NBA PLAYOFFS : On Court or Bench, It’s Painful for Moncrief

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Times Staff Writer

There probably is no type of pain-killing shot that could have numbed Sidney Moncrief’s agony as he witnessed Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference final playoff series from the end of the Milwaukee Bucks’ bench Tuesday night.

The pained expression on Moncrief’s face might have been caused by his injured left heel and arch, which have sidelined him for about half of Milwaukee’s playoff games. But more likely, it was the result of the 32-point spanking the Bucks were getting from the Boston Celtics.

“Now that was extremely difficult to watch,” Moncrief said before Wednesday’s practice at the Garden. “The hardest part, by far, is sitting on the bench, hoping you could play and wondering whether you could help. Especially when it was a blowout game like that.”


Another cortisone injection into the bottom of his foot probably will enable Moncrief to try to help the Bucks avoid a similar outcome tonight in Game 2. Many believe that the Bucks’ only shot depends on how much Moncrief’s shot dulls the pain in his foot.

Moncrief’s pattern since he suffered the stress-related injury in the Bucks’ opening playoff series against New Jersey is to play every other game. Taking only a few days off doesn’t give the injury time to heal, but even that brief a rest hasn’t hurt any.

“It’s to the point now where it feels a little better,” Moncrief said. “I think I might be making a little improvement. But each time I play, I’m staring at two or three days of not playing again. What I’m trying to do is prepare for the next game I can play.

“I’m not 100% and I won’t be. We’re not going to try to fool ourselves that I’ll be able to play every game in the series. It’s something we’re going to have to abide by.”

The Bucks, no doubt, figure that a part-time, hobbling Moncrief is better than no Moncrief at all.

Moncrief, a five-time All-Star who averaged 20 points this season and is perhaps the NBA’s best defensive guard, played in three games in the Milwaukee-Philadelphia series. The Bucks won all three games, and lost three of four without him.


In the decisive seventh game of the 76er series, Moncrief’s gutsy, 23-point, 35-minute performance brought comparisons to the Knicks’ Willis Reed limping around the court and helping beat the Lakers in the 1970 final.

Playing in pain is nothing new for Moncrief. He came into the league eight years ago with a degenerative knee injury that flares often but rarely keeps him on the bench. This foot injury, though, is unlike anything he has ever experienced.

Moncrief has compared the pain of running to walking on hot coals, and he says the pain worsens as the game progresses. But when he awakens the next morning, his foot feels fine--until he runs on it for a while.

“Just jumping straight up and down and running straight ahead, it’s OK,” Moncrief said. “But my whole game is pushing off. I rely on quickness and jumping ability. I have trouble doing either of those.”

So, Moncrief has decided that if it’s simply too painful to play close to his normal game, he won’t play.

“As a player and a person, you must realize that, even though it’s frustrating and agonizing, it’s out of your control,” he said. “On this level, it’s just not possible to play. If I can’t play well, contribute, I’m just a wasted person on the court.”


That’s not necessarily the opinion of his teammates and of his coach, Don Nelson.

“We miss Sidney, of course,” Nelson said. “But Sid’s not going to bring any magic with him tomorrow night, not unless our other players start playing better. But without (Moncrief) against Philadelphia, I don’t think we would have won the series.”

Added Craig Hodges, the Bucks’ point guard: “He’s a solidifying presence, our leader. When you have a player of his caliber out there, it makes everyone else play better. You just feel his confidence, his desire. It carries over.”

Buck players have marveled at Moncrief’s ability to play despite the injury.

“I love him,” forward Terry Cummings said. “I love the way he conducts himself as a man.”

Moncrief said he has been assured by doctors that he is not risking permanent or more serious damage by playing on the injured foot.

David Haskell, the team physician, recently said the only thing that will cure the injury is rest.

“He needs to stop playing for a month to six weeks,” Haskell said. “Every time he runs on the foot, it aggravates the underlying condition. Sidney understands the ideology of the problem, which enables him to play in pain. He’s always played with painful kneecaps. He’s just one of those players who’s resigned to play with it.”

If the series continues as it started, the Celtics figure to eliminate the Bucks quickly and relatively painlessly. Maybe then, Moncrief can finally rest.


Playoff Notes Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson said before Wednesday’s practice that he wanted to forget Tuesday night’s 128-96 loss to the Celtics. “We made an intelligent decision,” Nelson said, smiling. “We aren’t going to watch the game film. We did a Richard Nixon move and overexposed the film. Sorry, but it’s gone now.” . . . There’s nothing positive we could have gotten from it anyway.” . . . You wouldn’t think that psychological warfare would be taking place after such a lopsided opener, but Celtic Coach K.C. Jones started it off Wednesday. “You may see two or three fights tomorrow,” Jones said. “They did a lot of physical stuff (in Game 1) and got away with it. We are tired of being pushed around like that. What we’ve got to do is get more physical with them.” Nelson laughed when he heard Jones’ comments and shrugged. . . . The Bucks, for two reasons, probably won’t use their big lineup of 6-11 Alton Lister, 7-3 Randy Breuer and 6-9 Terry Cummings for a second straight game. Mainly, it’s because that lineup did little to stop the Celtics inside. Also, Sidney Moncrief is expected to return, so Paul Pressey will move back to forward along with Terry Cummings. “We started with the big lineup, and that obviously didn’t work,” Nelson said. “That’s the last time I listen to Kevin McHale. He said (in the newspapers) that we should start the big lineup, so we did.”