Rocky Gets Floored in Game 4

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

They have made it a practice to persevere, to overcome, to rise above all those pesky broken bones, and practice is supposed to make perfect.

But the injuries and the fatigue finally caught up with the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, and it wasn't hard, what with the team limping so badly.

A tortoise with a sciatic condition could have caught up with the 76ers. What we saw Wednesday night was a proud team grinding to a halt, low on fuel, low on fully functioning limbs. If this sounds like an obituary, well, so be it.

It is one thing to outplay a more talented team, as the 76ers have done time and again against the Lakers. It's another to outplay a more talented team while getting fluids through a tube in your arm. This was Game IV, as in intravenous.

It's over.

Oh, the 76ers might regroup one more time in these NBA Finals and surprise the Lakers one more time, just for shock value. One last swing by a staggering, punch-drunk fighter from Philly.

But it is over, just as sure as the sun and the NBA title set in the west. Pat Croce, the president of this gang of somebodies, nobodies and broken bodies, scaled the 400-foot-high Walt Whitman Bridge on Wednesday to hang a banner that read, "Go Sixers, Beat LA."

What is this, the NBA Finals or the X Games? Anyway, although the message was well-meaning, it arrived too late.

The 76ers had their chances in Game 2 and Game 3, but those chances were elusive and predicated on the idea that Philadelphia act and act quickly. The 76ers grabbed and came up with a handful of nothing. They didn't even get that much Wednesday, the day the Lakers took a 3-1 series lead with a 100-86 victory and snatched hope away.

Here's all you need to know about the 76ers: George Lynch tried to play in Game 4, despite a broken foot. The Sixers released this statement from team physician Jack McPhilemy: "He is . . . not completely healed. In a meeting with (coach) Larry Brown and (general manager) Billy King, we explained the possible risks and complications that can occur as a result of him playing. George has made the decision to play."

In other words: Don't sue us!

Shaquille O'Neal simply wore down the 76ers on Wednesday, a few days after complaining that the referees unfairly singled him out in Game 3 for physical play while allowing a rugby scrum all around him.

On the Lakers' first possession Wednesday, O'Neal rebounded his missed shot, rebounded his own shot again and was fouled by Dikembe Mutombo. The refs apparently had heard O'Neal's plaintive cries. O'Neal dunked and dunked on Mutombo, over and over again Wednesday, with all the subtlety of an oil derrick. Seismic activity was suspected.

The 76ers had one late run in them to get within seven points in the fourth quarter, but the run eventually slowed to a crawl. Fatigue had settled in their legs, and whatever neurological messages their brains sent to their muscles were disregarded.

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