Philly Goes Silly in Big Way

I don't think we're on Planet Earth any more, Toto.

That wasn't just an emotional wave that came crashing down on the Lakers Sunday, that was a tsunami.

OK, Los Angeles is pretty excited about the NBA Finals too, but here, they've mobilized the entire metropolitan area. When the 76ers won Game 1, kids ran naked through Center City and crowds gathered on street corners in several parts of town, making one wonder what they would do if the 76ers actually won a championship.

Games are like Sixerstock. Fans show up hours before, milling around the First Union Center, buying cheese steaks from tents and kiosks as if it's a fair, gathering at the fence overlooking the players' entrance, screaming and hyperventilating when they catch sight of one like . . . Todd MacCulloch!

Then there was what would normally be called pregame introductions, which are more like a pageant here, celebrating 76er courage and heart, etc., as drummers drum and martial music plays and words like "Struggle . . . Survival . . . Eternity" are lasered onto the floor.

And if the Lakers hear one more thing about it, they may become ill.

"I don't care what your problem is, how big your heart is," said Kobe Bryant after the Lakers held off the fast-closing-as-usual 76ers, 96-91. "We just want to come and beat you, no matter how competitive you are.

"You know, I don't care who it is. I don't give a damn."

To do that, the Lakers had to pass their toughest test this postseason and did, methodically punching the ball into Shaquille O'Neal early, watching Bryant go off and running up an early 13-point lead, seeming to restore order and form to this series where it had been so notably absent.

Of course, the 76ers came back. The 76ers always come back these days.

They slowed the game down in the second half, ran extra defenders at Bryant, gummed up the Laker offense, cut the lead to one and fouled O'Neal out.

But they couldn't seal the deal, failing to get the stops they needed. Bryant made a running eight-footer. The next time down, two 76ers converged on Bryant, too far out and too early. Bryant gave it up and the ball found its way to Robert Horry, who made the three-pointer that effectively settled it.

Of course, 76er Coach Larry Brown was proud. Larry Brown is always proud these days. "My job is to tell them [his players] how proud I am of them," he said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win. And think about who we're playing and who some of the guys on my team who are playing. I think it's remarkable . . .

"If you told me I was going to play Raja Bell and Kevin Ollie and Todd MacCulloch and Jumaine Jones for the world championship, that might have been 2008 and I probably wouldn't have been here."

In the end, however, it may have been remarkable but it was also a blown opportunity for an underdog that can't afford to blow any.

Whenever the 76ers lose, of course, everyone thinks that this time, they've really had it.

Surprise, that not how they see it.

"I don't think the respect's there," said Allen Iverson, not for the first time. "Without me getting all into it, I just don't . . .

"We fight too hard to not get any respect. I just don't think it's there, you know. This thing was planned before it started, in a lot of peoples' eyes. The outcome was already planned . . .

"They [Lakers] respect us. They got to. We ain't got blown out yet. Last series, they won every game by 20 points. We haven't got blown out yet one time. Every fourth quarter, we're in the game."

Iverson was brilliant, as usual, with 35 points and 12 rebounds, which must be an NBA Finals record for smurfs. The crowd wasn't just loud, it was berserk. Fans stood throughout the fourth quarter. Of course, being Philadelphians, they weren't always polite, booing Bryant, who was one of them but left them behind, then chanting rude things as he shot free throws in the third period.

Being Philadelphians, they're also quick learners. When Bryant made both and was fouled again, they didn't chant anything.

No, this doesn't have much to do with brotherly love any more, on either side.

O'Neal accused Dikembe Mutombo of flopping and whining because it's "obvious, he can't stop me."

"I'm not afraid of him," said Mutombo. "He's a good friend of mine. I have a lot of respect for him, as he has a lot of respect for me. We're just in a war right now . . .

"This is a war. This is a long war. Don't be surprised to see Game 7."

If the 76ers don't win Wednesday's Game 4 of this "war," it will be surprising, indeed, to see a Game 7, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The home team will show up Wednesday and the city will cook up another tsunami, so no one's home free yet.

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