In End, McKie Comes Up Short

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Throughout the season, the Philadelphia 76ers have been able to rely on versatile swingman Aaron McKie.

No matter how many times he's been hurt, McKie always got the job done. When the 76ers needed someone to defend, he was their man. When they needed someone to run their offense and pass the ball, he was always ready. And, when they needed a player to make clutch shots, he was there to do that too.

But it was a different story for McKie on Sunday night against the Lakers, when he played like a player who had one injury too many. McKie, on the court for 42 minutes, made only two of eight shots and scored only eight points, his second-lowest point total of the playoffs.

Before Sunday, he had been averaging 16 points and shooting 43% in the playoffs.

"He just has no legs," 76er Coach Larry Brown said of McKie, who has averaged more than 42 minutes a game in the playoffs despite playing with sore knees and a right ankle chip fracture he suffered in Game 1 against the Lakers.

It wasn't only McKie's ankle and legs that bothered him Sunday. He played most of the game with a right thumb injury he suffered early in the second quarter.

"I got popped in the thumb early in the game, but I was fine," he said. "I've always said, 'If I'm out on the floor, I'm out there to compete' "

But his shot sure looked a little off when, after making 43.3% of his three-point shots in the playoffs, he missed a key shot from behind the arc when the 76ers trailed, 84-82, late in the fourth quarter.

"That was a key point," Brown said. "They made the plays and we could never get the lead. . . . Aaron had a wide-open three and we missed it."

With McKie not able to contribute much scoring, he concentrated on trying to set up his teammates and play solid defense on Kobe Bryant. He did an honorable job with eight assists and six rebounds but didn't supply the spark the 76ers are used to.

"He may have been tired, but all I know is that he's out there trying the best that he can," 76er guard Eric Snow said. "If he was tired, he didn't say anything to me. But when things don't go your way, you can't look for excuses. It would be wrong for us to look for excuses on why we lost."

What frustrated the 76ers most was their inability to take control of the game after Laker starters Shaquille O'Neal and Derek Fisher fouled out. Plenty of times they came close to taking the lead in the second half, but they couldn't make the right plays at the right time.

If it wasn't leaving Robert Horry open for a three-point basket, it was McKie missing when it was his chance. If it wasn't falling short of stopping Bryant on a floater through traffic, it was Allen Iverson missing a shot after his own drive to the basket.

"They made plays and had guys step in when they needed them," McKie said. "When guys go out or foul out, especially the main guys, you can't relax and think the game is over and think you've automatically got the game. Those guys had a lead and they had a lead to protect.

"It was a battle all game long. We had a few opportunities, but like I said, those guys made the plays when they had to."

Brown, who seems to be enjoying his experience coaching in his first NBA Finals, said his team definitely left everything it had on the court. He also gave the Lakers a lot of credit.

"This was a terrific playoff game," Brown said. "They went to the bench and, you know, put in the right people, and they came through. [Ron] Harper came through in Game 2 and Horry did [in Game 3]. That's what wins championships."

And unless the 76ers get players such as McKie to do the same again, they will watch the Lakers win their second title in a row.

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