It ain't pretty, but it works
This article was originally published on May 14, 2001.
One way or the other, Aaron McKie was going to be the focus of Game 4.
With the 76ers having been humiliated Friday in Game 3 and trailing by two games to one in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, this was a desperate time that required a desperate measure.
The only solution Larry Brown could come up with to kick-start the fortunes of his shellshocked team was to insert McKie, the NBA's Sixth Man Award winner, into the starting lineup for struggling point guard Eric Snow.
"I was a little concerned about the minutes for Aaron," Brown said of starting McKie. "I was a little concerned about not having the firepower off the bench, but, really, I just think it settled us down a little bit. "
Nothing ventured is nothing gained. And by making a lineup shift yesterday, Brown saw his Sixers gain new life with a gritty 84-79 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Playing 45 minutes - 10 more than his previous series high - McKie had 18 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Still, it wasn't about McKie's individual numbers. It was about how the Sixers finally looked like the team that won 56 regular-season games and captured the top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
They were aggressive on defense. They made just enough plays on offense. They turned the game into an uglyfest.
"We do not play a finesse game," McKie said. "We play an ugly game. We enjoy playing ugly games. That's how we win. "
With Snow hampered by an injured ankle, the Sixers hadn't been ugly enough.
They had gotten off to slow starts in the three previous games. And with a team as offensively challenged as the Sixers, that's not a good thing.
In six first-half quarters through the first three games, the Sixers had outscored the Raptors just once - and Allen Iverson had to score 20 points in the second quarter of Game 2 for the Sixers to manage that.
Game 4 was different.
With McKie directing, the Sixers led, 26-18, after the first quarter and led, 49-36, at halftime. For the first time in the series, the Raptors were back on their heels a little bit at the half.
"It was just playing basketball and trying to get a win," McKie said. "Regardless of a win or loss, somebody is going to evaluate your play, whether you are off the bench or starting.
"The bottom line to me was to win this game. I wanted to stir things up a bit by giving them a different look. Maybe that would be the difference. I just wanted to come out and get the team off to a good start and get everybody involved throughout the game. "
It wasn't pretty, but it was Sixers basketball.
Allen Iverson scored 30. Dikembe Mutombo had 17 rebounds, 13 points and four blocks. More than anything, the Sixers got back to the grinding defense that has become their trademark.
With a healthy McKie, instead of an injured Snow, setting the tone defensively, the Sixers held the Raptors to the lowest playoff point total in their history. The Raptors had been averaging 96.7 points per game through the first three games of the series. The 33.3 percent Toronto shot from the floor also was a franchise playoff low.
Charged with the primary responsibility of guarding Vince Carter, who had lit up the Sixers for 50 points in Game 3, McKie limited Toronto's scoring machine to an acceptable 25 points, on 8-for-27 shooting.
"Aaron had to step up in the starting role, and then he had to guard Vince Carter the whole game and did a great job,"
Iverson said. "I just think he responded well. He responded the way he has the whole season. That's why he was the sixth man of the year. "
Offensively, the Sixers had been looking this entire series for someone to help Iverson.
Yesterday, McKie provided that help, particularly in the third quarter, when he scored 10 points, including eight in a row.
McKie exploited his height advantage over the Raptors' Chris Childs, and after McKie posted up Childs for four turnaround jumpers, the Raptors had no choice but to alter their defensive approach.
"The way Allen was going in the first half [23 points], my job was to get the ball to him," McKie said. "In the second half, I felt like I needed to get myself involved a little bit. I had the smaller guard on me throughout the game, and any time I feel I have a smaller guard on me, I feel I can take him out on the block and shoot over him. "
The teams are knotted at two wins each going into Wednesday's pivotal Game 5 at the First Union Center. With McKie in the starting lineup, the Sixers regained the ugliness that is the key to their success. Now, they have to keep it.
"It's a three-game series from here," McKie said. "Whoever wins two, the opponent goes home early for the summer. We have to take advantage of our home court. Now we have the opportunity to do that again."