Bumps, bruises, breaks begin to affect Sixers
By Wayne Drehs
PHILADELPHIA -- Seated atop a sturdy banquet table nestled next to the hardwood floor at the Spectrum, Philadelphia 76ers forward Matt Geiger stretched his 7-foot-1 inch frame. A pair of tightly wound Ace bandages kept massive bags of ice on both of his knees.
Five feet away, leaning against one of the Spectrum's hockey boards, guard Eric Snow answered reporters' questions, his right foot and ankle in a large plastic brace.
Nearby, Aaron McKie assured those who asked that his broken ankle wasn't to blame for his mediocre performance in Game 3 and that, instead, fatigue plagued him in the fourth quarter.
All the while, forward George Lynch was promising that his broken left foot won't keep him out of Game 4 on Wednesday.
And these are just the Sixers' major injuries.
So it's of little surprise throughout the NBA Finals that the gritty Sixers have earned the reputation of playing through pain and playing with heart. But is it enough, or are their injuries starting to catch up with them?
In the last two games, both losses, the 76ers have struggled shooting the ball late in the fourth quarter, a sure-fire sign of fatigue. Their pesky run-and-jump defense has rattled the Los Angeles Lakers, but coach Larry Brown has used the stunt sparingly out of fear for further injury to one of his guards.
"This is the only way you can play the Lakers," Brown said. "I said before the series, if people heard me, if Eric and Aaron and George Lynch are healthy, the only way I think you can play them is have great on-the-ball defenders up the floor. I'm using some kids that are pretty good on-the-ball defenders, but because we're so short-handed, I've got to play guys maybe a little too much. And it shows."
Though he won't let on, Snow may be the one playing with the most pain. He had a screw inserted into his broken right ankle in December and missed 32 games. Then, in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, he broke his ankle again, this time in a different spot.
Snow is playing an average of 31 minutes per game in the Finals with a screw in one part of his ankle and a fracture in another.
"We've been playing with pain all season, so I don't think about it," Snow said. "I feel it all the time, but when you are out there, you just play. You don't even think about it. If you think about it, you're knocked down before you even know it."
The Sixers players don't want to make any excuses. They don't want to blame their late-game struggles or inability to slap on an all-out press on injuries. But in coming so close to beating the defending champions while being banged up, the Sixers have some wondering what they could do if the team were closer to 100 percent.
"If we had George, if I was full strength, if Eric was full strength, we'd be better, yeah," said Geiger, who has been hobbled by tendinitis in his knees and quadriceps. "But you know what? It doesn't matter. There's no room for excuses. The bottom line is we've got to get the job done with what we have, and that's just the way it is."
No team was more excited for the extra day off between Sunday and Wednesday than the Sixers, who have played every other day since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on May 16.
For Brown, the injuries have forced him to give added minutes to Raja Bell, Kevin Ollie and Todd MacCulloch, whom Brown refers to as his "summer-league team." He isn't joking.
"I hate to go in the dressing room after the game and get the medical report, because I just don't know how much we have left and how much as a coach I don't want to put a kid in a situation that he may fail in," Brown said. "But there isn't a choice -- I look down the bench and you've got all young kids that haven't been in this before."
In addition to the injuries to Geiger, Snow, Lynch and McKie, Dikembe Mutombo is playing with a broken finger and three stitches in his mouth, courtesy of a Shaquille O'Neal elbow. And Allen Iverson is logging 40-plus minutes with a host of bumps, bruises and contusions.
Still, you won't hear the Sixers complain.
"We haven't made any excuses," Snow said. "You all talk about it and write about it, but we haven't spoken about it. We just come out and play hard every night. It doesn't matter whether you are in pain. You have to do whatever it takes."
And as for Brown's compassionate comments?
"That's just coach being coach. He's always been like that," Snow said. "He's just saying what's on his mind. He's sympathetic to the guys on the team and what we're going through, but players aren't like that at all. We just play."
And hope it's enough.
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
||We haven't made any excuses. You all talk about it and write about it, but we haven't spoken about it. We just come out and play hard every night. It doesn't matter whether you are in pain. You have to do whatever it takes. ”
||— Eric Snow, Sixers guard
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