Friday, June 15
Integrity is great, but winning is better

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PHILADELPHIA -- I'll be the first to say that Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown is indeed the coach of the year, given all the moving parts he has placed together to urge this peculiar machine of his all the way to the NBA Finals.

At this point, Brown should want a few more foul calls.
But there is one decision -- one major decision -- that he has made on which I could not disagree with him more.

When Sixers president Pat Croce climbed to the top of the Walt Whitman Bridge the other day to hang a 70-foot-long banner that read "Go Sixers, Beat L.A.," perhaps he should have hung another one right next to it that read, "At Least Try Hack-a-Shaq."

I mean, Shaquille O'Neal is averaging 34 points, 16.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists, and Brown will not foul him because he believes it messes with the integrity of the game, something which he learned, I'm sure, from Dean Smith.

"I'm not going to make a farce out of this game," Brown said. "I believe the kid will make the shots. I think he's a phenomenal player, so I'd rather have people beat us in basketball plays."

Don't worry, Larry, they're beating you in basketball plays. They're beating you upside your lumpy nuggets with basketball plays.

Integrity of the game? What is that, anyway? That you play the right way? Well, the right way is about winning, particularly at this level, isn't it?

The right way is about doing everything you can do within the rules of the game to walk off the floor with a victory.

I'm not saying go out and put some DuPont chemical compound on Shaq's shoes, hope they fall apart and then he subsequently breaks an ankle and, voila, you've got a chance to win the game.

I'm saying do whatever is legal out on the court to give your team a chance to win the game.

Look, 10 or 20 or 30 years from now, when people are discussing these Finals -- and they probably will, if the Lakers go 15-1 and achieve the best postseason winning percentage of any team in NBA history -- do you think they are going to care whether any of the Sixers say, "We got our asses kicked, but we played the right way."

Don't you want to walk away from this Finals and at least feel like you did everything you possibly could to win it, and the better team just won? Do you want to wonder, for the rest of your lives, "What if?" What if we had tried Hack-a-Shaq? Could it have made a difference?

And this is not to say that it will even make a difference, because in those situations, O'Neal usually comes through for his team, whether it is through increased concentration or simply not wanting to be embarrassed.

But, hey, the guy shot 51 percent from the free throw line during the regular season. I once saw him miss an NBA record 14 straight free throws in a game -- and the Lakers lost that game. Don't you think the Sixers would win if Shaq missed 14 straight foul shots?

Despite an 8-for-9 aberration in Game 3, O'Neal is shooting just 52.6 percent from the foul line. He made just 10-of-22 free throws in Game 1, and guess which team won Game 1? That's right!! Philly.

Most teams play to their strengths, which is why the Lakers throw the ball into O'Neal every time, or allow Kobe Bryant to create on his own. It also is why the Sixers rely so much on Allen Iverson.

But playing to their strengths clearly is not working for the Sixers. The Lakers are double-teaming Iverson, forcing him into taking bad shots. His teammates are either too tired, too injured or too untalented to make much of a difference. And the Lakers are beginning to resemble the roll they got on that allowed them to sweep through the Western Conference.

So maybe it is time to, instead of playing to their own strength, play to Los Angeles' weakness. As Dikembe Mutombo said on Thursday, "The guy is monster, man." But the Monster does have a glaring deficiency, a free throw so ugly it makes an oil refinery look attractive.

Lakers players Derek Fisher and Horace Grant on Thursday said they thought the Sixers were not fouling Shaq because they did not want to get guys in foul trouble, jeopardizing the way they play.

I say, "What? Are you insane?"

Shaq at the line

'00-'01 season 499-972 .513
vs. Blazers 21-34 .618
vs. Kings 29-59 .492
vs. Spurs 16-31 .516
vs. Sixers 30-57 .526

What has Matt Geiger done since he scored 10 points in Game 1?

What has Todd MacCulloch done since he scored 13 points in Game 2?

What has Tyrone Hill done since April?

Send them in there and tell them to sit on Shaq's arms.

You don't want Dikembe Mutombo on the bench? Don't put him there. Have Deke and MacCulloch, or Deke and Geiger on the floor at the same time. You're not getting production from the power forward spot anyway.

Every time Shaq catches the ball around the basket, double-team him with Geiger or MacCulloch or Hill or even Rodney Buford, and have them foul Shaq. That's 24 fouls to give from guys who aren't contributing anything anyway. So what if he hits his foul shots. It's better than getting dunked on and demoralized every time, isn't it?

Perhaps the most incredulous thing about this series is not that the Sixers are not playing Hack-a-Shaq, it's that they are not even fouling him when it makes strategic sense. And that would not mess with the integrity of the game, would it, Larry?

The other night in Game 4, the Sixers go on an 11-0 run at the beginning of the fourth period and trim the Lakers' lead to seven.

On Los Angeles' ensuing possession, the Lakers feed the ball down to Shaq. He pivots twice, Mutombo goes flying through the air and Shaq power dunks the ball like he was trying to throw it through the floor and into the basement, where Destiny's Child was crying after getting booed for their singing debacle.

After that, the Lakers make three straight 3-pointers. Game over.

Hello? Am I missing something here? Why didn't the Sixers foul O'Neal down there? What was even worse was they had fouls to give. Foul him when he receives the ball, or makes his first pivot, and he doesn't even get free throws.

Instead, the Sixers play him straight-up -- as Shaq dared them to do -- and a man shooting almost 56 percent from the field gets a dunk. Whew, big surprise there.

"When you play against a player like him, you decide you are going to double," Brown said Thursday. "As good as Dikembe is or any defender in our league, I don't think you can play him straight-up. If you double, you hope other guys aren't going to make plays. Well, we've doubled and other guys have made plays.

"So, I don't know what we can do strategically other than tell Aaron McKie he's got to get double figures, Tyrone Hill he's got to get double figures and Eric Snow's got to get double figures, and Deke and Allen got to continue to do what they've been doing. I'm going to tell them, 'Let's figure it out,' and we'll go from there."

Sounds like a good plan. One full of integrity.

Frank Hughes covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune. He is a regular contributor to

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