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John Smallwood: Sixers in land of the unknown

DOUG COLLINS had no choice. He had to watch film of the Sixers' mind-boggling loss to the Chicago Bulls in Game 5.

"[Watching tape] will drive you nuts, especially coming off a game like that," Doug Collins said. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
"[Watching tape] will drive you nuts, especially coming off a game like that," Doug Collins said. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

DOUG COLLINS had no choice. He had to watch film of the Sixers' mind-boggling loss to the Chicago Bulls in Game 5.

There were adjustments to be made for Thursday's crucial Game 6 of their Eastern Conference first-round series at the Wells Fargo Center.

Collins and his staff had to get a clear understanding of what went wrong Tuesday night.

Still, on Wednesday, when the players came in for a brief regrouping session, Collins told them they didn't have to watch the carnage of the ugly, 77-69 loss if they didn't want to.

He liked their response.

"They said, 'We want to see it,' " the coach said. "We tried to make it as positive as possible because tape can be very, very negative.

"I've won games before by 20, and we watched the tape later and said, 'The spacing was terrible. We did not move the ball.'

"[Watching tape] will drive you nuts, especially coming off a game like that. I want our guys to be positive about what we have to do. I don't want there to be negative feelings at all. But I wanted them to see how they could do better."

OK, so Thursday night we'll see what the Sixers learned. This season has been all about learning, growth and development, right?

The Sixers just took a hard lesson. What happens now?

I don't think they underestimated the Bulls going into Game 5.

I don't think they looked at their wounded opponent without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and figured they had it in the bag.

I just don't think this group knew what to expect.

Almost to a man, this team has never experienced success in the playoffs, so rushing out to a 3-1 series lead was an alien environment.

Collins had said after his team won Game 4 that a close-out game is the toughest win in sports.

Because of their lack of experience in such situations, I don't think the Sixers fully comprehended the intensity and pride that the Bulls would bring into the game.

There are some things you can talk about, but others you have to experience.

"It's hard to explain the desperation of a close-out game for the team faced with that situation," said Sixers forward Elton Brand, who actually won a playoff series way back in 2006 when he was with the Los Angeles Clippers. "You just have to know that you have to be hungrier."

You'd like to think that's the attitude the Sixers will bring to the Wells Fargo Center for Game 6.

There are no more surprises. The Bulls, no matter how beat up they may be, aren't going to give this away.

As diminished as they are without Rose, the Bulls didn't tie the San Antonio Spurs for the best record by relying solely on him.

Chicago, in fact, had played a third of the regular season without Rose.

The Bulls were more embarrassed than anything else that they had dropped three straight games to the Sixers to come to the brink of becoming just the fifth No. 1 seed in history to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

So they beat the Sixers up. Chicago used its superior size and strength to dictate the style of play, neutralizing all the things the Sixers like to do.

If you want to sum up what happened in Game 5 and know what Chicago intends to bring to Game 6, all you have to do is understand this quote from Chicago forward Taj Gibson, who severely twisted his ankle in the third quarter but returned to play in the fourth.

Gibson will be a game-time decision, but his intent is clear.

"I'll do everything in my power to play," he said. "I'll have all summer to lay back at home."

That mindset is not unfamiliar to the Sixers.

During last year's playoffs, they were severely overmatched by the Miami Heat in the first round. Still even though they trailed 3-0 in the series, they managed to win Game 4 and not get swept.

Avoiding a fourth loss, however, is an entirely different concept from acquiring a fourth win.

Each time you fail; the task seems to grow more difficult. A team that had jumped to a 3-1 lead does not want there to be a Game 7.

If the Sixers think winning a close-out game is tough, they have no concept of what it would be like to face a re-energized Bulls team on the road in an elimination game.

"I don't like the word desperation," Collins said when asked if that was his team's attitude going into Game 6. "Sometimes guys when they think desperate get out of their nature.

"I want there to be a real sense of focus about what we have to do. We have to meet their challenge . . . They imposed their will [in Game 5]. We hung around but they imposed their will, our guys know that.

Collins has talked all season about how he wanted to "manage the extremes" of the highs and lows of his young team.

Inherent in that is the understanding that players learn from experiences and use that to move forward.

We find out Thursday night how much this squad learned from Tuesday.