76ers

Brett Brown still has lasting effect on Gregg Popovich's Spurs

Brett Brown still has lasting effect on Gregg Popovich's Spurs

Brett Brown left the Spurs in 2013 to become the head coach of the Sixers. Four years since his departure, his influence is greatly felt by his former team.

During the Spurs' trip to Philadelphia on Wednesday, head coach Gregg Popovich, and players alike, raved about Brown’s 11-plus seasons with the organization.

“He’s the most incredible, positive, sort of force that I’ve ever been around in my life,” Popovich said. “I don’t just say that because we worked together for all those years. He was with me from Day 1, putting our program together. So I know how intense he is, I know how much he loves the game, I know how he teaches, and when I would get down he’d be the positive one to lift me up.

“It’s just incredible to me that he stayed so even temperament-wise and still is in love with teaching guys. He doesn’t care if it’s somebody who’s a pickup for 10 days or a high draft pick. He just enjoys the process and he just never gives in."

Brown had an established coaching career in Australia when he first came to the Spurs on a volunteer basis in 1999. Popovich had heard about Brown’s reputation overseas as well as his college experience playing for Rick Pitino at Boston University. Popovich was intrigued by what Brown could bring to the table.

“I had heard good things from people back East about him and checked him out a little bit,” Popovich recalled. “... I thought that would be a good addition, just to see what I could learn from him, that kind of thing. As soon as he got there, we started putting it together, the way we wanted to run the program. We became fast friends and never changed since then.”

Brown returned to Australia after that first stint. He was then hired by the Spurs in 2002 as the director of player development.

That season, a rookie guard from Argentina, a former 57th pick was joining the organization after years of international experience. Brown was tasked with tapping into the talents of Manu Ginobili.  

“He was basically the guy assigned to me,” said Ginobili, now a 15-year NBA veteran. “We spent a lot of time together. We worked out a lot of hours. I absolutely love the guy. High-quality coach, even higher quality guy, fun to be around. I’m completely biased talking about him. I really appreciated him. He’s one of my favorite people, not coaches.”

Brown and Popovich struck a coaching balance that shined in the Spurs’ championship-winning culture. When Popovich was hard on the team, Brown, who was promoted to assistant coach in 2006, was there to lighten the message. Their dynamic helped breed success, including four NBA titles (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007).

“He’s always the cup-is-half-full kind of guy,” Popovich said. “With that, he’s got a really cool sense of humor. He’s a funny dude. The players appreciated it. He knew how to laugh at himself, he knew how to make them laugh. Win or lose, how to go on to the next game, or turnover or missed shot, how to go on to the next play. Sometimes I’d be more focused on something else and he would be there to slap somebody on the butt after I just drilled them, especially Tony Parker.”

That constant encouragement had long-lasting effects on the Spurs. Take Danny Green as an example. Green joined the Spurs in 2010, already on his second team in as many years after being waived by the Cavaliers.

Brown urged Green, who shot a mere 27.3 percent from long range his rookie season, to keep taking his looks no matter how many times he missed. Green listened and went on to set the record for most three-pointers made in the NBA Finals in 2013. Brown has been instilling the same mantra in Robert Covington on the Sixers.

“Brownie’s amazing,” Green said. “He was always the positive guy and kept things even-keeled. He always told me to shoot the ball every time. … He’s always that guy to brighten up the practice, brighten up the day, made our lives easier for us, made our jobs easier for us.”

As the years went on, Brown forged special bonds with the players. He poured into them and got to know them as both athletes and people away from the game. In turn, the players learned about Brown as more than a coach. Spurs guard Patty Mills, who also played for Brown on the Australian national team, was struck by his family values.

“I love him. He’s one of my all-time favorite coaches,” Mills said. “I remember how passionate he is. He uses a lot of his time and energy to making sure that whatever he’s doing, he gets the most out of it. It’s good when you have a leader or a coach that puts everything into it ... I think the word I would use to describe him is ‘genuine.’”

Brown’s tenure in San Antonio came to an end in the summer of 2013. The Spurs lost to the Heat in Game 7 of the NBA Finals that June. Both Brown and fellow assistant coach Mike Budenholzer (Hawks) accepted head coaching jobs for the following season. Brown’s presence was quickly missed when he parted ways to begin his career in Philadelphia.

“When he left and also Bud left, it was just different,” Green said. “It was after we lost, it was a tough summer, it was a tough year. ... Until we got back to the playoffs and back to the championship and won it, finally, the whole year was kind of a drag. … Everybody was hard on each other. There was a lot of tension, a lot of hostility, a lot of still thinking about that previous summer, previous year of losing.

"It was very hard and we lost that guy that mediates the locker room and the coaching staff — him and Bud. It was very different until we won it and then it kind of eased up a little bit. But still, since he’s gone, the locker room’s been different."

There was an adjustment period for Brown as well. His time with the Sixers has been far from smooth. The team went 47-199 in his first three seasons during the phase known as “the process.” It seemed hard enough to remember everyone’s name in the revolving door of players let alone win games. Still, Brown kept the locker room together.

Brown finally has the opportunity to coach a foundation of players with a more clear direction of the team’s future, centered around Joel Embiid and the anticipated return of first overall pick Ben Simmons.

“I think he’s the perfect fit for this job to turn things around, keep guys positive, stay above water,” Green said. “If there was any guy to do it throughout a whole season with things going in the opposite direction, it’s him.”

The Sixers matched last season’s win total (10) in early January and went 10-5 on the month. They were one of the most successful teams in the league during that stretch before hitting a current five-game skid without an injured Embiid. The Spurs looked past the record and see progress from years past.

“It’s night and day,” Parker said. “They’re playing a lot better. They’re understanding what Brett wants on the court and moving the ball and playing good defense. Their energy was pretty good and I feel like they’re going in the right direction. When everybody’s going to be healthy, they’re going to be pretty good.”

Popovich has gone up against Brown twice in the last week. Even though the Spurs won both of those games, Popovich had plenty of compliments after Wednesday’s contest for the job Brown is doing.

“They executed better than we did,” Popovich said. “They moved the ball better than we did. It was very impressive. I thought they outplayed us in a lot of ways. Their grit, their hustle, their denying, their defensive aggressiveness was great. … Totally impressed with the Sixers.”

Brown's time with the Spurs meant just as much to him as it did to those he worked with and coached. He brought the same approach to the Sixers and it hasn't changed, win or lose. For Brown, basketball always has been just as much about those involved with it as the final score.

“You went through five championships — four of which you won — a bunch of All-Stars, a lot of incredible memories,” Brown said. “But it always gets back to relationships. It always gets back to people. The defensive accountability was what I remembered most at the start and then it blossomed into this freestyle Euro ball and people passing, along with the accountability defensively.

“Somewhere in that world, you hope you had a small part in the way they do things.”

A small part seems to be an understatement.

After being listed as doubtful, Joel Embiid dominates Nets in Sixers' Game 4 win

After being listed as doubtful, Joel Embiid dominates Nets in Sixers' Game 4 win

NEW YORK — So far this postseason, there is no way to predict if Joel Embiid will play in a playoff game.

He was doubtful in Game 1, but played. He was questionable in Game 2 and played. He was questionable and said his knee was feeling better pregame, but didn’t play in Game 3.

So naturally, with him being listed as doubtful, he played and was absolutely magnificent in the Sixers’ 112-108 Game 4 win over the Nets at Barclays Center Saturday (see observations).

After playing just 10 minutes in the first half, Embiid played 21 of 24 minutes in the second half. He finished with 31 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks. The only other player to put up that stat line in a playoff game is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974, per Basketball-Reference.

“Just look at the magnitude of what the numbers say, the influence that the numbers say he must’ve had on a game,” Brett Brown said. “It’s hard to sort of say it any better than that. He was dominant. 

“There are times you could see it’s still raw. There are some decisions that he would probably like to have over again, but given the volume of playing time lately that he hasn’t had, it’s just a dominant performance. What more can you say?”

Beyond the numbers, Embiid was a force on both ends of the floor. His physical presence has been tough for the Nets to handle, especially young center Jarrett Allen.

Embiid was assessed a Flagrant 1 in Game 2 after delivering an elbow to the neck of Allen when making a move to the basket. On Saturday, Allen drove to the rim and was met by Embiid who was called for a foul. Veteran Jared Dudley, who’s become public enemy No. 1 in Philadelphia, took exception to the contact and charged after Embiid. Jimmy Butler in turn rushed at Dudley.

Butler and Dudley were both given double technicals and ejected while Embiid received yet another Flagrant 1. It’s worth noting that the league uses a point system with flagrant fouls. Embiid is up to two points. Four points and he’ll get an automatic one-game suspension, though the league could rescind the Flagrant 1 from Saturday.

Embiid was adamant postgame that he got “all ball.” 

“I’m not that type of player,” Embiid said. “Any chance that I get I try to go for the ball and if I feel like I made a mistake, I always apologize. At the same time, that’s also a mind game. l know these guys are going to go at me because they want me to retaliate so I got to be the mature one on the court and just stay cool and not react. Today I knew I could’ve reacted but I felt like my team needed me more than [the Nets] needed Jared Dudley.”

That’s an understatement — especially on Saturday.

The Sixers were able to win Game 3 without Embiid with Boban Marjanovic having his third consecutive standout performance. Marjanovic came down to earth in a big way in Game 4. Brown also tried plugging in rookie Jonah Bolden and Greg Monroe to buy Embiid more rest. It didn’t work out.

Brown was forced to ride his All-Star big man, who always seems to be in the middle of the action.

“He’s got a spirit about him — that’s the word I choose to use,” Brown said. “There’s a belief, there’s a swagger, there’s a spirit — choose whatever word you want. He’s got that persona. And then you say well, he’s incredibly physical. You take 7-foot-2 and you have that sort of dynamic personality and kind of the way you live your life and play basketball and you’re completely physical and highly competitive. It produces environments like that. 

“As his coach, you kind of wouldn’t trade it for much. It’s a rare combination that he has with his skill and his personality and his sort of innate competitiveness.”

What’s crazy is for as dominant as Embiid is on the offensive end, you can make the argument he’s even better on defense. He was otherworldly in this one with those six blocks and providing outstanding help defense all afternoon. 

With the way Ben Simmons has been playing against D’Angelo Russell in this series, the combination of Embiid and Simmons has neutralized Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll — not a sentence anyone expected to be typing while the Sixers were getting scorched in Atlanta by Trae Young just a few weeks ago.

But that was the regular season. The postseason is a completely different animal as the young Nets are finding out the hard way.

There is one thing that hasn’t changed from the regular season for the Sixers. The offensive strategy remains the same.

Get the ball to Embiid.

“The game plan has always been the same,” Embiid said. “I just got to be aggressive. These guys are trying to find me any ways they can … just got to play through the system. They want me to be aggressive. Any time [Brown] gets a chance to post me, he does it. For me, it’s just about being aggressive all the time and they do a great job finding me.”

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Sixers Talk Podcast: Breaking down one of the craziest playoff games in recent memory

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers Talk Podcast: Breaking down one of the craziest playoff games in recent memory

On this episode of Sixers Talk, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick (live from Brooklyn) react to one of the craziest playoff games in recent memory.

Paul was in attendance for the skirmish. What was it like? 

Joel Embiid was dominant. JJ Redick struggled but hit the shot that mattered. The bench (other than Jonah Bolden) played well. All of it led to the Sixers taking a commanding 3-1 series lead.

1:00 - What's up with Jared Dudley?
7:00 - How were you feeling throughout the game?
10:30 - How do you assess Ben Simmons playing with Embiid?
16:30 - Sixers' defense showed its potential.
20:30 - Redick struggled but hit the shot that mattered.
26:30 - Bench (other than Bolden) played effectively.
31:30 - Disappointed at all with Simmons in the fourth quarter?

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