The beer can, which narrowly missed some courtside fans, caught Sixers forward George Lynch on the foot. Attendants needed several minutes to clean up the mess, while Sixers coach Larry Brown took the public address microphone and said, "Please let the players finish the game."
Croce, still furious yesterday, said police and First Union security officials were gathering information on the possible culprits. He said the Sixers had received several telephone calls from irate fans "who said they knew who those individuals are, and that's great."
He said "security and ushers will be at full alert" for tomorrow afternoon's Game 4 of the NBA best-of-seven, second-round playoff series.
"We don't want this happening again," he said.
At the same time, he apologized to the Sixers players and the Pacers, who "were doing what they do best, playing a game on the court for our entertainment."
"To have something [happen] to interrupt their game is a disrespect to the game of basketball," Croce said. "I don't know why it happened, what instigated it. Someone told me it was because [Pacers star Reggie Miller] threw the 'choke' sign at someone. That's no reason. Throw the 'choke' sign back. Don't throw things.
"I think it was just some ignorant, idiotic individuals that thought they were funny. This should not put a taint on our Philly fans, because Philly fans are great. They're emotional, they're passionate. Just because a couple of individuals, who I would not consider fans, did something that was so stupid - that's not the way Philadelphia should be represented.
"These are insecure individuals; they don't get attention at home, they don't get attention at school, at work, so they do something that's so stupid and they think they're funny. I'd love to see them right here, right now."
Brown said he knew how the scene would be played across the country - one more incident of pure negativity.
"Unfortunately, everybody gets to see that and looks at Philly again and says the fans are crazy, don't show a lot of sportsmanship or respect," Brown said. "I don't think it's a large group. I love our fans. I love their passion, their support's been phenomenal. I could understand people being pretty upset [Wednesday] night; they came there hoping to help us win, and we didn't get it done. I could understand their being upset, but to do the things they did, it's not respecting the game or respecting the players.
"Again, I think it's a very small group of people that maybe don't understand. There are a lot of young kids that are really impressionable and see things like that happen. I hope the dads sitting next to them are telling them that's not the way it happens."
Matt Geiger, the Sixers' backup center, took his feelings a step further. "When a beer can [gets thrown], that's a serious act of violence," Geiger said. "That could have hurt not only a player, but a ref, another fan, someone in the front row, anybody. That's a dangerous thing to do.
"I wish that person gets justice. What goes around comes around. Maybe someday something will happen to him, and he'll be sorry he ever did stuff like that. I wouldn't want my kid to see that or have to deal with that. That doesn't set a good example, that it could be that frustrating that you commit an act of violence. That's a terrible thing."
Still, Croce made it clear that he did not want a handful of acts of misbehavior to affect the frenzied atmosphere tomorrow.
"With all that said and done," he said, "we need our fans as crazy as ever on Saturday."
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