PHILADELPHIA – Just like former Wizards coach Flip Saunders, who would become wistfully nostalgic when talking about his days coaching Kevin Garnett, the same is true when Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins talks about the best player he ever coached, Michael Jordan.
And both coaches talk about their former superstar players quite a bit.
“When I coached Michael, one of the things Michael used to always do the first game of a playoff series, he tried to destroy who ever was playing against him, so he wouldn’t want to come back and play anymore,” Collins said after morning shootaround on Thursday, before the Sixers faced the team Collins once coached, the Chicago Bulls.
“That’s the kind of will he would try to throw on the game.”
The 76ers host the Bulls on Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center in what the Sixers hope will be a close out game. The Sixers lead the series 3-2, and as an eighth seed facing a one seed, probably never expected to be in position to move to the second round.
All that changed when last season’s MVP, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, went down with a torn ACL in his left knee with less tho minutes left in game one of the series, which the Bulls won comfortably, 103-91.
Bulls center Joakim Noah was the next to fall prey to the injury bug, and has missed the past two games with a sprained left ankle, and is a game time decision for Thursday’s game six, although he’s listed as doubtful.
Forward Taj Gibson rolled his left ankle in game five and says he’ll play, and forward Luol Deng has a nagging left wrist injury.
Barely a shell of the team that finished 50-16, the decimated Bulls could easily fall to the upstart Sixers. The winner of the series will face the winner of the Atlanta Hawks – Boston Celtics series, which the Celtics lead 3-2.
In game five, the 76ers turned in a weak performance, losing 77-69. Collins says turning it around is all about timing and space.
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting open, and it’s got to be better timing,” Collins said.
“You’ve got to be able to create the space where you can catch that ball. The other night we didn’t create any space.”
“They know where we’d like to throw that ball, that’s why they’re one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, so we’ve got to do a better job of getting open. The timing of the point guard and the guy received the pass is vital.”
A key match-up in game six will be Deng and 76ers forward Andre Iguodala.
“Dray’s [Iguodala] going to keep fighting him every step of the way. Lou [Deng] made some big shots the other day,” Collins said.
“Lou was normally a guy you didn’t run a lot of plays for, but he was constantly in motion and doing things, and Derrick [Rose] a lot of times had two guys on him, so your defense would get a little scattered.”
Collins has no worries about a game five carryover.
“Each game is a separate entity. If you’re a great player, a great defensive player, sometimes guys are going to make shots, so I’ve never gotten into the psychology.”