HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When someone made a cruel joke about Elton Brand last year, something about him being the “MySpace” of power forwards in a Facebook world, everybody here at hideout got a good chuckle out of it.
Well, guess who’s laughing now?
Much like the 76ers team he anchors, Brand is experiencing a bit of a renaissance these days. Not only have the Sixers reshaped the race for slots six through eight in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, they’re making things extremely tough on a certain team in New York. That’s the crew many observers assumed would separate itself from the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff pack after that blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade.
Yet it’s been the Sixers’ steady burn — they are 22-13 since Jan. 3 — that seems to be winning this race.
This is a team that is definitely on the rise, and at just the right time. The Sixers are locked in with the Knicks for that sixth spot — although Philly owns the tie-breaker on New York by winning the season series 3-1 — and that means a potential date with Miami in the first round of the playoffs. Brand proved last night that he still has a little something left in his tank when he blew out the candles on Blake Griffin‘s 22nd birthday cake at Staples Center.
Griffin was attempting to tie Brand’s 2001-02 single-season record of 55 double-doubles in a Clippers uniform. He fouled out for just the third time this season and fell short of the record, finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Brand’s reaction, after being informed that Griffin was on the verge of tying his record, was priceless.
“I was not aware of that, but I’m glad I stopped him,” Brand told reporters after the game. “He’s so athletic. He gets to the rim with ease and he can finish over anybody, so we just tried to keep him out of that paint. I’m sure he’ll get one the next game and tie it, then break it — but not on my watch.”
The game was the perfect snapshot of the Sixers’ season. Doug Collins got ejected for fighting for his players and the Sixers scrapped with Griffin and the Clippers all night long.
In a season filled with a seemingly endless stream of intriguing story lines, the Sixers might be the best one you haven’t heard about. That’s why we stay glued to the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Deep Sixer files, courtesy of Sixers beat writer Kate Fagan. The take on last night’s game, which included some hard fouls, technical fouls and plenty of playoff-level intensity from both sides:
It started with a breakaway by Clippers star Blake Griffin. Sixers Jodie Meeks and Tony Battie were chasing Griffin. Meeks ran in front and swiped backward at Griffin. Battie, trailing the play slightly, looked to be wrapping up Griffin to make sure he didn’t complete the play. Battie appeared to be trying to hold Griffin up, keep him from falling, but Griffin seemed to misinterpret Battie’ intentions and popped off the floor like he might go after Battie. Battie was called for a flagrant foul 1 (initially it was a 2, which means automatic ejection, but it was almost immediately downgraded).
Just before the half, with the Sixers having shot fewer team free throws (11) than Griffin shot by himself (13), Doug Collins earned two technicals and was ejected from the game with 15.8 seconds remaining in the second quarter. All of this extracurricular activity seemed to spur the Sixers, who scored 30 points in the third quarter and basically turned this thing into a pseudo-blowout.
In the locker room afterward, here’s what Collins and point guard Jrue Holiday said about the game.
Collins: “I sure didn’t want to get ejected, but I just thought I had to stand up. I just thought I had to stand up for our guys. And they were great, they responded, talked at halftime about how important this game was … great win, I think with this win tonight we move to sixth … again, I felt helpless in here watching it, but I was so proud of our guys. They were tough and got a great win.” …
Here’s what Jrue said about Collins’ ejection and what it meant to the team:
“I think it definitely [energized the team]. It definitely riled us up, coach took a hit for us. We got his back, too. The least we could do is win the game.”
Is that what you talked about at halftime?
“Yeah, I mean, we came in energetic and enthused and, I mean, 10 minutes left and they were still doing the halftime show and we were outside ready to warm up. So, we were definitely excited to get back out there and fight for coach.”