Brown was with his parents, who traveled from Maine to be here when their son began his career as a head coach. They did it out of love and support as Brown begins a journey during which he will need an awful lot of both.

His debut had to be against the Heat, of course, and Brown didn't really need to watch the opener on television to scout the opponent. Brett Brown knows plenty about the Miami Heat. From last season's NBA Finals, when Brown was an assistant with San Antonio, he knows every nuance, every twitch, and recalls every second of the slow-motion crash in the sixth game that eventually cost the Spurs the championship.

So there he was, a thousand miles away this time, watching the Heat raise the banner, and it all came back.

"It was really hard, and it surprised me how hard it was," Brown said Wednesday night before the 76ers fought their own improbable battle with the Heat. "In the light of day, you might be driving by yourself and you remember, and it's a hard thing to live through again. To dismiss it and think it doesn't hang around you and always will would be a lie. It was hard watching it."

The point of the story is not that losing the Finals still bothers Brown, or even that the way in which the Spurs lost the Finals still haunts him. The point is that losing haunts him.

And here he is, coaching the Sixers, a team constructed with the goal of losing.

But not every time, if Brown can help it. And, amazingly enough, not this time.

The Sixers stunned the Heat, 114-110, in an opener that made little sense at the start or at the finish. They built a big lead, lost every bit of it, fell behind, and then came back to score 15 of the last 18 points in the game.

"We found a way to beat a great team," Brown said. "To get a win like this justifies the work they've put in."

This is a good man in a difficult role. He might be a great basketball coach, too. We won't find that out this season because he doesn't have great players, which tends to help a lot.

But this is a man who hates to lose, and every night there is a game, he will be trying to win. Doing so consistently in the NBA with his current roster will be like a sprinter trying to win the Olympic 100-meter dash with a large potted plant tied to his back. Brown will try, though, because he likes his players and wants them to be rewarded for their work, and to once in a while feel they are doing something aside from helping tear pages from the franchise calendar.

"It feels like there is a sense of belief," he said.

The Sixers weren't going to lose 82 games. No one expected that, although no one knows exactly what number of wins management might find acceptable. That part isn't Brown's business. His business is to coach what he has as well as he can, and every time he has an opportunity to steal a win, he will take it.

That the opener provided one of those chances was a surprise, however. It happened because the Sixers couldn't miss in the first quarter and the Heat looked as if they expected to walk into the gym and not need to break a sweat.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra gave Dwyane Wade the game off after using him for 36 minutes against the Bulls the night before. (Note to fans: This is going to happen a lot this season. Don't count on seeing your favorite player on the opposing team. Nice spot for a night off.)

The Sixers led by 26-4 midway through the first period, and people were elbowing each other in the stands. Can they really blow this? Well, yes. The Sixers allowed the Heat to score a combined 80 points in the second and third quarters and trailed by nine entering the final period.

They were down by eight points with five minutes to play, and that is when the Heat missed 10 consecutive field goals and the Sixers made just enough to steal one of those wins for Brown. It wasn't pretty, and blowing big leads and playing bad defense won't usually end this well, but it was something to build on.

"We have this in perspective," Brown said.

If he steals too many wins too soon, the front office will just adjust things by trading away more talent. Smart franchises don't tank games. They tank the roster and the games take care of themselves.

Brett Brown knows all that. He knows what he has and feels the potted plant attached to his back. He knows something else, too. He hates to lose.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports


www.inquirer.com/

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