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Closer Look

Sixers befuddled as Pacers click on all cylinders

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Posted: Tuesday May 09, 2000 11:01 AM

  Austin Croshere Indiana's Austin Croshere was dominant in Game 2, scoring a playoff career-high 20 points. AP

By Marty Burns, Sports Illustrated

INDIANAPOLIS -- Sixers center Matt Geiger was leaning back in his locker stall, feet up on a chair and sun glasses perched atop his clean-shaven head, after his team's loss to the Pacers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night.

"It's confusing," said Geiger, referring to the way Indiana has been able to shred their normally-stout defense in the first two games to take a commanding 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series. "This isn't who we are. They're getting too many open looks. It's so uncharacteristic of us. It's not Sixers basketball. We're letting guys score too easily. That's why we're getting our butts kicked."

Geiger couldn't have been more apt -- both in his words and his state of recline.

The Pacers have knocked the Sixers on their tails with their hot shooting and crisp execution on the offensive end so far. Consider:

• In the first two games Indiana has scored 108 and 103 points, respectively, on 49.4 percent and 48.7 percent shooting from the floor. During the regular season Philadelphia ranked seventh-best in the league in points allowed (93.4) and defensive field goal percentage (43.5 percent).

• The Pacers hit 11-of-21 (52.4 percent) from three-point range in Game 1 and 8-of-21 (38.1 percent) in Game 2. During the season Philly limited foes to 35.6 percent shooting beyond the arc.

• The Sixers lost despite outrebounding the Pacers 42-37 in Game 1 and 39-38 in Game 2. Philadelphia also won the turnover battle in Game 2, committing 12 to Indiana's 15.

Normally Philly goes after teams defensively like a pit bull goes after a postman. But the Pacers have turned them into neutered beagles, spreading the floor and running hot-shooting scorers Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose off screens to get them countless open looks at the basket.

"We're not getting it done defensively," forward George Lynch admitted. "Personally, Jalen Rose is having his way with me. I've got to do a better job. But as a team we're not playing well either. They're hitting their shots, and getting comfortable. We've got to find a way to take them out of their comfort zone."

The Sixers thought they had the problem figured out after Game 1. After allowing Miller and Rose to take target practice en route to their 40-40 performance, Philadelphia vowed to get a hand in their faces.

For the most part they did so Monday night, but the Pacers simply swung the ball and found the open man. They probed the middle with Rik Smits (14 points). They hit Austin Croshere (playoff career high 20 points) behind the three-point arc. They even set up Mark Jackson in the post, where he took advantage of Allen Iverson for two easy layups in the second half.

"They know each other so well. They're playing well together," forward Toni Kukoc added. "They're just in synch. Everybody's doing their thing. They found their shooters when they were open. They took advantage of matchups. And it's working well."

Though the Sixers seem to have few answers right now, they can take hope in the fact that the series now shifts back to the First Union Center for the next two games.

The Pacers' precision half-court offense relies heavily on screens for their shooters and the Sixers hope that the referees might watch them more closely. "They're moving on a lot of their screens," Lynch says. "But we can't rely on the calls. We've just got to do a better job of fighting through them."

If not, the Sixers will be down and out for the season.

 
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