Friday, April 26, 2002

BOSTON - For all of their playoff experience, the 76ers find themselves in a situation they have not faced since Iverson put on a Philadelphia jersey: down two games-to-none in the first round of the NBA playoffs, one game away from elimination. The find themselves in that predicament mainly because of the dynamic duo of the Celtics, All-Stars Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce. Pierce (25 points, 10 rebounds) broke a 81-81 tie with 1:36 remaining by hitting one of the biggest shots of his young career, a three pointer. The Celtics would not look back, as they held on to win, 93-85. The series resumes Sunday in Philadelphia.

The Sixers, known for their defense, appeared to have the Celtics right where they wanted them. However, they were beat at their own game. Overcoming a 4 point deficit with just under 5 minutes to go, the Celtics played ferocious defense, spurred on by the FleetCenter fans, who were about the loudest they have been in the building's brief playoff history. The Celtics frustrated everything the 76ers tried to do offensively, getting the key stops that they needed, and hitting baskets when it counted, and went on a decisive 9-0 run. Trailing 87-83, the Sixers still had their chances to bounce back, but Iverson misfired, Matt Harpring grabbed the rebound, and missed on the put-back attempt, sealing the fate of the Sixers, who now head to Philadelphia wondering how they let this one get away from them.

They don't have to look much further than their poor shooting, which continues to plague them in this series. The Sixers only shot 33 for 85 (39%), which is a recipe for disaster when you're playing on the road, in the playoffs, especially when you allow the other team to shoot 33 for 72 (46%). Iverson, who had vowed to bounce back after missing all of his field goal attempts in the final 3 quarters on Sunday, scored a team-high 29 points, but went 11-30 doing so. He attempted to find open teammates, and even managed 7 assists. However, his other backcourt mate, Eric Snow, struggled from the field on 2-13 shooting. When your starting backcourt goes a combined 13-43, you're not going to win, plain and simple.

Inexplicably, the Sixers continued to force up shots from behind the 3 point line. Not having learned their lesson from Game 1, they managed to go 4-15 from behind the arc. For the series, they are shooting a horrendous 21% from 3 point land, compared to the Celtics 41%. After averaging around 8 three point attempts for the regular season, the Sixers are averaging 14 so far in this series. If they continue to think they can outduel the Celtics in this area, they will be heading for an early summer vacation.

The Sixers bench helped to keep them in the game, outscoring the Celtics bench 18-10. Aaron McKie provided the biggest lift there, scoring 16 points, coming up with several key baskets which helped the Sixers overcome an early 4th quarter deficit, and even briefly take their only lead of the game. Correcting some of their mistakes of the opening game, the 76ers managed to match the Celtics scoring in the paint, both teams scoring 32 there. The teams were evenly matched on rebounds, even though the Sixers managed 15 offensive rebounds, which led to more shot attempts. Unfortunately, those second chance attempts were missing just as badly as the original shots, which did not bode well for them.

Though Pierce may have gotten the most attention from the fans, hearing chants once again for MVP, Antoine Walker (24 points, 10 rebounds) came up big as well. The Celtics had six players score in double figures, including Tony Battie (12 points, 6 rebounds), who hit a couple of huge baskets during the critical stretch of the 4th quarter when the game was decided.

The Sixers find themselves in a dire situation, needing to win three games in a row in order to avoid elimination in the first round, something they have not experienced since Allen Iverson led them back to the playoffs in 1999, after a long absence. Larry Brown will have to find a way for Dikembe Mutombo to be more effective if the Sixers are to have any chance of extending this series. They will also have to get their backcourt to get better looks at the basket. Having them shoot near 30%, while the rest of the team doesn't shoot much better (under 40% for the series), is surely a disaster waiting to happen. Judging from the looks of the first two games of this series, that disaster could come as early as Sunday afternoon.

NOTES: After outscoring the Sixers 48-40 in the first half, the Celtics managed to exactly match the point total of the 76ers in the 3rd (21 points) and 4th (24 points) quarters... Just as the 76ers are not used to 0-2 deficits in the first round, the Celtics are in uncharted waters themselves, at least for the current players on their roster, many of whom are seeing playoff action for the first time. The last time the Celtics had home court advantage in the first round and took a 2-0 lead was 1990, when Larry Bird was still wearing #33. The Celtics then went on to lose the next three games, and the series, to the New York Knicks.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Stephen A. Smith talks about the personnel moves made by C's general manager Chris Wallace, which has created some matchup problems for Philly. Prior to the trade, the Sixers had won 8 straight. Since the trade, the C's are 2-1 against the defending Eastern champs... Phil Jasner wonders if Dikembe Mutombo will show up for this series... Ashley Fox talks with Matt Harpring, who says he wants to win a championship ring... Mark Cofman says the C's expect to see a different Philly team in Game 2... The Globe's Rich Fisher says that the 76ers are used to trailing in playoff series, and reminds us that this year's Philadelphia lineup is completely different than last year's... Antoine Walker is enjoying the long layoff between games, while the rest of his teammates seem to disagree, saying that the downtime is giving the injured Sixers time to recuperate... Shira Springer says 'Toine has been using the extra time between games to "put up extra shots" in practice... Jackie MacMullan says we shouldn't be surprised by the C's defense in Game 1, since they were 3rd in the league in opponents' FG%... Lester Connor says that if you want tickets for games at the FleetCenter, stop calling his house and call the box office instead.

Claire Smith writes that John LeClair has been AWOL in the playoffs so far... Rich Hofmann says that the Flyer's big name (well, big contracts anyway) players have to step up if they're to avoid first round elimination once again... Sam Donnellon says that the mutiny aboard the S.S. Flyers has been going on for some time now. I haven't seen players stop playing for a coach like this since Charles Barkley quit on George Karl and the rest of the Bucks.

Kenyon Martin says he doesn't care if Jermaine O'Neal refuses to credit the Nets' defense for their win in Game 2. K-Mart is also on this week's SI cover, so look for the Nets to be joining Barkley on the golf course when this first round is over, which should be sometime around October... Mark Montieth says that O'Neal will likely be named the Most Improved Player later this week, and reminds us how Donnie Walsh acquired him from Portland... Bob Kravitz says it's hard to get up for a series against the Nets when you're used to playing important teams, like the Knicks. Bob also takes a shot at "Thomas' unpaid spokesman, Peter Vescey" (ouch!)

This article in the Philadelphia Inquirer informs us that today was the day many ".us" internet domain names became available. Those who "plan to...become a famous commentator on pro basketball" should act quickly. Guess I better get cracking... Attack of the Clones is on its way to a movie theater near you real soon. Yesterday, the official Star Wars site released this music video, which requires QuickTime to play.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Stephen A. Smith makes the controversial suggestion that the Sixers should consider benching their $14 million dollar center in an attempt to match the quickness of the Celtics... Marc Narducci reminds of us of how huge "I-Love-Waltah" McCarty came up in Sunday's win... Ashley Fox says that Iverson promises that Boston is "going to see a totally different Allen Iverson" on Thursday, as he vows to bounce back in a big way... Phil Jasner says the Sixers cannot continue to show below 40% from the field, have Iverson miss his final 10 shots, or have Snow miss his final 9... Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe says the Sixers are still in a position to get the 1-1 split that they came into Boston looking for... Celtics' play-by-play man Sean Grande predicts that "whichever teams wins the second game will probably win the series." Newsweek's Mark Starr applauds the C's return to the playoffs...

Bill Lyon says that Philadelphia fans have been patient far too long while they wait for a parade... Sam Donnellon says the Flyers are beginning to remind one of the movie "Dumb and Dumber"... Claire Smith asks a question that's been running through my mind while observing the Flyers ignominious streak of 12 straight periods of regulation without a goal (counting back to last year's 8-0 first-round playoff-ending loss to Buffalo): who would have thought goaltending wouldn't be the reason the Flyers are facing yet another early exit from the playoffs? Comcast's local broadcast team really needs to get off the officials backs too, they're homerism makes the game even more unwatchable than it already is. Hey guys, here's a news flash: The Flyers have scored one goal in three games. Officials are not the reason they're facing a 2-1 deficit. The way they're playing, they should be thanking their lucky stars they're not down 0-3.

Paul Pierce, the NBA playoffs...the NBA playoffs, Paul Pierce... Marty Burns has some advice for teams that have been on the losing end of the playoffs thus far... Charles Barkley is always able to supply several good quotes. Coincidentally, Charles called into Eskin and Missanelli's afternoon show yesterday in WIP, and was heard saying that, if he were in his prime today, he'd be mopping up today's so-called power forwards... Peter Vescey writes about the "courting of Jerry West", and wonders why the Knicks aren't in the mix... Speaking of Vescey, it's almost easy to forget he makes occasional apperances on Inside the NBA still. Last night, there was some classic comedy, as Magic inadvertently forgot to turn his cell phone ringer off prior to going on the air. You can imagine the result. Of course, the guys weren't going to let Magic off the hook so easily, especially after he had chastised younger players for similar actions during his brief coaching stint in the 90s. Apparently, Lester Connor and Antoine Walker put Paul Pierce up to playing up Magic's gaffe during his appearance on TBS tonight. In the middle of his interview, he pretended to take a call from Magic on his imaginary cell phone...

In last night's action, Seattle surprised San Antonio by beating them, as well as the officials, if TNT commentator Danny Ainge is to be believed. Ainge, never known for his love of officiating, demonstrated by way of instant replay and his telestrator, that several of the calls against the Sonics were bogus. Seattle went on to win the game anyway... Bill Walton takes a jab at the Nets "pretty boys" (Kittles, Van Horn and Jefferson). He also warned Todd Big-Mac and K-Mart "that this is not about milk and cookies"... Peter May doesn't think the Magic will be sticking around long in the playoffs with T-Mac's bum back, and makes a good point in saying that the Charlotte Hornets are the only team in the NBA to have played in front of hostile crowds in all 82 regular season games... May also writes that Jack Ramsay has been getting a bit of flack from his family for picking the Sixers to beat the Celtics in 4... Ramsay also participated in a chat on ESPN.com today, defending his pick in responding to "Dave from Boston" (must be my evil twin). Dr. Jack also dismissed the conspiracy theories of those (and you know who you are) who claim the league spread out the first round schedule to benefit Philadelphia... Detroit fans demonstrate all too well that there are idiots in professional sporting venues in every city... In the spirit of fairness, Detroit did have one good thing happen today, as Corliss Williamson was named this year's Sixth Man Award winner... Bill Simmons laments the passing of the 'Bledsoe era' in New England...

And finally, today's random link gives me some ideas on how to handle telemarketers, who seem to interrupt me at least half a dozen times a day. Comedian Tom Mabe figured he'd give them a taste of their own medicine. I gotta get me one of his CD's...

Monday, April 22, 2002

Before we begin, some shameless self-promotion. Check out yesterday's post-game wrap-up below, authored by yours truly. Now for today's links... Stephen A. Smith says the Sixers need to find an Answer (no pun intended) for Paul Pierce real quick. Smith also wrote about the the Celtics' smothering defense, which led Aaron McKie to think the Celtics actually had 10 players on the court. Smith also said that the Sixers were splattered in the paint. Despite shooting 8-18 from beyond the arc (tying team playoff records in the process), the C's did their real damage in the paint, outscoring the visitors 40-22 there (coincidentally, I ran into Stephen at the FleetCenter yesterday; he looked pretty disgusted after the game)... Marc Narducci reports that Iverson was not affected by the "loudest crowd" in the FleetCenter's short history (and, to paraphrase Lloyd Benson, I was at the Garden during the playoffs. The FleetCenter is no Boston Garden). Narducci also noted that Mutombo should be a factor in this series (someone should tell him that before the series is over), and gets a quote from Brown that's fairly derogatory of his players' knowledge of current (and past) events... John Smallwood says that Sixers fans can only hope Iverson's shot was off yesterday and that he will be able to bounce back in Game 2... Phil Jasner says that Iverson was MIA after starting the first quarter by hitting 4-6 from the field, ending with 15 points (he missed his last 9 shots of the game over the remaining three quarters)... Jasner also noted that Jim O'Brien expected Iverson to play all along, and was not fooled by the "will he play/won't he play" debate of the past week... Dick Jerardi notes that a key factor of this series will be on the coaching side. No, not Larry Brown's 125-plus post-season games, but C's assistance coach Dick Harter, who, while an assistant to Larry Bird for the Pacers, helped Indiana to an 8-2 record in the post-season agains the Sixers. Now, Harter is 9-2 against the Sixers... NBA draft prospect Dujuan Wagner was at the FleetCenter yesterday, courtesy of complimentary tickets from his boy Iverson. And now to get the other city's perspective...

Perhaps Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, or Robert Parish are not walking through that door anytime soon. But Steve Bulpett says having Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones, Tommy Heinson, and Jo Jo White do so didn't hurt... Michael Gee says the Celtics playoff run will last exactly as long as they control "the mean and difficult spaces between the baskets and the free throw lines." Interestingly, Michael Gee wrote this interesting piece yesterday saying that the league needed the Celtics back in the playoff picture, along with the Sixers recent re-emergence. Funny, I couldn't help but feel his own personal story a mirror image of myself in some respects... Peter May notes the irony of coaching against the team that he grew up loving as a kid (are there enough subplots in this series for NBC/TNT to play up?) May believes Iverson was a bit rusty yesterday, and that the Sixers should be thankful that "Game 2 of this television-dictated series will come sometime during the second George Bush administration." Mark Murphy gets a good quote from Kenny Anderson, who said that chasing Iverson around on defense was, oh, a bit challenging, since "this dude runs at 100 mph." Prior to yesterday's game, Bob Ryan reviewed the Sixers-Celtics rivlary, in which he's probably seen every last game between the two (best, most underrated line: "John Havlicek made a steal you may have heard about") Ryan gave the C's an A+ on their victory yesterday, while wondering how many of the 18.624 in attendance saw Bird's last playoff game at the Garden (at which yours truly was in attendance, along with his dad; what a strange bit of irony that both were in attendance at yesterday's FleetCenter NBA playoff debut)... Yesterday, Shira Springer broke down O'Brien's "mirage-and-five" defensive strategy, in which "we put five guys on [Iverson] and a mirage on the rest of the team.... We put five guys on him and hope the other guys don't make shots, in all seriousness." The plan apparently worked yesterday afternoon... Jackie MacMullan with an interesting article yesterday which described O'Brien's use of technology in gaining the upper-hand in the battle of coaching strategy.

Bill Lyon breaks down the Flyers' playoff hopes using a simple formula: 0 goals = no victory... Claire Smith also says the Flyers anemic offense needs a jumpstart, or they will be finding themselves heading home early in what is becoming an all-to-familiar rite-of-passage in April... Phil Sheridan breaks down the numbers of Trotter's contract after signing with the Redskins, and wonders whether the deal the Eagles put on the table over a year ago would have been more financially rewarding.

Peter Vescey talks about the Knicks reducing Sprewell's fine last week, with a great one-liner ("if you're going to fine a player, make sure the Spaldings aren't the only balls in the organization")... Phil Mushnick still hates everybody, but makes a valid point that the NBA needs to speed up the end of games (I've already written on this topic, suggesting the elimination of the "mandatory official timeouts"). Case in point: the final 4 minutes of the Nets-Pacers game took 20 minutes of "real time", and the final 41 seconds took 12 minutes. The NBA...it's faaaaaaantastic. Unless you're a fan sitting in the stands wondering when NBC will give the cue that the game can resume... After the Pacers' can-you-really-call-it-an-upset win over the Nets, Ron Artest delivered a shot at one of the players I love to hate: "Brooklyn guards can dish, except Marbury." C. Jemal Halton reminds us that this year's Game 1 road upset by the Pacers is different than last year, when they beat the No. 1 seeded 76ers... After the disappointing loss before a non-sellout crowd, one fan reminded the Nets to "Bring your heart on Monday!" (ouch) Jermaine O'Neal says the rubber bands adorning his wrists are his good luck charms. Who says NBA players (and many of their fans, I might add) aren't superstitious? The NBA's worst kept secret was revealed over the weekend, as Ben Wallace was named Defensive Player of the Year. In what could have been a unanimous vote, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Dikembe Mutombo received votes. I'd like to know who voted for Dikembe. Their media credentials should be immediately revoked. Seriously... And finally, today's random link of the day involves an article with some advice on how to deal with an annoying coworker (seriously, after reading this one, you can probably come up with your own punchline).

Sunday, April 21, 2002

BOSTON - Paul Pierce made his NBA playoffs debut. The Celtic faithful chanted their choice for league MVP. The men in green beat their long-time rival, the Philadelphia 76ers, 92-82, in Game 1 of the first round of the Eastern conference quarterfinals, to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series. The Celtics are now 1-0 at the FleetCenter in postseason appearances. The rivalry is back.

The Celtics, according to some experts, were supposed to be an inexperienced bunch, All-Stars Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce having never participated in the NBA's postseason tournament. The defending eastern conference champion 76ers were supposed to wield their playoff experience and have their way with the Celtics, whom they had beaten in 9 of the last 10 meetings in the regular season. The experts were apparently wrong.

Pierce, coming up huge in his first postseason apperance for the Celtics, had a monster game, scoring 31 points and 11 rebounds. Walter McCarty provided a huge lift off the bench with his outside shooting. The Sixers, who trailed throughout the afternoon, managed to come back from a first-half Celtic run, and went into the locker room trailing only 54-48 at the half. However, the Celtics dug in defensively in the third quarter, holding the Sixers to 11 points, while scoring 19 themselves, taking a 73-59 lead into the final quarter.

Iverson, after scoring 17 first-half points, disappeared in the second half, scoring only 3 points the rest of the way, all from the charity stripe. The Celtics' smothering defense forced Iverson to pass to his teammates, who did not help his assist total by throwing up shots that seemed lucky to hit the rim or backboard. Iverson, known throughout the season for putting up 30 shots or more on a regular basis, shot significantly fewer than his season average, going a modest 4-15. Jim O'Brien's "mirage and five" defense disrupted anything the Sixers tried to do offensively.

The Sixers started the game by regularly penetrating the lane and making their way to the free throw line, courtesy of the Celtics overly aggressive defense. The Boston fans quickly returned to playoff form, expressing their displeasure at the early whistles favoring the 76ers by chanting something unprintable (apparently it had something to do with bulls and manure). Iverson, booed mercilessly every time he touched the ball, was getting the early calls. The officials were probably mindful of Antoine Walker's comments over the weekend that the Celtics considered Iverson's injured hand "fair game." Inexplicably, the Sixers got away from their penetration game in the second quarter and beyond, deciding instead to get into a perimeter shooting contest with the Celtics. It ended up being a very costly mistake.

The Sixers, usually noted for their inside presence with Dikembe Mutombo patrolling the lane, were badly beaten in the paint, being outscored by an alarming 40-18 margin. Perimeter defense, a glaring weakness of the Sixers all year long, came back to haunt them again in this one. The Celtics, lead by Paul Pierce and Walter McCarty, shot 8-18 from behind the arc (which actually seemed like a low total for them). Contrast that with the Sixers paltry 2-13 shooting from 3-point land, and it's easy to see how the Sixers lost this one.

In what turned out to be a bad omen for the 76ers, moments before tip-off, Red Auerbach made his way to his usual seat in Loge 12. As he made his way across the court, the Jumbotron flashed his picture, causing the Boston faithful to erupt in cheers. With the accompanying background music, it was a scene that made one think of "The Godfather."

During the Iverson era, the Sixers had never lost an opening road game in the first round. They will have plenty of time to think about what went wrong today, as the series doesn't resume again until Thursday's Game 2, back at the FleetCenter. It is a game the Sixers must find a way to win if they are to avoid an 0-2 deficit, which would require them winning three in a row to avoid elimination.

Notes: After a seven-year drought, the Celtics made their playoff debut at the FleetCenter, which opened in the fall of 1995. Earlier that year, the Celtics played their final playoff game against Shaquille O'Neil and the rest of the Orlando Magic, at the Boston Garden.... "Temple of Doom"? That is one way the Sixers might be starting to view the FleetCenter. After losing McKie for nearly a third of the season due to an ankle injury he suffered there in January, Iverson broke his hand there on March 22 and missed the final 14 games of the regular season. The Sixers went 7-7 in his absence.... Celtics coach Jim O'Brien, who took over the Celtics when Rick Pitino resigned last season, also made his postseason coaching debut.... The 76ers have now lost five straight games in the postseason, counting back to last year's NBA Finals, where, after taking a 1-0 series lead, they proceeded to lose 4 in a row to the Lakers.... Best sign seen at the FleetCenter on Sunday afternoon: "The Truth Shall Set the Celtics Free."