Many of you, although most likely just four, may remember that Derek and I took our talents to Secaucus, New Jersey in May for the 2010 NBA Draft Lottery. While there, I became best friends with Jrue Holiday while Derek used the power of synergy and advanced statistics to land the Sixers the opportunity to select second in the draft. If four of you remembered that, then I'm sure at least five will recall when Mike selected Evan Turner with that second pick in his journey to New York City. Well, credentials aren't something we take lightly here and when the opportunity presents itself, we go full steam ahead (it's a train metaphor, guys).
Sixers' Public Relations official Mike Preston sent Derek an e-mail inviting us to attend the game last night from a media standpoint. Unfortunately for Derek, he couldn't make it, but guess what guys, I was! That's right, I was in attendance all night in the press room, media row, and even the luxurious Sixers locker room.
Walking into the depths of the Wells Fargo Center was something I've only dreamt about while watching the Sixers come out of the locker rooms and watching WWF superstars arrive at a special event (WrestleMania XV to be exact because I was there). Never would I have imagined that I would actually be granted access to hang out in it one day.
When I arrived, I met up with Tom Moore of PhillyBurbs.com, who I previously met at the draft lottery, and he was more than happy to show me the ropes (and turnbuckles) of what goes on in the normal life of a credentialed basketball writer. My first introduction, considering I downed a full bottle of water on the way down to Philly, was to the horrendous restroom, but that's neither here nor there.
I went with Tom down to the entrance to the Sixers locker room as Coach Doug Collins' pre-game press conference was about to begin. When we arrived, Collins was not yet ready so Tom took me into the locker room to show me around. In the short time I was in there, I saw Lou Williams rapping and Thaddeus Young eating a big plate of what looked like spaghetti but I can't confirm it. It's exactly how I pictured an NBA locker room to feel like before the game.
Collins was finally ready and he talked very early about how they can come back from a winless road trip. "I think our guys are pretty resilient. I hope that I try to give them that mentality," said Collins. "I try not to walk around saying ‘woe is me'. They take a lot of cues from the way I react to things because being young, it's important they have somebody that will keep them on an even keel."
More super credentialed thoughts, including a nice Evan Turner surprise, after the jump.
This being the last game of a four game in five night stretch, the energy level of the players was something that was of concern for Doug. "As a coach, you always worry about that. When you wake up and you're tired, you always think ‘wow, I hope the guys feel better than I do.' That's why youth is a wonderful thing," proclaimed Collins. "I walked in the locker room and our guys appeared to be in good spirits. I feel like they had some energy and stuff and hopefully we'll be able to come out and get ourselves a win."
Brook Lopez, the Nets biggest threat offensively, was also a key to the game that Collins addressed.
"What you've got to do is try to keep them away from the basket, not let them get to the foul line and try to make him make jump shots although he is a very good jump shooter. The key for us is to make it a quicker game so we can get them running in transition so they can't just come down and do the things they want to do. When we played them well in New Jersey, we turned them over and got some baskets like that."
With the recent emergence of Jodie Meeks and the return of swingman Andre Iguodala, the already crowded 1/2/3 areas on the court just got that much more packed. With all those players and so few minutes to go around, how would Collins and his extensive vocabulary handle making everyone happy?
"I'm in a little bit of a conundrum. That's a good word isn't it? I did my crossword puzzle today. When Evan and Jrue were out there together, they had the ball in their hands a lot. Now with Dre out there, he's pushing the ball out in the open court and Evan has sort of got lost in the mix. So I've got to figure out how to get him back to where he's playing well because he'd been playing very good basketball. The dynamics of your team change. Dre comes back, it changes Evan's role, it changes Noce's role and it has a trickle down effect in a lot of ways," said Collins. "Once you get a guy back who's your best player or one of two best players, he and Elton, and they're eating up now 38 to 40 minutes that changes a lot of things."
The guys with the least amount of minutes out of that group last night ended up being Jodie and Andres Nocioni, getting twelve and six minutes respectively.
During the pre-game interview, Quin Synder walked by and was wearing Air Force Ones (white and red to be specific). I thought I'd throw that in there for all D-League and Missouri Tiger fans around the world. That one's for you Scott and Mike.
Once the pre-game interview was done with, it was time for the game to start. For those who aren't aware, media get some pretty awesome seats, especially compared to the ten dollar seats I normally go for. They let me set up shop four rows back behind the basket the Nets shot at in the first half (Sixers in the second half, OMG that makes too much sense!). If you don't believe me, here's a picture I snapped right before Thad was about to drill a free throw in the second half (the guy in front of me is from the Delco Times).
I'm assuming you all pretty much know what happened during the game, right? If not, here's Mikey's recap of the things that led to a Sixers victory.
The Sixers were able to pull away in the fourth quarter after failing to do so in so many games before. Collins was very excited about what went on in the fourth and where this team is headed. "To have that kind of fourth quarter was fabulous. Our defense was great and our offensive execution also. We had 25 assists and only 5 turnovers tonight."
"Something happened last night after the game that I think really meant a lot to our team. I was talking to our guys and talked them about ‘just keep working, good things are happening.' Andre Iguodala spoke up and said ‘guys, we're close.' I think that meant the world to this team and they responded."
Elton Brand was also extremely encouraged by the fourth quarter the Sixers put together. "We're not a good team yet but you look around the league and that's what a lot of good teams can do."
What was the reason for the outstanding fourth quarter that the Sixers were finally able to put together? Collins certainly had an explanation. "I kept saying every timeout ‘guys, play to win. Play to win.' And they got great defensive stops, we didn't turn the ball over, they went down and used the clock, ran our stuff, shared the basketball. But it's a proud and resilient team and it's why I love to coach them. People look at me and think ‘why in the world would you want to coach a team that's 3 and whatever and it's because I love being in the locker room with these guys. I do love teaching them, they're willing learners and they're growing up and it means a lot to me."
You can tell that the players are buying into him as they repeated the same sentiment during their post-game interviews as well, Brand being one of them. "It actually started midway through the third. That's what he was trying to instill in us was ‘play to win, don't play not to lose.' A lot of late game collapses came because we were playing not to lose and trying to be too careful.
"It's funny you know, 4 games in 5 nights and we put together our best quarter at the end of the 4th game. It was a great run for us. The bench came with a lot of energy and that's what you need. We're a good team when everybody contributes like that," said EB.
The Sixers play in the fourth quarter has also been a worrisome topic to Lou Williams. "That's been the thing a lot of our games have come down to, finishing in the 4th quarter. A lot of them have gone left on us and it's something we're gonna have to do for us to put some wins together. We've battled with any team in the league and it comes down to the 4th quarter where we just have this meltdown."
One thing that stood out in this game and a few before this one, was the play of Thad Young. His field goal percentage has been absurdly high thus far and he talked about how he's improved that this year. "I'm not relying on jumpshots all day. In the past I would shoot the occasional jumpshot and keep shooting and shooting it. But now I make one or two and I think, okay, get to the cup. I'm driving the ball more and being way more aggressive than I was in the past and getting back to old Thad Young that I was two years ago."
That quote was like music to my ears. It really seems like Thad is starting to understand where he's the strongest. He and Collins are also starting to get on the same page. "Coach has been on me all season about playing defense and focusing in and playing to my strengths," said Young. "I told coach no matter what, I'm going to be there for the team and give them everything I have."
Said Collins, "I'm understanding his game a bit better which I hope that I'm putting him in better spots. We spent a lot of the training camp hoping he would be a starting 3 for us. And I just recognized that was not what his skill was going to be."
Even though Thad was offensively brilliant last night, Collins let it be known that it was his defense that kept him on the court. "The biggest improvement has been his defense. He's been great defensively. I thought he played the heck out of Dirk Nowitzki and Andrea Bargnani. If he continues to grow in that area, it's going to pay huge dividends for us."
Lou Williams finally broke out of his slump that he found himself in after he hurt his shoulder in Oklahoma City. I asked him how his shoulder has been holding up ever since he's come back. "It's sore everyday but I took some good shots tonight on it but it's gonna hurt for a while. If you look at it without my shirt on, it's looks like there's a little baseball on it and there's really nothing I can do for it. So it's something I just have to play through."
The player of the game in this one, however, was clearly Jrue Holiday. He ended with 20 points, 13 assists, 3 steals, and just one turnover. That's the line Collins was expecting out of his point guard when he praised him as a top-5 player at that position. So what was the reason for Jrue's huge game tonight? His pre-game cereal choice of course!
"I just had a bowl of cereal. It might've been Fruit Loops or some Fruity Pebbles. Yea, it was Fruity Pebbles," said Holiday. "If they can't stop me, I'm going to the basket. There were times in the fourth quarter where I felt we needed a bucket and they were falling for me today."
Jrue's partner in crime, Evan Turner, yet again seemed hesitant ever since Andre Iguodala came back from the heel injury. I asked Evan how Andre's return has effected his aggressiveness on the floor. "He comes back and is really assertive in so many things with regards to the ball. Sometimes, you just got to fall in line and you don't really think about yourself. You just think about the topic at hand and that's winning. We played great team basketball, a lot of good movement and we played really well together as a unit," Turner claimed.
From that quote it really seems like Evan is still trying to find his role on this team. His demeanor is still one of a rookie looking for his spots and deferring to established veterans. Like he did at Ohio State, I'm still confident he'll break into the role most fans are hoping for.
One thing that's beneficial to having media credentials, is that you can see how players act around each other in the locker room. For those who are hoping Turner and Holiday can develop a deadly 1/2 punch on the court, you would be ecstatic about how they interact off of it. They were joking around and laughing with each other anytime reporters weren't at their two lockers. It's something any Sixer fan should be encouraged about. That, and Tony Battie walking around in a towel.
I was especially excited to see how Doug Collins went up to each player in the locker room afterwards. He was giving words of encouragement to everybody he passed whether it be congratulating Thad on his efficient game or telling Marreese Speights to keep working hard. It's something I could not imagine witnessing Eddie Jordan do last year at all.
After all the other reporters vacated the locker room, I hung around and shot the breeze with the two young guys Holiday and Turner. Jrue and I reminisced about how we became best friends at the lottery and even about how I shot a video of him pimping our site. Spoiler alert, he still thinks what I had him say was the corniest thing of all-time. Here's the video of it if you haven't seen it yet.
Now for the surprise that Mike teased during last night's recap. While talking about that video with Jrue, I asked Evan if he wanted to be as cool as Jrue is for volunteering to shoot the clip. ET jumped at the opportunity to join the exclusive "I made a video for Liberty Ballers" club. Although he didn't have anything corny to say (Jrue said we live for corny), I shot this beautiful piece of cinema. Enjoy Evan Turner promoting his favorite Sixers blog!
My night ended after that video and I couldn't have asked for a better experience. I need to thank Derek for not being able to attend this game (and Mike for being in Los Angeles), giving me the chance to talk to the Sixers players. I must thank Mike Preston for being kind enough to give us the media credentials and I hope we can continue to receive them in the near future. And, of course, I need to thank Jordan for allowing a mere commenter such as myself to contribute random thoughts and absurdities. Without that opportunity, I would never have gotten the chance to cover this game.
This experience was a dream come true and something every basketball fan should get an opportunity to do. And adding to the experience, the Sixers won, making the locker room a loose environment that may not have existed had a loss been the outcome.
A message to NoceOne: I swear I tried to get something from Noce but he never showed up in the locker room when I was there. I sincerely apologize.