The bottom line: Sixers have to loosen up

This article was originally publised in the Daily News on April 23, 2001.

Of all the things the 76ers were going to need to beat their playoff nemeses, the Indiana Pacers, a proctologist didn't figure to be one of them.

But that was just the harsh, yet truthful, analysis delivered by Allen Iverson after Game 1.

"I thought we got to the point where we thought, 'We've got these guys beat. ' Our asses got tight, simple as that," the Sixers' All-Star guard said in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's disheartening, 79-78 loss at the First Union Center. "It's as simple as that. That's the way it looked to me. "

After a night of reflection, he hadn't changed his opinion. But he did want to clarify his intent.

"I didn't mean anything disrespectful to myself, my teammates or my coaches," Iverson said yesterday after practice. "I just meant that we just have to protect leads. If you have a 16-point lead, the worst thing you do is win by one. You don't lose the game. "

The Sixers choked. There's no other way to say it - well, unless you want to reiterate it Iverson's way.

When you're the No. 1 seed and you blow an 18-point, second-half lead against the No. 8 seed, you've gagged.

When you've got a chance to pull out a victory against the Pacers and you get several brain cramps down the stretch, you've coughed up a hairball.

When you have a two-point lead and you let Reggie "Mr. Clutch" Miller get a tremendous look at a three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left - well, you get the picture.

"I think what Allen said was a fair assessment," said Sixers point guard Eric Snow, who finished with 14 points but made just one of six shots in the second half. "A better word for it might have been hesitant.

"I don't think we took them lightly. We just didn't make some of the plays that we should have in the second half. "

The Sixers know they blew Game 1 in the first-round series. They know they've immediately surrendered the home-court advantage they had worked so hard to get.

They know they have given a Pacers team, which already was confident after having eliminated the

Sixers from the playoffs the last two seasons, even more reason to believe they have the Sixers' number.

They also know, so what? There's not a thing they can do about Saturday. To dwell on it would be detrimental.

Trailing 1-0 in a best-of-five series against the defending Eastern Conference champions, the Sixers go into tomorrow night's Game 2 behind the eight ball, with their backs against the wall, do-or-die or any other cliché for trouble that you can think of.

But they aren't dead. They don't even require life support, yet.

"I think every game in a short series is a must-win situation," coach Larry Brown said yesterday after a session of film-watching, practice and regrouping.

"I think we had a good practice. I was worried, but our guys didn't come in with their heads between their legs.

"It was unfortunate, but it's just one game. It's over, so let's go on. "

It's not about Game 1 anymore. It's about Game 2.

If the Pacers had come and just beat the daylights out of the Sixers, things might be gloomier. This, however, was a giveaway.

The Sixers aren't so much better than Indiana that they can get away with bringing their "B" game. Saturday confirmed that. Still, they are the better team.

"We know what we have to do," forward Tyrone Hill said. "We just didn't play smart on Saturday. It was a tough loss, but we're all professionals."

"If we do what we are supposed to do from [tomorrow] on, we'll be OK. The bottom of this ship hasn't fallen out, yet. "

There's no question, however, that the dragon the Sixers are trying to slay just got 20 feet taller and grew a second head.

In 23 previous playoff series in their NBA history, the Pacers are 11-0 when they've won Game 1. Included in that is the 4-0 sweep of the Sixers in the second round of the 1999 playoffs and the 4-2 elimination of them in the second round of the 2000 postseason.

The Pacers will come into the First Union Center tomorrow night looking to put the hammer down in Game 2.

But the Sixers have been resilient. They didn't win 56 games and post the best overall record in the Eastern Conference because they didn't know how to overcome adversity.

"Of course, this makes it harder,"

Iverson said, "but nothing is ever easy. As long as we understand that it takes three games to win this series, it's no problem.

"For us to lose confidence right now because we lost one game would be stupid. The makeup of this team is better than that. We have more character than to give it all up after one loss. "

They'd better. Because if the Sixers lose tomorrow, they won't need a doctor.

They'll need a mortician.