PHILADELPHIA — Say what you will about Andrew Toney, that the Boston Strangler has become the Boston Struggler, that Albert DeSalvo, or even Tony Curtis, could play better than the Philadelphia guard has played against the Celtics.
Just don't say what 76er Coach Billy Cunningham did this week, that he is considering benching Toney for today's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference championship series at the Spectrum.
Cunningham's threat, challenge, or whatever it was, has diverted the 76ers' attention inward, back to their own troubles and away from the Celtics, who were troublesome enough in winning the first two games of the series in Boston.
"A lineup change?" said 76er captain Julius Erving when he heard about Cunningham's possible adjustment.
"I don't know. Give us a chance to play at home the way we are. A lineup change could be misleading. If we start out well, it could be interpreted as because Andrew's not in there, and that may not be true."
Even the man Cunningham said might replace Toney, guard Clint Richardson, told reporters he thought it was a bad idea.
"I don't like it," he said. "Right now, we have problems, and we don't need any more problems. We just have to stay together.
"It shows them (the Celtics) that we're worrying about ourselves too much instead of just going out and playing. Our priorities are wrong. We're worrying about things too much."
The only player who didn't seem concerned was Toney.
"If coming off the bench will help us win, sure, I'll do that," he said.
Toney certainly hasn't played like Andrew Toney in this series, particularly in Game 2 Tuesday night, when he made only 3 of 17 shots and accepted blame for the 106-98 loss.
This was the same man who once scored 25 points against the Celtics--in one quarter. On the day the series opened, The Boston Globe said of Toney: "Garden regulars believe he was put on this earth to torment the Celtics."
You can imagine what the Boston papers were saying after the game.
The headline in the Herald read: "The Boston Strangler Chokes."
The Celtics traded with Milwaukee in 1982 for Quinn Buckner because they needed someone who could guard Toney. When the Celtics became convinced that Buckner wasn't that someone, they traded with Phoenix in 1983 for Dennis Johnson.
Toney treated Johnson as if he were any other Celtic last season, but Johnson got even this season. In six regular-season games against the Celtics, Toney shot 40% and averaged 13.8 points.
Johnson accepts credit for that, but not for the way Toney has been shut down in the playoffs.
"I haven't shut Andrew down," he said. "Guarding him is no fun, but you can always hope he's going to have a bad shooting night.
"I've said many times that when he's on, he can do anything he wants to do to anyone guarding him, because when he gets hot he gets a little hotter than most.
"Besides, in the first game, he shot 7 for 11. By my calculations, that means he only missed four shots. No, you just try to make him work that much harder and hope he'll get a little tired, and you cherish the occasions when he's not hitting."
In an attempt to correct that, Toney shot baskets Wednesday, while the rest of his teammates took a day off, and then stayed after practice Thursday to shoot.
"I had a bad game," he said. "But it's not like I had two bad games in a row. I don't feel like I'm in a slump. If I have a second bad game, you could consider it that."
If Toney has another bad game today, the 76ers figure they might as well call it a season.
"When Andrew's in a shooting slump, we're like a ship without a rudder," Richardson said.
For that reason, the 76ers believe that Cunningham should be doing everything he can to encourage Toney, instead of talking about benching him.
But then there's been criticism of Cunningham's handling of Toney all season long. It began after Cunningham began using Toney as the point guard when Maurice Cheeks is out of the game.
"Billy says he wants Andrew to run the team instead of shooting, but when Andrew doesn't shoot, Billy tells him, 'Shoot, shoot, shoot,' " Erving said. "He's confused about his role."
That seemed to be the case in Game 1 last Sunday, when Toney took only two shots in the first half, explaining later that he wanted to get the other players involved in the offense.
Cunningham told Toney at halftime not to forget about his own offense. He hasn't stopped shooting since, not even when he was bending the rim Tuesday night.
Cunningham's defenders counter that if Toney is so poorly coached, then explain the 43 points he scored in the last two games of the series against Milwaukee.
"Everybody goes through problems," Richardson said of Toney. "He's a human being like everyone else. We don't know what's bothering him. It could be a lot of things involved."
Richardson had other complaints with Cunningham, not the least of which was that the coach didn't discuss his thoughts about today's starting lineup with him or Toney before telling reporters.