An unfortunate coincidence.
That's the vibe that seemed to fill the Wachovia Center tonight after 76ers forward Elton Brand, clutching his dislocated right shoulder, walked off the court midway through the third quarter of a 93-88 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Sixers officials said Brand was undergoing an MRI exam after the game. No timetable on his return was immediately available.
All week, the talk swirling around the Sixers was about whether Brand's commanding inside presence, bought at the cost of $80 million this off-season, had caused a loss of identity for the young, formerly running-and-gunning team.
When general manager Ed Stefanski fired Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks on Saturday, many wondered if the problem was less Cheeks and more the Sixers' roster, which did not seem to match its fastbreaking intentions.
Cheeks' replacement, Tony DiLeo, is now 2-0 as interim coach. The Sixers are 11-14.
"I'm really proud of the team," DiLeo said. "It was a gutty win and things didn't go smoothly, especially in the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, we were much more active and rotations on defense were much better."
"They're the most athletic team in the league," said Bucks guard Charlie Bell. "When they get in the open court, they're hard to guard."
Brand had scored four points and grabbed six rebounds when he left the game.
The injury occurred when Bucks forward Luc Mbah a Moute slammed into Brand under Milwaukee's hoop. Both fell to the court; Mbah a Moute then rolled over Brand, who was whistled for his second foul. At the time of Brand's injury, the Sixers trailed by seven.
"The way he popped up, I thought he was fine," said guard Lou Williams, who tied a career high with 25 points. But when Brand walked past the Sixers' bench, his teammates saw the divot in his right shoulder.
Small forward Thaddeus Young shook his head when asked about this type of injury, saying he suffered a dislocated shoulder earlier in his career.
"That kept me out about a month," Young said.
"When a guy goes out, the other guys understand they are going to have to step up and pick up the slack," said Andre Iguodala, who struggled through a 2-for-14 shooting night, scoring four points.
Added Iguodala: "The crowd was getting on me and that was funny."
Brand missed two games earlier this month with a strained right hamstring. That was when the initial question surfaced about his impact. Had Brand's inside game forced the Sixers out of last season's run-and-gun style, which led to a playoff appearance?
The question was thrust to the forefront Dec. 5 when the Sixers posted their biggest win of the season - against the host Detroit Pistons - while Brand was sidelined.
When Brand left the court tonight, DiLeo was forced to revert to a lineup similar to last season's: Iguodala, Williams, Andre Miller and Reggie Evans, plus rookie Marreese Speights.
Young checked in for Evans in the fourth quarter and finished with 10 points.
The Sixers exploded. Evans hunted down rebounds like they were coveted jewels, Speights dunked a handful of his teammates' misses, Williams sliced to the rim, and Miller provided his steady, no-frills play.
"The last five or six minutes of the game, they got every ball, they were all over the glass," said Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles. "They go small well, they have good small players."
One of those small players, Williams, made 9 of 17 shots.
"Makes it a lot sweeter for guys that step in when your main guys aren't getting it done," Williams said.
Speights tied a career high with 12 points. Evans had a game-high nine rebounds.
The Sixers went from down 10 to a six-point lead, and the sparse Wachovia Center crowd (announced at 11,538) sprang to life as if becoming reacquainted with its long-lost team.