Long suffering Elton Brand finally gets second chance at playoffs

Brand_doug There aren’t a whole lot of details that Elton Brand remembers from his last trip to the NBA playoffs except for one important one…

“It was too short,” Brand said.

Five years ago with the Los Angeles Clippers, Brand carried his team to the seventh game of the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns where his 36-point performance just wasn’t enough to advance. In fact, with Brand averaging 31 points, 10 rebounds and more than 45 minutes per game in the series, there wasn’t much more he could have done for his Clippers.

Had Brand and the Clippers won Game 7, he certainly would have been the toast of Tinseltown since the Lakers had already lost to the Suns in the previous round. Still, his best memory of his lone playoff appearance is quite pure and it has to do with the basics of why people play the game.

“The excitement and how hard everybody plays – it’s amazing,” Brand said. “Then to win a series and put another team down, that’s what I’ll remember.”

But as fate would have it, Brand hasn’t been back to the playoffs since. More notably, who would have guessed that in 11 NBA seasons headed into the 2010-11 campaign that the 2005-06 Clippers would be the only winning team Brand played for.

Until now, that is.

Wednesday night’s 108-97 victory over the Houston Rockets at the Center all but sewed up a spot for the 76ers in the postseason. The worst the team can do is tie for the No. 8 seed, but of course the Sixers would have to lose the last seven games of the season and the Charlotte Bobcats would have to win out. The chances of that happening are less than one percent.

So with a stomach illness, a dislocated finger and “busted up” hands, Brand is getting another chance and Sixers coach Doug Collins couldn’t be happier.

“For E.B., if there is ever a guy who embodies what Philadelphia is all about, it’s Elton Brand,” Collins said before Wednesday’s game. “He’s an undersized power player who gives you his heart and soul every night and is playing with two busted hands. All he wants to do is win and that’s what this city is all about, so for E.B. it would be fantastic.” 

Nevertheless, after a storied collegiate career where he was the National Player of the Year, took Duke to the championship game and was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1999 NBA draft, Brand hasn’t had the same success as a pro. Just to make it even more frustrating, injuries kept Brand out of nearly every game of the 2007-08 season in his last year with the Clippers and all but 29 games the following year with the Sixers.

After a disappointing season where former coach Eddie Jordan often buried Brand during the fourth quarter of tight games, it seemed as if he was destined to have one of those star-crossed NBA careers.

Until now, that is.

“Elton is a champion. That’s why Elton is not consumed with scoring 20 points – he wants to win,” Collins said. “That’s why it would be great for me to be a part of something like that for him knowing what he went through here for a couple of seasons. I went through it for a year when I broke my foot my first year I was another busted first-round draft pick and it drives you to new heights.”

It’s more than that, though. Collins often defers to Brand and Andre Iguodala in self-policing matters. In fact, Brand spoke to his teammates after last Sunday’s overtime loss to Sacramento when some of the players had been out the night before at the Lil’ Wayne concert. 

In that instance Brand told his teammates about personal responsibility and focus, a point that was driven home by the fact that he played 28 minutes on Wednesday night even though he was struggling with a stomach illness. Truth is, the stomach bug bothered Brand so much that Collins made a special point to talk to his fellow No. 1 overall pick and thank him for the effort.

“You look at us right now and see how far everyone has come and E.B. has been the one guy from start to finish who has been like running water – you know what you’re getting from him every night,” Collins said.

Still, five years between playoff appearances in the NBA seems like a lifetime. Moreover, for a player of Brand’s pedigree to get there just twice in 12 years is almost unfathomable. Better yet, to comb through the records of some of the all-times greats of the game shows just how unique Brand is in this regard. 

Can Brand believe that it’s taken five years for him to get back to the postseason or that he’s been there only twice in 12 seasons?

“Absolutely not,” he said. “The way the season started, it was like, ‘Here we go again.’ But now to be [virtually in the playoffs] and to be an intregral part of it, it feels good. Knowing that we can get even better is what is exciting to me.

“This is special for me to get back there.”