By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published May 26, 2001 at 9:01 PM

Sam Cassell could show a couple supposed tough guys from Philly a few things about guts.

While Allen Iverson stayed in his hotel room resting his sore posterior, and Matt Geiger sat out with sore quadriceps, Cassell played 36 minutes wearing a flak jacket to protect badly bruised ribs.

All Sam I Am did was score a game-high 24 points, and lead the Bucks to a 80-74 win over the Philadelphia 76ers that put Milwaukee up, 2-1, in the Eastern Conference Finals.

While the East Coast biased media cried for the Sixers, who had to play without Iverson, the Bucks went out and out-played Philly at its own game. "My team wins in a lot of ways," coach George Karl said. "Tonight, we won by playing great defense."

The Sixers listed five players on their injured list. The Bucks listed nobody, but all you have to do is go in their locker room before the game to see Tim Thomas and Scott Williams being worked on for chronic back problems and Cassell getting into his flak jacket to know that they are playing hurt.

"We don't talk about our injuries," Karl said. "The drama is that Iverson isn't playing. We can't buy into that. We have to play our game whether he's in there or not."

In the closing minutes Saturday, Cassell was knocked hard to the court by the Sixers' Eric Snow. He tried to continue to play, but had to leave the game to get oxygen. Sam I Am later returned to finish off the Sixers at the free throw line.

"I couldn't breathe, which scared me," Cassell said of the blow from Snow. "I've never had a rib injury like this before. It makes it hard to get your breath at times.

"You have to brace yourself when you're going to get hit. But, these are the playoffs. I got some oxygen and went back out there to finish the game."

The sellout crowd of 18,717 noticed the difference between the Sixers and the Bucks. One sign in the crowd read, "We Play Hurt." Another read: "The Answer; The Excuse."

Iverson apparently is legitimately hurting, but it's hard to believe any more than Cassell. Geiger has been in and out of the lineup with what is a questionable injury. At 7 foot, with facial hair and shaved head, Geiger has always looked tough, but looks aren't everything.

Philly's other listed injuries included George Lynch, who is legitimately out with a fractured left foot, Snow, who played with ankle tendinitis, and Dikembe Mutombo, who had a sore finger!!

Apparently, Rocky was the last tough guy from Philly. Sam I Am and the Bucks can certainly show the Sixers something about guts.

Player of the Game

Who else after that introductory section of this column? Sam Cassell, who scored a game-high 24 points despite playing hurt. Ervin Johnson also had another good game with 13 rebounds, eight points and some good defense on Mutombo.

Play of the Game

With 38 seconds left, Cassell had to leave the game after he was knocked to the floor by Snow. After some oxygen and a timeout, Cassell re-entered the game fewer than four seconds later and finished off the Sixers with three free throws.

Goat of the Game

Matt Geiger of the Sixers who should have been able to suck it up and give his team a few minutes. Iverson apparently is hurting to the point where he would have hurt his team, especially on defense, but Geiger should have showed some guts.

Quotes of the Game

Bucks' coach George Karl: "I don't know if they're resting him (Iverson). I don't know how bad he is really hurt. Maybe they're putting all their eggs in Game 4. I can't worry about it. I have to prepare my team to play our basketball."

Sixers' coach Larry Brown: "I don't know if we'll have Allen (for Game 4). I don't know how well he will be. I can tell you I've never been prouder of my team than I was tonight."

Sam Cassell: "Iverson sparks their offense, but defensively this is the hardest I've seen these guys play. Offensively, they didn't have the weapons, but they came at us hard. We came right back at them. A win is a win this time of the year."

Gregg Hoffmann is writing special Bucks' playoff columns for all home games. He also publishes The Brew Crew Review on OMC.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.