Brand, Iguodala put stamp on gritty season

Brand, Iguodala put stamp on gritty season

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 1:45 a.m.

By John R. Finger
CSNPhilly.com

MIAMI As he drew his sixth foul of the game and walked to the bench for the final time of the season, Elton Brand was put into an extra long hug from his coach Doug Collins. If anyone deserved it for the way he played over the final months of the season, it was Brand.

I was so proud of him, Collins said. What a great year it was for him with two tough years in Philadelphia. He has the heart of a lion and just competes every single moment. I am glad he is on my team. I thank him for all he has done this season. He is one of the ultimate professionals I have ever been around.

Thats high praise coming from a longtime coach and player like Collins, but there was more to it than just the points and rebounds Brand put up every night. After those two tough seasons Collins talked about, Brand led the team with 15 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. But more than that, Brand was the spiritual leader of the Sixers and along with Andre Iguodala, one of the mentors to a roster filled with young ballplayers.

So when Brand plays the final two months of the season with a broken right hand and a dislocated finger on his left hand, it resonates. It might even mean more to the team than the 22 points and eight rebounds Brand posted in the Game 5 defeat against the Heat on Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena.

Though far from his best season statistically speaking, the 2010-11 campaign just might have been Brands most meaningful.

I was proud to have these guys under my tutelage, Brand said after the 97-91 loss to the Heat on Wednesday. They listen, work hard and will get better. Its kind of tough playing with young guys, but not these young guys. The guys just did a great job this season.

It takes a special kind of person to sacrifice himself for the good of the team. Thats especially the case for a player who has been in the league for 12 seasons, and takes a mentorship role on a young team. However, the young guys helped Brand get to the postseason for just the second time in his long career.

We had a great season. We played together, Brand said. There are definitely going to be different phases, it happens to every team, so we needed to enjoy the run we have. We worked hard this year.

Brand likens it to laying a base. It may have looked like a five-game exit in the playoffs to a superior team in black and white, but it was bigger than that.

We were in every single game, down to the wire. We are proud of ourselves, Brand said. We are definitely going to work harder. We know what we have to do to get better. Its obvious were not far away.

Headed into next season, Brand, 32, has two years worth more than 35 million on his deal and will be difficult to trade. However, one player who may be difficult to trade because of both his contract and his ability will undoubtedly be part of the offseason intrigue.

Typically when a season ends short of a championship, the speculation over which players will remain for the next year and which ones will depart. Needless to say, its the potential departures that garner the most speculation and media intrigue.

Certainly when it comes to staying or going, Iguodala is the first name mentioned.

Asked point blank if he wants to return to the Sixers in 2011-12, Iguodala said he wants to play for one team for his entire career.

Its always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team, Iguodala said. This has been a great ride so far. Im really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. Im looking forward to next year being my best year in the league.

Like Brand, Iguodala battled an injury that would have sidelined a lesser man. With tendonitis in his knee, Iguodala appeared in 67 regular season games. Thats significant because in his first six seasons with the team, Iguodala missed just six games and played in every game during the past three seasons.

But going forward, Iguodala would like to put his stamp on the game as a 76er.

I always wanted to be in one place, be comfortable in one spot. I still feel the same way, being able to put a stamp on not only my career, but the Philadelphia 76ers record book, Iguodala said. I want to keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever. Just for my name to be brought up as having some of the most steals in team history is something I always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take this team to the next level.

The season was something of a breakthrough year for Iguodala. Though he often took some ill-advised shots, Iguodala bought into Collins philosophy and thrived. Like Brand, his numbers were off from his best years, but Iguodala finished eighth in the defensive player of the year balloting and was the go-to guy for the Sixers not because of his shooting, but because he could find an open teammate.

Still, in Game 5 it was Iguodalas tough jump shooting that spurred the Sixers late charge and brought them to within a point with 36 seconds to go. He scored 18 of his 22 points during the second half.

He is a very good player, Heat coach Erik Spolestra said of Iguodala. He is so unique in terms of how many things he does to impact the game. He is such a good defender, hes long and he moves his feet. Also, he is a very good rebounder and an intelligent defender. Offensively, I think he gets judged on how many points he scores. He does so many other things.

Undoubtedly, Brand and Iguodala will return next season, though its clear the teams future lies in its youngsters. For now, the vets are passing along the knowledge until its time to pass the baton.
E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com

Instant Replay: Hawks 110, Sixers 93

Instant Replay: Hawks 110, Sixers 93

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA - Without Joel Embiid, the red-hot Sixers couldn't contain the equally hot Hawks in a 110-93 loss in Atlanta Saturday.

Ersan Ilyasova cranked it up again with 21 points, but the Sixers looked like they ran out of gas in the second quarter, when they gave up 37 points to the Hawks and never caught up to take just their third loss in 11 games. 

Atlanta’s beaten them six straight times, and the Hawks did it this time without their usual long ball proficiency. They won for the ninth time in 11 games making a modest 7 of 20 three-pointers. 

Conversely, the Sixers jacked up 29 threes, converting 12 (41.4 percent) as they saw a three-game winning streak snapped.

Robert Covington added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Paul Millsap paced the Hawks with 22 points and 10 rebounds while center Dwight Howard scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

Inside the box score
The Sixers matched Atlanta early, as the teams were tied at 25 after one, but their defense loosened in the second quarter and they never could catch up as Atlanta made a whopping 16 of 23 shots in the period.

Twenty-one turnovers doomed the Sixers, who also failed to help themselves on the boards. Atlanta had a 48-38 rebounding advantage.
   
Not enough juice
After trailing by as many as 18 points late in the third period, the Sixers made a run at Atlanta and pulled to within 94-87 on a pair of free throws by Covington with 6:46 left in the game. From there, however, the Hawks rolled.

In a groove
Ilyasova picked up where he left off Friday, when he scored a season-high 24 points in a 93-92 win over Portland. He led all scorers with 12 points in the first half and made 3 of 6 from three overall to stretch his league-leading streak of making at least one long ball to 39 games. Ilyasova made five treys Friday night.

Embiid’s sore knee
Saturday was a rest day for center Joel Embiid, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to play Tuesday against the Clippers. He suffered a contusion to his knee in Friday’s win over Portland.

“Joel will go through more assessments with our medical staff,” Brown said before the game. “I don’t have any more . . . to share. We’ll learn more when we get back to Philly.”

Up next
The Sixers return home to play the Clippers (29-15) Tuesday evening and will follow that with a back-to-back Wednesday in Milwaukee (20-23).

Tim Quarterman: Ben Simmons at PG will 'work out well' for Sixers

Tim Quarterman: Ben Simmons at PG will 'work out well' for Sixers

There are only a handful of people who have played basketball extensively with Ben Simmons, given he has been sidelined thus far into his rookie season with a foot injury. Those who spent Simmons’ freshman year at LSU with him have firsthand insight into the NBA player he has the potential to become.

“He's definitely a team player,” Blazers rookie guard Tim Quarterman, who played with Simmons at LSU, said Friday. “He's a pass-first person. He wants to see his teammates do well. I think when he comes back to play, that's what he'll bring to Philly. He's not one of those people who just tries to go out there to get a 100 points. He's a good teammate.”

Quarterman left school after his junior year and earned a spot on the Trail Blazers' roster. He and Simmons have different stories: Simmons was the first overall pick; Quarterman went undrafted. Simmons has has been out since training camp; Quarterman, while playing sparingly, has experienced live NBA action. Still, the two have shared in the journey of life in the league. 

“It's a cool process going through our rookie season together,” Quarterman said before the Trail Blazers faced the Sixers Friday. “Even though he's not playing right now, he's working to get on the court. I'm sure he'll do great when he gets back out there. I got a chance to talk to him last night. Everything's been good so far.”

The Sixers got a small glimpse of Simmons during training camp before he suffered a Jones fracture on the final day. He recently began participating in 5-on-0 drills. Simmons also has been putting up shots after practice and doing light courtwork during pregame warmups. 

Brett Brown has said he intends to start the 6-foot-10 Simmons at the one spot when he returns. As part of his multi-faceted rehab, Brown has been giving Simmons written tests in which he has to navigate various in-game situations as the point guard. Simmons played point-forward at LSU, where he averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. 

“He'll be able to space the floor,” Quarterman said of Simmons at the point. “He can see over the defense and make passes that some little guards can't. He can defend. He can move his feet well. I think it'll work out well.”

It remains to be seen when the former teammates will both be suited up in the same NBA game. There is no timetable set for Simmons’ return. The Sixers face the Trail Blazers for their second and final meeting of the regular season on March 9 in Portland. 

“It's cool for both of us to be making the best of our opportunity,” Quarterman said.