Ray Allen might as well have said, “Shut up and play.”
Those weren’t the star’s exact words following the Milwaukee Bucks’ practice yesterday, but the message was clear: All of this complaining won’t get the Bucks to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974.
With Allen Iverson limping because of a sore left hip joint, the Bucks missed their chance to take a 3-1 lead over the 76ers, dropping Game 4 at home Monday to the Sixers, 89-83.
“We blew a great opportunity over the weekend. It’s that simple,” Allen said of the loss, which evened the Eastern Conference finals at 2-2 and restored homecourt advantage to Philadelphia. “We can’t worry about how many times we’re getting to the line, can’t worry about free throws. We can’t be concerned about who dresses for them and who is in street clothes. We can’t worry about anything, especially things we can’t control. That’s just wasted breath. We have to play our style of basketball, that’s it. If we do that I still think we’ll be all right.”
So far the Bucks haven’t done that against the walking MASH unit that is the Philadelphia 76ers. Milwaukee was an offensive juggernaut in the regular season, averaged about 100 points, but the Sixers have dictated the tempo with their defense in all four games. As a result, the Bucks and their “Lethal Weapon 3” offense of Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson have averaged 85 points in the series. For a crucial seven-minute stretch in the fourth quarter of Game 4, Philadelphia and its ragamuffin rotation limited the Bucks to one field goal.
“I think that’s inexcusable,” Allen said about the scoring funk. “They used that stretch to dictate to us. But that wasn’t anything new. They’ve dictated the tempo. We have to get back to playing our kind of basketball.”
Although the Bucks are not a good rebounding team, they have at least held their own on the boards in this series. The Bucks will have to continue that trend tonight in Game 5 at First Union Center in Philadelphia.
“Of course we do,” coach George Karl said. “You can’t get out and run if you don’t have the ball. It’s no secret that our big men have to fight for rebounds so we can run. If we’re doing that we’re OK. That’s not rocket science.”
One area in which the Bucks have been deficient is at the free throw line. The problem? They simply aren’t getting there. In the four games, Philadelphia has gone to the free throw line 45 more times than the Bucks. In Game 2 the Bucks won despite making an NBA record-low two free throws on six attempts.
This means the Bucks have to do a better job attacking the basket, something that’s at least a little bit out of character for the jump-shooting team.
Milwaukee’s lack of free throw attempts in the series has become a particularly sore point with Robinson. In the Bucks’ first two series wins over Orlando and Charlotte, Robinson was 37-for-40 from the foul line. However, in four games against the 76ers, the small forward has yet to shoot a free throw.
Following a play on which he felt he was fouled, Robinson was ejected at the end of Game 4. Yesterday he was still simmering about the officiating.
“I post up. I get a lot of touches in the paint,” Robinson said. “I don’t just shoot jump shots. That’s never been my whole game. Watch the tapes. Glenn Robinson is a jump-shooter-slash-post-up player. You get any type of player out there and sooner or later he’s going to get fouled. You mean to tell me that I haven’t gotten fouled just one time. Not just once?”
Allen, limited to 14 points in Game 4, shrugged off the foul situation.
“The only thing that’s going to matter in the end and that means tomorrow is that we’ve made the adjustments that we know we have to make. We can’t play into their hands. We had a chance to knock them out, and we let them get up. We can’t make that mistake again.”