David Haugh's In the Wake of the News
11:28 PM EDT, May 9, 2012
One of the best NBA analysts in recent memory keeps saying things that convince me the Bulls have gotten inside the heads of the 76ers.
His name is Doug Collins.
The more the 76ers coach with the gift of gab talks, the less I believe his team can close out this series Thursday night in Game 6 at Wells Fargo Center.
Collins' moves on the bench have shown smarts but choice words from the podium have lacked savvy — and not just when he made us wonder if HIPAA laws apply to old friends by divulging John Paxson's heart procedure.
Collins planted the first seed of doubt after the 76ers took a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals when he described how associate head coach Michael Curry addressed the team at his behest. Like Rip Hamilton of the Bulls, Curry played on the 2003 Pistons team that overcame a 3-1 playoff deficit to oust the Magic. I can see the Bulls rallying around that example but the 76ers?
"I think Michael Curry was great in the locker room," Collins said.
Was it a great idea for Collins to reassert to a young team just how fragile its two-game lead was? Do you really want to remind a novice walking a tightrope what happens when you look down? In trying to give the impressionable 76ers inspiration, Collins instead supplied uncertainty. Doesn't a team warned what not to do adopt a play-not-to-lose mentality?
In the playoffs, every conceivable mental edge matters. Every momentum swing hinges on confidence. Conscious of those realities, Collins alluded Wednesday to the important role psyche plays in the postseason when dissecting the 76ers film session.
"I want our guys to be positive about what we have to do,'' Collins said. "I don't want them to have negative feelings at all.''
So why have Curry share the cautionary tale of '03? It provided a compelling narrative that spiced up Game 5 but my sense is the history lesson captivated Collins' former media brethren more than players whose idea of history is last night's box score. I bet 76ers guard Jrue Holiday never considered mimicking a Magical choke job in the playoffs before hearing Curry reminisce about 2003.
After the Bulls willed themselves back into the psychological driver's seat with a physical 77-69 victory in Game 5, Collins and his candor again introduced another reason for the 76ers to dwell on something unnecessary.
"The big thing is we're not a physical team,'' Collins said. "Thad (Young) has the size of a small forward. Early in the game our most efficient player was Lavoy (Allen). We can't play smash-mouth ball.''
That Collins was accurate in his assessment is beside the point. His job isn't to put the series into context the way he did on TV. His job is to put his team in the healthiest state of mind possible so it becomes the fifth No. 8 seed to eliminate a No. 1 seed. I don't know how acknowledging the 76ers' physical inability to stand up to the NBA bully that is the Bulls helps accomplish that goal.
Collins' public admission potentially creates anxiety over whether he believes 76ers players are as tough as they think. Maybe Coach was right. We can't hang with the Bulls. It also made the challenge 76ers center Spencer Hawes issued sound like false bravado.
"If that's how it's going to go, we can play that brand of basketball,'' Hawes said.
The welt on his face made me think Hawes should be careful what he wishes for. After all, even his coach doubted the 76ers could win a rough-and-tumble game.
If the 76ers can't in Game 6, then Collins really might regret being so irrepressibly honest.
"I don't want to come back here for a Game 7," Collins said about the United Center.
Nobody will accuse these 76ers of being fearless.
I know what Collins meant. He intended to keep his team's focus on ending the series at home where the 76ers play looser. But what the coach said, essentially, was that he questioned whether his team could beat the Bulls with the season on the line Saturday in Chicago.
As a result the team with nothing to lose will take the court for Game 6 feeling more pressure than the team trailing the series 3-2. And I contend Collins only intensified it.
Meanwhile, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau suffers from basketball myopia and never looks ahead more than one possession, let alone to Game 7.
"We have enough to win,'' Thibodeau repeated of the short-handed Bulls.
From what I've heard, Thibs isn't the only coach in this series convinced.