Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Another unsung hero takes turn

This article was published in the Daily News on November 16, 2000.


Larry Brown was right. The 76ers are not going to win on a consistent basis by relying on a steady diet of jumpers and three-pointers from forward George Lynch.


Still, the beauty of this amazing 8-0 start is the Sixers haven't had to rely exclusively on anyone.


OK, Allen Iverson is almost always going to have to do his thing. That goes without saying.

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But what we're seeing is that this team, which once seemed to be limited to one option, is now filled with numerous options.


Lynch took his turn as the Sixer to stand out - along with Iverson, of course - by scoring a season-high 23 points in last night's 107-98 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.


In the season-opening victory over the New York Knicks, it was Toni Kukoc coming off the bench to score 23 points, with three assists and four steals.


In the second game, Tyrone Hill had a double-double, and in the third Theo Ratliff did the same.


Eric Snow had that three-game stretch when he scored more than 20 each night and twice set career highs.


Against Cleveland, it was Lynch sinking nine of 13 shots from the floor, including two three-pointers.


It could just as easily have been Ratlif, who finished with 15 points and six blocks, or Snow, who had 13 points and seven assists.
 

Oh, and did I mention Iverson? He might not be shooting a high percentage but has been spectacular with his all-around team play.


"The Answer," whose 45 assists are second on the team to Snow's 47, isn't forcing his offense because he knows he can trust his teammates to make the necessary plays.


"We've made that step this year to rely on each other and take that responsibility to be ready to accept the challenge," said Lynch, whose scoring high as a Sixer is 26 points against Miami on Nov. 17, 1999. "It all starts with [Iverson]. He has the ball the majority of the time and he's making the extra passes, which makes the game easier for the entire team. "


From the beginning of training camp, Brown has emphasized that the Sixers needed  a more balanced attack in order to take that step to the next level.


And the Sixers' coach was particularly adamant that the big guys, Ratliff, Hill and Lynch, had to start getting rewarded a little more on the offensive end for rebounding and doing the dirty work down low.


Frankly, no Sixer represents that lunch-bucket effort more than Lynch, who is often asked to achieve in situations where he is clearly at a disadvantage.


Against the Cavaliers, Lynch's defensive assignment shifted between guarding the versatile Lamond Murray and the bullish Robert "Tractor" Traylor, who had a 61-pound advantage over Lynch.


Considering the amount of effort he had to put out on the defensive end, it was amazing that Lynch had the energy to score more than triple his average.


"I don't like it," Brown joked of Lynch's big scoring night. "I like him to do the dirty work. How many rebounds did he get? He got one defensive rebound, so I'll have something to talk to him about.


"But he did a lot of good things. It helps when he gets baskets on the break and second shots and hustle plays, which he always does. "


For his part, Lynch said the only thing he did differently in the Sixers'  franchise record-tying eighth consecutive victory to start a season was do a better job of burying his shots.


"A lot of those were the same looks I've been getting all season," said Lynch, who took a season-high 13 shots. "I was just making the shots tonight.


"I had the same shots against Minnesota, the same shots against Miami and the rest of the year. The shots were just falling for me tonight.


"I knew my offense was going to be a little behind everyone because I've been fighting a stress fracture [in his left foot] and didn't really get much work in during training camp. I'm just going to keep working hard. "


The one thing we can be sure of is that the Sixers are  going to lose this season, but at this point, there's no way to say how long this unbeaten streak might last.


Miami comes to the First Union Center tomorrow and the Heat will be looking to avenge its Nov. 4 home loss to the Sixers.


Then next week the Sixers  have four straight road games in Boston, Charlotte, Atlanta and San Antonio.


The odds are that they will lose once or twice during the next nine days.


Still, the foundation for a successful season has been laid with this quick start.


That's not to say that this team will automatically go to the NBA Finals as the 1979-80 team did when it started 8-0, but there's reason to be excited.


"Oh yeah, this should mean a lot to [the players]," Brown said. "I'm proud of my team. We've had some injuries but we've had a lot of guys who've stepped up and we've played unselfishly.


"It's eight games and we have to keep that in mind, but any games that we can steal now may make things a little easier if we're in a position late. And that hasn't been a luxury here. "


Against the Heat, it might be Lynch's turn again, after all his Sixers career high came against Miami exactly a year ago tomorrow.


But if it's not him, it'll be someone else. That's just the type of well-rounded team the Sixers have become.

John Smallwood
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