When you can dominate a sport purely with your physical skill, the mental game is an afterthought.
Evan Turner has often said that he was at his best as a basketball player when he was 12 years old. The 76ers swingman recalls fondly schooling others who were about his age on the playground, in AAU games, and anywhere else he could find some competition.
Back then, at 6-foot-1, he was taller and possessed far more basketball talent than most players his age.
Not many players in the NBA possess much more basketball talent than their peers, and Turner is no exception. So getting better in different areas of the game is the key to development. That, says coach Doug Collins, is one of the big reasons Turner has become such an important cog for a Sixers team that leads the Chicago Bulls two games to one in a first-round playoff series that continues Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center.
In the three games of this series, Turner has averaged 15.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4 assists. After being a sub in the first game, Turner started the next two. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Sixers have won those games.
After Friday night's improbable 79-74 win in which the Sixers outscored Chicago by 28-14 in the final quarter, Collins labeled a play by Turner as the biggest of the season. After initially being denied on a layup, Turner corralled the ball two more times after shot attempts before finally getting fouled. His two made free throws resulted in a 77-74 lead with 20.1 seconds to go. More than that, though, his desire to not let the play end in a negative result seemed to break the spirit of the shorthanded Bulls.
Asked about his appreciation for his coach's calling his effort the biggest play of the season, Turner said it was more than that.
"I think I appreciate more that he put the ball in my hands in a key possession," Turner said. "Once again we were all battling. We all said we were going to win the game. Jrue [Holiday] made some great plays down the stretch, Spencer [Hawes] made some great plays down the stretch, Lou [Williams] hit a big shot and he was playing hurt. Dre [Andre Iguodala] has been playing hurt for the past few games. The least I could do was just keep fighting on the drive I made and try to get extra points."
It's all part of the process that Collins and the organization have envisioned for Turner.
"There's a lot of growth in young players," Collins said after the team's film session at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on Saturday. "We're trying to grow young players and win at the same time. Sometimes learning curves come at different times. I've had a lot of young players, some guys have maybe played more early than Evan did, but his growth has been off the charts.
"I don't know if we would have won that game earlier in the year. We're now finding ways to win those games, whether we get some defensive stops then find a way to score. [Friday] we made free throws. That's all growth. The relationship I've built with these guys for two years, we've talked so much. They know what we need to get done.''