Silencing the critics
Sixers' Mutombo making his presence felt
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Dikembe Mutombo is silencing his critics.
Despite averaging just 8.3 points and shooting 29 percent (7-of-24) in Philadelphia's first-round playoff series against Indiana, the All-Star center is making his presence felt where he does it best: on defense.
Mutombo, a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, has grabbed 48 rebounds and has 13 blocks as the 76ers have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Even those who thought Philadelphia gave away too much when it sent All-Star center Theo Ratliff and Toni Kukoc to the Atlanta Hawks in a six-player deal for Mutombo at the trade deadline are starting to recognize Mutombo's impact goes beyond the box score.
"If you get rebounds, it's usually the first pass on the fast break, which opens it up for everybody," Sixers coach Larry Brown said Monday. "If you get blocked shots, it's usually an easy opportunity to run on the break because their defense is not set.
"Just his mere presence when you throw it inside, even if they double or not, they pay attention to him and you've gotten their defense out and it creates opportunities for everybody. It's almost like them doubling Allen [Iverson]. He creates so many extra possessions, potential possessions by bad shots or blocked shots as well."
Mutombo led the league in rebounding at 13.5 per game and was fifth in blocked shots with 2.71 during the regular season. But the Sixers were 15-12 after the trade and some wondered if the team should've just stayed with the players that got them to 41-14.
Ratliff, however, was out with a broken wrist when the deal was made, and there was no guarantee he'd return this season. The Sixers would've been forced to enter the playoffs with injury-plagued Matt Geiger and second-year reserve Todd MacCulloch as the centers.
Brown and general manager Billy King acquired Mutombo to make a run this year. Both admit the deal may not have been made had Ratliff stayed healthy. But Brown always wanted a legitimate center to plug in the middle, and Ratliff is a natural power forward.
Mutombo, who is in the last year of a five-year contract, is just grateful to be here instead of again sitting at home for the playoffs.
"After 10 years in the league, you don't know how much longer you can last," he said. "I'm in the last stage of my career; I want to take advantage of the opportunity."
Ironically, Mutombo's best game in this series came in a loss. He had 22 rebounds, 12 points and five blocks in a 79-78 defeat in Game 1. Mutombo then scored just three points, had 11 rebounds and six blocks in an 18-point victory in Game 2.
In Saturday's 92-87 win at Indiana, Mutombo had 10 points and 15 rebounds, including eight offensive boards.
"There was more pressure playing at home for some reason," Mutombo said about the loss. "The fans expect so much from us. We went in so hyped up; we wanted to win so bad and we made a lot of mistakes."
The Sixers can close out the Pacers when the series resumes in Indiana for Game 4 Wednesday.