2001 NBA Finals

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Mum's the word

Thomas quiet about Pacers' lineup for Game 4

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Posted: Tuesday May 01, 2001 7:21 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The next lineup change for the Indiana Pacers could be their last.

Through 82 regular-season games and three games in the Eastern Conference playoffs, coach Isiah Thomas has used 19 different starting lineups. With the Pacers on the brink of elimination by the Philadelphia, Thomas won't say if there will be a 20th combination on Wednesday night.

"We'll see, we'll see," he said Tuesday.

Still, Thomas acknowledges the obvious: The Pacers are getting killed on the boards.

"All the veteran guys that we play with are mainly perimeter players, but we're going inside with young kids and they're playing against men," Thomas said. "We've got to rebound the basketball better.

"The crippling thing for us, which has been all season long, is offensive rebounds. They got 19 offensive rebounds, and that's too many to give up to a grade school team."

With the bulk of the scoring coming from Allen Iverson and the rebounding and defense from Dikembe Mutombo, Philadelphia has a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five first-round series. An Indiana victory Wednesday night would send the series back to Philadelphia for the final game on Friday night.

So far, the Pacers are being outrebounded by almost nine boards a game. Jermaine O'Neal, one of the young players Thomas was referring to, is averaging 12 rebounds, but he played only 24 minutes and was scoreless in a 92-87 loss on Saturday.

Thomas started Zan Tabak at center in the first two games, then put Jeff Foster in the lineup for Game 3, when Tabak never left the bench. Sam Perkins, the oldest player in the NBA, also was left on the bench the entire game as Thomas tried a smaller, quicker lineup.

Mutombo, meanwhile, had 15 rebounds and is averaging 16 rebounds and 4.3 blocked shots in the series.

"Changing the lineup obviously influences a team's cohesion," Jalen Rose said. "When you change lineups, sometimes you get out of that. But we've been doing that all season, and it's given guys confidence that when they get into the game they can produce.

"It's up to us to find a way to make the parts work."

O'Neal was not discouraged by his ineffectiveness on Saturday, or by the loss.

"We still feel pretty positive," O'Neal said. "We're going to be really aggressive. ... We can't leave it up to the referees to determine the game."

The Pacers have complained throughout the series that Iverson, the league's leading scorer, has received preferential treatment from the officials. Travis Best fouled out of two games trying to guard Iverson, yet despite scoring their final 10 points on free throws on Saturday, the 76ers have been called for only one fewer foul than the Pacers for the series.

"We have all the right in the world to complain about the officials too. But they're human," Philly's Aaron McKie said. "That's just part of the game. It's the nature of the business. There's only three of them, so they're going to miss calls sometimes.

"We don't want to get into that, though. The game is going to be won by the players. The officials do not decide the game."

Thomas knows that, too.

"If you throw Game 2 out, particularly the last quarter, it's been a closely played series," Thomas said. "I thought we played good, I thought our guys played hard, and a bounce here, a bounce there, it's a totally different story. So you just have to execute better."

That's what Philadelphia coach Larry Brown expects on Wednesday.

"Indiana's going to come at us with their best game," he said. "So we can't afford to look ahead to the possibility of Friday; we've got to be concerned with tomorrow."

Related information
Sixers hold off Pacers to take 2-1 series lead
Sixers' Mutombo making his presence felt
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