PHILADELPHIA -- Allen Iverson passed his biggest test, not by scoring 50 points again but by passing the ball and trusting his teammates.
And in a game that came down to the last shot, Vince Carter -- ''The Graduate'' -- didn't have the final answer.
Iverson didn't have to win Game 7 all by himself, and he was smart enough to know it. Handing off a career-high 16 assists on a night when his shooting touch was off, Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers into the Eastern Conference finals Sunday as they edged the Toronto Raptors 88-87.
Carter, who graduated from North Carolina earlier Sunday and then flew on a private plane to Philadelphia, attempted the final shot of the game -- a 23-footer just before the buzzer that was a little too long.
Iverson ran to hug his mother and daughter, confetti fell from the ceiling of the First Union Center and the rest of the Sixers celebrated the franchise's first trip to the Eastern Conference finals since 1985.
The 76ers will begin their series against Milwaukee at home on Tuesday night.
''I wanted to do something special, but the way you draw it up -- if you're a scorer -- is having a great scoring night. In a million years I'd never believe I'd come out and have a career high in assists,'' Iverson said.
''I feel so good about this win because I really, really know inside and believe that I have a team, for the first time in my life, that I feel we can win a championship with.''
None of those teammates came up bigger than Aaron McKie, whose 22 points were one more than Iverson totaled on 8-for-27 shooting.
McKie shot 8-for-16 and scored Philadelphia's final four points, Jumaine Jones shot 6-for-9 and added 16, Eric Snow contributed 13 points and five assists and Dikembe Mutombo grabbed 17 rebounds and scored 10 points.
Iverson, the league MVP nicknamed ''The Answer,'' didn't score a point over the final 6 1/2 minutes but had assists on two of the Sixers' final three baskets.
In a series marked by spectacular 50-point scoring performances by Iverson (twice) and Carter (once), the deciding game was much more balanced for both teams.
Iverson's passing made all the difference as he continually found the open man for the types of shots that allowed the Sixers to hold on to the lead for almost the entire game.
''I've got four other guys on the court with me that I hurt with, laugh with, and that's what it's all about. You can't get into a Game 7, with the guys who were with you all season, and forget about them because you think it's all about you,'' Iverson said.
Carter finished with 20 points, scoring just four in the final quarter. Antonio Davis led Toronto with 23.
Dell Curry pulled up in transition and hit a 3-pointer to pull the Raptors to 88-87 with 54 seconds left. Iverson missed a jumper at the other end, but Tyrone Hill grabbed the offensive rebound and the Sixers ran the clock down to 10 seconds before Iverson passed to Snow for a jumper that missed.
The Raptors rebounded, but didn't call timeout until 3.6 seconds remained. The Sixers had a foul to give and used it -- running the clock down to 2.0 seconds -- before Carter got free for the inbounds pass and faked Hill off his feet.
''All I can think about is that shot. It's something you live for,'' Carter said. ''Maybe next year.''
It was a disappointing loss for the Raptors, who battled from behind all evening only to finish short in the first Game 7 -- and the first conference semifinal appearance -- in franchise history.
Bucks 104, Hornets 95
MILWAUKEE -- Ervin Johnson has gone from MIA to MVP in George Karl's eyes.
The coach and center didn't get along when they were in Seattle, where Karl questioned Johnson's guts and gumption, suggesting the raw big man might not be cut out for the rigors of the NBA.
In Milwaukee, they've found bliss together, and never more so than on Sunday, when the Bucks advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1986 and Karl called Johnson his most valuable player.
Glenn Robinson scored 29 points and Ray Allen had 28, matching their career playoff highs, and Sam Cassell added 17 as the Bucks beat the Charlotte Hornets 104-95 in Game 7.
''Glenn and Ray were very ...'' Karl said, pausing to give credit where he thought it was really due. ''Ervin Johnson probably is in my mind the MVP of the series.''
''He was so good at the dirty work and in the interior, in the paint,'' Karl said. ''He and Scotty (Williams) and Jason Caffey, all my big guys did a great job.
"Even though the 'Big Three' are expecting most of the reward, I really think Ervin was fantastic.''
Johnson had 11 rebounds and four blocks as Milwaukee tied a franchise playoff record with 13 blocked shots, including at least one by all five starters.
After moving into the starting lineup in Game 5, Johnson pulled down 41 rebounds and blocked 12 shots. He also helped frustrate Elden Campbell and Jamal Mashburn.
''I know Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen and Sam Cassell are great shooters, but Scott Williams and Ervin Johnson were probably MVPs,'' Mashburn concurred. ''They sacrificed so much to get those guys open. They're like two P.J. Browns out there. I got sick and tired of seeing Ervin Johnson.''
So did Karl when he was in Seattle.
''I just thank God that he united me and George back together,'' Johnson said. ''A lot of people were saying a lot of negative things about that when we got back together, how our relationship was going to be. I'm just so glad that we worked things out.
''We got married again, and hopefully it's for life.''
The rest of the Bucks and their fans sure hope so.
While Johnson was patrolling the paint the way Karl had pleaded for him to do in their younger days, Robinson and Allen took turns stifling Mashburn, who missed 18-of-25 shots and finished with 21 points.
Cassell tied a playoff career high with 13 assists as the Bucks overcame Baron Davis' career-high 29 points.
The Bucks hit 33 of 35 free throws -- including all 20 in the fourth quarter -- compared to the Hornets' 17-of-28.
The Hornets led 47-44 at halftime and were ahead 58-51 with 8:11 left after Davis stripped Johnson for his 18th steal of the series and sprinted downcourt for a layup.
But the Hornets didn't score again for 5:15, until Davis sank his second of two foul shots with 2:56 left in the quarter. By then, the Bucks had stormed ahead 61-58 with a 10-0 run capped by Williams' four free throws.
Davis missed two fouls shots later in the quarter, as did Jamaal Magloire, and when Lindsey Hunter sank a wide-open 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in the period, the Bucks had their biggest lead, 70-61.
Davis responded with a 3-pointer with six seconds left, but Robinson sank a running 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 73-64 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
''I looked at Glenn Robinson after he hit that big 3 at the end of the third quarter,'' Williams said. ''And I was really happy for him to be able to experience this, the guy who's been here the longest, through a lot of the misery that the organization went through. I just sat back and smiled and said that's why I play the game, to see the look on my teammates' face when they realize they're alive. There's just no better feeling.''
After Robinson opened the fourth quarter with a jumper for a 75-64 lead, the Hornets cut the deficit to six on several occasions, including 96-90 on a Davis 3-pointer with 1:08 left.
Johnson said another defensive effort like this one and he and Karl will head back to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Chicago Bulls in 1996.
''It feels good, the second time around with George,'' Johnson said. ''George has a lot of experience in this situation. I'm just so glad that I got all that experience back then.''
And for a second chance to work things out.
Notes: After sinking seven of their first 11 shots, the Hornets missed 20 of their next 31 but still held a 47-44 lead at halftime. ... This was the Bucks' first Game 7 in 14 years, the Hornets' first ever. ... The Bucks were swept by Boston in their last trip to the conference finals. ... This was the first deciding playoff game held in Milwaukee since May 3, 1987, when the Bucks beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5 of a best-of-five series to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. That was Julius Erving's last game. ... The Bucks evened their franchise playoff record at 94-94. ... Karl improved to 21-11 when his team was facing elimination, including 15-4 at home.
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.