This article was originally published in the Daily News on May 25, 2001.
Eighteen points. Twenty rebounds. If you told the Sixers that Dikembe Mutombo would post those kind of numbers last night at the First Union Center, they would surely have told you they'd be headed to Milwaukee with a two-games-to-none lead in this best-of-seven, Eastern Conference final series.
That's conventional wisdom. Reality says Mutombo was not really a factor in the game, which his team lost by two touchdowns. It happens. Just as it did in the first game of the opening series against Indiana, when the Sixers wasted his dozen points and 22 boards.
It was the most points Mutombo has scored in this year's playoffs, although it's the ninth time in 13 games that he's reached double figures. It's the fourth time in the last six that he's had at least 17 rebounds.
This is what the Sixers got him for, when they took a chance and pulled a controversial trigger at the trade deadline.
"Dikembe was as good as any player on the court," gushed NBA Coach of the Year Larry Brown.
Well, Milwaukee's Ray Allen (38 points, seven threes) might have something to say about that. But the point was well-taken.
And maybe Bucks coach George Karl had a point, too, when he said the league's Defensive Player of the Year had little effect on his perimeter-laden squad. Mutombo had only one block, mostly because Milwaukee rarely took a shot inside the arc.
"We didn't play great defense tonight," Mutombo said, correctly. "We gave them so many great looks to the basket. They beat us from outside. So what else can I do? They went after our guards. They knew Allen [Iverson] was hurt. And that's where they like to try and beat you [anyway]. There's nothing I can do to stop that. It doesn't matter how many [points or rebounds] I get. We executed very poorly. We were one step behind. We just couldn't get anything going. Our rotation was slow, for some reason.
"When you give a team like that so many open looks, there's not much you can do. "
Much of the Sixers' problems obviously are related to Iverson's sore tailbone, an injury that doesn't figure to get much better before tomorrow afternoon's Game 3. For the third consecutive series, the Sixers need a road win to regain the homecourt advantage.
"I think we all really understand what Allen's going through, with all this pain," said Mutombo, who is playing with a broken pinkie on his left hand. "It's something we have to deal with. One thing Toronto did [in that seven-game duel] was make him run through so many picks. We have to find a way to help him out, maybe by switching more. We have to look at the tapes and make adjustments.
"We have 48 hours before the next game. Allen is a warrior. Nobody knows how he'll feel [today], or by [tomorrow] morning. My wish now is that he feels better. We need him. I think his presence affects a lot of teams that we play against. By him just getting dressed, it changes the entire game. It's going to take dedication from everyone. If he can't go, I believe my teammates have enough to go out there and play their best and try to make sure that we can steal one or two wins in Milwaukee. I believe we're going to have a chance to beat them there.
"I've been here before. It's not something where I'm going to go home and go cry. We know what it's like to come out of a hole. We have to make our adjustments and go from there. "
This time, he stopped short of any guarantees. Unlike his stance after a Game 6 loss at Toronto, when he predicted the Sixers would move on. He was right, even if it was by the width of the rim at the end of Game 7.
This much is clear: If the Sixers are going to make it to the NBA Finals, they're going to need more of the same from their space-eater in the middle. That's why they rolled the dice.
"He's been [dominating the glass] since we got him," Brown said. "When we got him he was leading the league in rebounding. I don't know if we can expect every night for him to get 18. But I think when things are going bad, I keep imploring them to just throw it inside. At least he might get fouled, you got a chance to rebound the ball, at least you stop their break."