INDIANAPOLIS -- Doug Collins spent what was likely his last night as coach of the 76ers sitting quietly on the bench. Aside from timeouts, Collins did not race up and down the sidelines, nor did he protest the officials’ calls.
There was no need with the Sixers rolling to a decisive 105-95 victory over the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay). The Sixers led by as many as 26 points during the second half and saw that whittled down to just six points in the last minute of the fourth quarter.
Through it all, Collins remained calm and seated. For a coach who is often drenched with sweat after most games, the restraint was uncanny.
“I thanked them for the hard work,” Collins said. “They stayed together and once we got things squared away and guys knew where they were going to be, [we played well].”
Though multiple sources say Collins has coached his last game for the Sixers, the coach did not reveal his plans for the future after the game. The team will hold exit interviews starting at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning and Collins is expected to address the issue of his future then.
Until then, Collins remained mum.
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Collins said. “I’m the coach.”
The season ended as Collins’ worst as a coach in the NBA. With a 34-48 record, the Sixers were expected to challenge the Heat in the East. Instead, the big moves never worked out. Andrew Bynum never played a second, Jason Richardson got injured and the players the Sixers traded away blossomed.
Who can blame Collins for ending his coaching tenure on that note?
And though the season ended with three victories in the last four games, there was an undertone of disappointment in the Sixers’ locker room afterwards. Players seemed to understand that changes were on the way.
Lots of changes.
“Any time you get done, you prepare for it more when you’re not going to the playoffs,” said Spencer Hawes, who appeared in all 82 games this season. “It’s always tough at the end of the year. For as much as you can relax and breathe a sigh of relief, we spent the last seven or eight months with these guys and it’s a cliché, but you see these guys more than your family. Some of the guys, if not most of them, you’re never going to have that relationship again. That’s one of the parts you don’t look forward to.”
As for the coach, the players still have not been informed one way or the other if Collins will return. When asked a yes or no question if he wanted Collins to return, Evan Turner didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement.
Turner didn’t say he did not want Collins back, but he didn’t say that he did, either.
“Last I heard, it was his decision. Whatever he wants to do that makes him happy,” Turner said. “To go through that type of year, it’s strenuous. He has a lot of options and whatever is the best decision for him. He can go back to commentating and his son is coaching Northwestern.”
So it was a bittersweet win for the Sixers. The team had some tough times, but usually played with a strong effort. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t meant to be for the Sixers this season.
“It’s tough when you’re losing, especially with the high expectations others had and we had for ourselves,” Hawes said. “We aimed high and didn’t reach it.”
Turner added: “It’s definitely disappointing. We came into the season as one of the better teams in the East. We didn’t meet our expectations.”
As the book closed on the disappointing season, Collins told his players -- one last time -- to take a look around the room because it may be the last time most of them are together.
“Before every last game I always say the same thing. Get your hands together, look around this room -- the essence of the NBA is that the room always changes,” Collins said. “Look each other in the eye and appreciate what you’ve done this season and how hard each other worked. You’ll always be teammates and bonded.”