O'Neal Bracing for More Mutombo

by Conrad Brunner

April 23, 2001

Playoff Notebook, April 23, 2001

MORE MUTOMBO: Dikembe Mutombo took just six shots in 40 minutes as Philadelphia dropped Game 1 to the Pacers 79-78. Heading into Game 2, there has been much talk in Philadelphia about getting the big center more involved in the offense.


''They'll probably try to come at me a little more,'' said Jermaine O'Neal, who was matched up with Mutombo for most of the opener. ''They seem to think Mutombo can score at will against me. I'm not real sure about that but we've got to see what happens.''

O'Neal had his second consecutive 20-rebound game in the opener, adding 12 points and blocking three shots. Mutombo had 22 rebounds and five blocked shots - but three of those came in the first three minutes against Zan Tabak.

''I like my chances against those guys,'' O'Neal said. ''People are talking about how good a shot-blocker Mutombo us, but I don't think they realize I led the league in blocks this year. So I'm very upbeat. I'm looking forward to the matchup. I'm definitely looking forward to Tuesday's game.''

O'Neal was second in blocked shots per game (2.81) but tied with Shawn Bradley for most total blocked shots (228), setting a franchise record in the process.

HAIR CLUB NOT FORMING: Though Reggie Miller made a fashion statement by getting a retro-look ''fade'' haircut prior to the series, his young teammates have no intention of following the trend and joining his hair club. ''Definitely not,'' O'Neal said. ''Me and Al thought about it but I'm going to wait until maybe next year. That look is too old for me. I think that was in around 1950. ''

QUICKER START: The Pacers got off to a slow start in Game 1, missing their first eight shots en route to a 52-36 halftime deficit. They shot .294 from the field and were outrebounded 32-22. Avoiding another slow start is one of the team's goals for Game 2. ''You've got to take 'em ugly in the playoffs,'' said Jalen Rose. ''When you go home at the end of the game you can't worry about who did what or your percentages. It's all about victory. I think if we can find a way to not shoot 29 percent in the first half, that'll put a lot more pressure on their team to make shots.''

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The Sixers have expressed remorse over how poorly they played in the second half, but the Pacers left themselves plenty of room for improvement, as well. What were the points of emphasis in practice? ''We can rotate a little harder, a little faster and do a better job rebounding the ball,'' Rose said. ''We feel like we should dominate the rebounds. We know they're a better rebounding team on paper with a lot of those big bodies but we've got to find a way to dominate the rebounds and continue to get back and not give up fast-break points - and always know where (Allen) Iverson is.''

Rose Rose

EXPECTING A COUNTERPUNCH: Philadelphia coach Larry Brown reportedly spent extensive practice time on countering the Pacers' double-teams and traps that limited Iverson to 19 shots and 16 points. The Pacers, however, will apparently stick to that strategy until it is defeated. ''There's not really too much they can do as far as our gameplan,'' Rose said. ''Everybody knows when you're playing against the league's leading scorer you've got to do what you can to make somebody else beat you, and that's what we did. Now they're going to come back with a counter. But you can't put guys out there in one day and expect them to be Allen Iverson. Guys are just going to have to step up and make plays and when those other guys make plays, that puts us in position to make a counter-move. But until they do something to make us change our gameplan, we won't change.''

NO HINTS: Pacers coach Isiah Thomas would not reveal his starting lineup for Game 2, though Travis Best said he expects to remain at the point. ''We've got to have new wrinkles because they're going to have new wrinkles,'' Rose said. ''That's playoff basketball. When you're facing the same team for a five-game series, you're supposed to know the guy's mother's name, the college he went too, which hand he likes to dribble with and eat with. That's just playoff basketball. The teams that really go in-depth about that are really the teams to be successful.''

Zan Tabak started at center but played just three minutes, having all three of his shots blocked by Mutombo, before heading to the bench for the rest of the game. Thomas gave no indication who would start at center in Game 2.

''Hopefully, he'll bounce back if he gets the opportunity to start,'' Rose said. ''I think he was a little nervous at the beginning of the game. Mutombo blocked a couple of his shots and really took him out of it. But hopefully he can find a way to bounce back.''

COMEBACK TRAIL: By rallying from an 18-point deficit in the third quarter (56-38) to win, the Pacers staged their second-biggest postseason comeback ever. The record was established in Game 1 of the 1998 Eastern Conference semifinals against New York, when the Pacers came back from a 19-point deficit to win 93-83. They went on to win the series 4-1.

TICKETS REMAIN: Nearly 4,000 tickets remained at noon Monday for the Pacers' home playoff opener on Saturday at 11:40 a.m. in Conseco Fieldhouse. If Philadelphia wins to force a Game 4, it would be played on Wednesday at Conseco Fieldhouse, with the time to be determined. Should the 76ers win Game 2 or Game 3, tickets for Game 4 will go on sale the following day.