"There are certain advantages to being so small," said Milwaukee Bucks guard Charlie Criss. "The crowd is always pulling for you and the other team doesn't always take you seriously."
The Bucks are still alive in their Eastern Conference championship playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers due in large part to Criss.
With his team trailing, 3-0, in the best-of-seven series and all of his other options tapped out, Coach Don Nelson turned--and looked down--to Criss.
"It's hard sometimes to bring yourself to bank on a player that small, but what else was I going to do?" said Nelson. "He deserved a chance."
Criss sat on the bench through most of the first three games of the series. The few times he was called on, he did well, but he never played more than the 12 minutes he played in Game 2 when he scored 10 points.
Nelson has many players who can play three or four positions. In this series he has often used a lineup consisting of Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters, Sidney Moncrief and Marques Johnson with those four interchanging positions.
The problem is that the Bucks don't have a true point guard, not since they traded Quinn Buckner to the Boston Celtics for Dave Cowens. And not since Phil Ford, acquired from the New Jersey Nets early in the season, proved to be a bust.
Until this series, it never hurt them. But Philadelphia's Maurice Cheeks has been too quick for any of the Milwaukee defenders--except Criss. Cheeks had 26 points in the first game, 15 in the second, and 16 with nine assists, including seven straight points late in the third game.
Sunday, in Game 4, however, Nelson tried Criss and Cheeks was stymied, making only four of 14 shots. With Criss skittering around, the 76ers' offense was disrupted and the Bucks came away with a 100-94 victory.
The series will be resumed Wenesday at the Spectrum at 8 p.m. (USA Cable).
Nelson said he is undecided if he will start Criss in place of Winters, but he is thinking about it. Criss played 34 minutes Sunday, the most he has played in any game this season, and made nine of 10 free throws, four in a row in the final 11 seconds, and had 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
"Sure he made a difference," said Cheeks. "I've had a definite quickness advantage over their other guards and they are so concerned about protecting the ball from me that it has thrown them out of their normal game. Charlie has the quickness, so he can protect the ball and just play his game without worrying about anything."
Said Criss: "My role is to take the open shot if it's there, penetrate and try to create things, and on defense, make Cheeks work for everything he gets. They don't run as smoothly when he is out of the game or not effective, so if I can neutralize him . . . "
Criss, from New Mexico State, wasn't drafted, but at 28, became the NBA's oldest rookie when the Atlanta Hawks signed him in 1977 after an illustrious career in the Continental League. He was that league's' leading scorer three years in a row and scored 72 points in one game.
He became a free agent at the end of last season and was signed by the Bucks after the Buckner trade. He played in 66 games, all as a reserve, and averaged 6.2 points and led the team in free throw percentage (90 percent).
"Charlie doesn't hurt us when he's out there," said Johnson. "He's an aggressive little fire plug. We have to give him some help down low sometimes, but other than that he can handle himself just fine."