- Jerry Bembry
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PHILADELPHIA -- Let's go back three months, when George Lynch had something to say and didn't know how to say it. Unhappy with his lack of minutes in his first full season with the New Orleans Hornets, a frustrated Lynch took his concerns public, never seeking an audience with coach Paul Silas.
"Run a few plays for me," Lynch told Silas.
"I'm probably the only coach in history that lets him shoot the three," Silas said.
That coach and player learned how to communicate led to perhaps the best clutch performance in Lynch's career. The 10-year veteran hit two huge 3-pointers over a span of 96 seconds in the fourth quarter, leading the Hornets to a 93-91 win in Game 5 to stay alive in their best-of-seven playoff series.
The Hornets still trail, 3-2, but when they go home for Game 6 on Friday, they will do so with a great deal of confidence. Mashburn returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with a fracture in the middle finger of his shooting hand and scored a team-high 21 points. Both Mashburn and Davis are playing with pain, but the fact that they will both be on the floor at New Orleans Arena on Friday gives hope to a team that appeared ready to be swept after losing the series' first two games.
"It was a huge lift for this team because of all the adversity we've gone through," Silas said. "Hopefully, we can remain healthy and go home and get that one. Then, it's a whole different ball game."
All thanks to Lynch, who had this impressive line for the fourth quarter: 12 points, 5-of-6 shooting from the field, 2-of-3 from 3-point range, two steals and five rebounds. Both of his offensive rebounds resulted in scores, including a tip-in of a Mashburn miss with 1:02 left that gave the Hornets the lead for good at 89-87.
Up until that fourth quarter, Lynch had given the Sixers little reason to fear his offense. He hadn't scored in double figures in the series going into last night, averaging 6.3 points on 36.7 percent shooting. Lynch had taken 13 3-pointers in the series going into Wednesday, hitting just three (23.1 percent). "The first four games I was pressing," said Lynch, who was anxious to face the team where he played three seasons.
So why, with the season on the line, did Silas even listen to Lynch's suggestion to let him launch from long range? Even though Lynch claims he hits half of his 3-point shots in practice, and even though he said he spent much of last summer trying to improve his 3-point range, it was still kind of odd to see the 6-foot-8 forward doing his best Robert Horry impersonation as he spotted up beyond the arc as the Hornets ran their offense.
Lynch was the only Hornet to play the entire fourth quarter, as part of a brilliant move by Silas to finish the game with a bigger lineup to shake New Orleans out of a rut that had it trailing by 10 in the third quarter. David Wesley, continuing his inconsistent play this series with 10 points and one assist in 24 minutes, sat on the bench at the end of the game as Silas played Davis, Mashburn, Lynch, Jamaal Magloire and P.J. Brown.
"We started to rebound, and we started to defend," Silas said. "Everything started to click after we made the change."
The move resulted in Lynch being defended by Eric Snow, one of the Sixers' best help defenders. That tendency to help by Snow wound up dooming the Sixers: It was Snow's shadowing in the middle of the floor that allowed Lynch the room on both of his 3-pointers. On the offensive rebounds, Lynch was able to use his size advantage.
"I took (Snow) under the basket and when he turned his head I was able to take advantage of it," Lynch said.
So Lynch emerged as the unlikely hero, something he probably could not have imagined back in November and December when Silas was giving him three minutes here or five minutes there. After playing four minutes in a Jan. 29 win over Toronto, Lynch told reporters he wanted more playing time -- a comment that irked Silas. "I didn't like that -- we never had a discussion," Silas said. "Guys know that my door is always open."
The two spoke, and Lynch's minutes increased. Lynch became a starter when Davis got hurt, and the Hornets at one point won eight straight games. Even though Lynch failed to start for the first time in three games, the way he finished is the reason why New Orleans will play again on Friday.
"We knew it was a do-or-die situation and their bench had been outplaying ours," Lynch said. "It was time for us to step up. I really want to win this series."
Lynch, at the very least, gave his team a chance to do just that.
Jerry Bembry is general editor (NBA) for ESPN The Magazine. You can reach him via e-mail at Jerry.Bembry@ESPN3.com.
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