- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

TORONTO Now the rest of the country, and parts of Canada, too, is starting to learn what the Philadelphia 76ers and their fans have known for quite some time: Aaron McKie is a big-time player.
In a must-win situation on Sunday one that led the Sixers to go behind closed doors for two heated team meetings McKie found himself thrust into the spotlight that he has managed to avoid for most of the year. The pain in the chronically injured right ankle of starting point guard Eric Snow forced 76ers coach Larry Brown to insert McKie into the starting lineup for the first time in the playoffs. The move paid off.
McKie responded with his best performance of the series in the 76ers' 84-79 victory over the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. The win tied the series at 2-2 heading into tomorrow's Game 5 in Philadelphia.
Badly in need of offense, the 76ers got 18 points from McKie, the most scored by any 76er not named Iverson in this series. McKie also had five assists tying Iverson for team-high honors and pulled down five rebounds.
McKie accomplished all of this while at the same time blanketing Toronto's Vince Carter defensively, an assignment that McKie handled marvelously. One game removed from scoring 50 points in the Raptors' 102-78 romp, Carter led the Raptors with 25 points but shot just 8-for-27 from the floor.
This prompted a lot of praise for the low-key McKie, who was recently voted the league's top sixth man.
"I've said it, I don't know how many times, Aaron McKie is a starter in this league," Snow said. "People get caught up in who's starting and who's coming off the bench. He's a starter. He's one of the best players in the league. Take away Allen Iverson and he's the best player on this team."
After Iverson scorched the Raptors for 23 points in the first half of Game 4 to stake Philadelphia to a 49-35 lead, Toronto made adjustments and kept the ball out of his hands in the third quarter. As a result, Iverson was hurried offensively and shot just 1-for-5 in the quarter.
Desperate for offense as they have been throughout the playoffs, the 76ers found McKie. Taking advantage of a 3-inch height advantage on Toronto reserve guard Chris Childs, McKie rattled off four straight hoops three straight jumpers and a layup and made five of seven shots in the quarter. He had 10 of his team's 21 points in the quarter.
At last, Iverson found a teammate willing and able to step up.
"They way Allen was going in the first half, I think it was my job to get the ball to him and space out. If guys were going to double him, then I'd take the shot," said McKie, a seven-year veteran who averaged 11.6 points, 5.0 assists and 4.1 rebounds during the regular season. "But in the second half, I said, 'Let me get myself involved a little bit.' I had a smaller guard on me throughout the game. Any time I feel I have a smaller guard on me, I feel I can take them out on the block and shoot over them."
McKie's impact defensively was just as big, if not bigger. In Game 3 Carter kept getting open looks at the basket. Carter ran through screens, much like Indiana's Reggie Miller has done for years, in order to free himself for 3-pointers. As a result, Carter made nine of 13 3-pointers and at one point made eight in a row. With McKie blanketing him Sunday, Carter was just 1-for-7 from behind the arc.
"Aaron did an outstanding job against Vince," Toronto coach Lenny Wilkens said. "He worked so hard defensively to make sure that he was always near the ball. He's really a great defender on the ball."
McKie knows that when the series resumes tomorrow his job will not be any easier. McKie, who has also played significant time at small forward for the 76ers this season, could start there the rest of the way after George Lynch suffered a season-ending broken left foot on Sunday. Lynch had surgery on the foot that night.
Brown is concerned that the extra minutes could wear down McKie, who played 45 minutes on Sunday.
McKie, however, is not concerned.
"It's a three-game series from here," McKie said. "You only have to win two. We have to take advantage of our home court. We have an opportunity to do that again. This time we have to take care of business."


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