The game had just ended, along with the series and the season. Sixers owners Joshua Harris and Adam Aron were walking through the TD Bank North Garden in Boston when they ran into Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers told them, after seven games, he was glad his guys wouldn’t have to fight their guys any longer. It was a compliment. Harris and Aron nodded in appreciation.
That was last year. It seems like much longer ago.
The Celtics came to Philadelphia on Tuesday. This Boston team and this Sixers team are vague versions of the squads that battled during the playoffs last season. The Celtics were without Rajon Rondo. The Sixers were without a lot of things, including (but not limited to) hope.
The Celtics beat the Sixers, 109-101. It was the Sixers' ninth loss in their last 10 games.
“You’d think we would win that game,” Collins said, reading off numbers from the stat sheet.
The Sixers had seven players score in double figures. Jrue Holiday (18 points, 10 assists) and Thaddeus Young (19 points, 10 rebounds) both had double-doubles. The team posted 64 points in the paint, and Arnett Moultrie gave them a solid effort (19 minutes, 10 points). And they still lost. It has how the season has gone for the Sixers. Nothing works out even when it looks like it should.
Before the game, an out-of-town writer asked Doug Collins if he was worried about the way the season has gone and the way it might continue to deteriorate considering the brutal upcoming schedule. It was a fair question.
The Sixers (23-36) have 23 games remaining -- 15 of those (including 12 of the final 16) are on the road. During the slog, they must play at Atlanta, Miami, the L.A. Clippers, Denver, Utah, Atlanta again, Miami again, Brooklyn and Indiana. It is cause for concern.
Collins paused before answering. He didn’t seem to like the question or the attendant implication.
“Worry,” he replied, “is the greatest thief of joy.”
OK. But considering what’s ahead, the Sixers should be worried. In terms of worry stealing joy, the schedule should act as the Ocean’s Eleven crew -- it should heist all their joy right out from under them.
Collins’ needn’t worry, though. His guys don’t seemed worried, and they don’t appear to lack for joy. In the run-up to the Celtics game, several players were sitting around the locker room laughing about Swaggy P’s "Shaggy P." After the game, a couple of players laughed out loud just as the media entered the locker room. Another reporter watched the scene unfold, then remarked that the Sixers appeared in pretty good spirits for a team that’s only won 23 times.
Maybe the pressure -- to the extent that there was any on this team -- is off the Sixers now. The expectations placed upon them after acquiring Andrew Bynum have been lifted since the center has missed the entire season and recently said he isn’t sure that he’ll play at all this year. Between Bynum’s off-court saga and the team’s on-court struggles, the Sixers are so far from the playoffs that they’d need a high-powered telescope just to get a fuzzy glimpse. At some point, perhaps they looked around and accepted their situation.
After all, even Collins -- who has repeatedly said the Sixers will try to win every game the rest of the way despite the fact that losing would help them load up on precious ping pong balls -- entertained a question about potentially being excluded from the postseason.
“Anytime you miss the playoffs, it should hurt,” Collins allowed. “When anytime the season is over and you go home and you turn on the playoff games and you’re not part of it, that should be very painful. All the guys want to make the playoffs. There’s not a guy in our locker room that doesn’t want to be in the playoffs. Our guys, I feel badly for them, what they’ve had to go through this year with the injuries and everything like that has been very tough. We’ve lost Jrue for some games and Thad the games he missed I think we were 1-9. We lost Swaggy. We lost two starters. We traded away a lot.
"You know, the plans that we had this year for this season, we really haven’t been able to see that. There’s no excuses. Nobody is going to make any excuses for anybody. We just haven’t had a chance to see that. I think our guys have done a nice job fighting through that. They’ve given all they can give.”