PHILADELPHIA -- To chants of ''Beat L.A.,'' Allen Iverson cupped his hand to his ear and danced around the court, skipping like a little kid before jumping into the arms of the coach he finally learned to respect.
There were still 42 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, but it was all over by then. The Philadelphia 76ers knew they were going to the NBA Finals and the celebrating had already began.
Iverson showed why he is the MVP and Dikembe Mutombo showed why the 76ers traded for him, combining to lead Philadelphia past the Milwaukee Bucks 108-91 Sunday night as the 76ers made it to the NBA Finals for the first time in 18 years.
''We just kept fighting, and we had a great leader to listen to,'' Iverson said. ''He led us all the way.''
Iverson had his best all-around game of the series with 44 points, seven assists and six rebounds. He shot 17-for-33, making more than half his shots for the first time since Game 6 of the second round.
Mutombo, acquired in a risky trade with Atlanta in February that the 76ers hoped would propel them to the finals, was dominant, too, with 23 points, 19 rebounds and seven blocks.
''It doesn't get much better than this when you consider what this team has been through, and to have Allen play like he did and Dikembe come over here. ... I'm just so proud,'' Brown said. ''This team has great heart and character, just like this city.''
The 76ers took control of the game late in the third quarter after Milwaukee's best player, Ray Allen, went down with a knee injury. The Bucks trailed by six when Allen left and by 12 when he returned, and they never made a run in the fourth quarter.
The final minutes turned into a lovefest between the Sixers and their ecstatic fans who had been waiting since 1983 for another trip to the finals.
The ''Beat L.A.'' chant started with just under three minutes left, and the fans were on their feet screaming the rest of the way.
''I can't even put it into words. Best feeling I ever had,'' 76ers guard Aaron McKie said. ''I always dreamed about playing the Lakers in the finals.''
The finals will begin Wednesday night at Los Angeles, where the Lakers will have been waiting 10 days since their last game. The Lakers, who have yet to lose this postseason, were established as 11 1/2-point favorites in the opener.
Iverson and Mutombo were the main reasons why Philadelphia dominated the final game, but they weren't the only ones.
McKie had 10 points and a career-high 13 assists, and little-known Raja Bell -- a rookie who signed a 10-day contract with the 76ers on April 6 -- scored 10 points in the second quarter when Philadelphia took the lead for good, going on a 21-6 run after he entered the game.
''The whole game changed when Raja Bell came in,'' Iverson said. ''I asked Coach where did he get him from, and Coach just pounded on his heart.''
The 76ers did all the little things -- deflecting balls, creating turnovers, grabbing offensive rebounds -- that Milwaukee didn't while playing with a confidence and composure that the Bucks will have all summer to envy.
Philadelphia created 15 turnovers, grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, scored 19 second-chance points and had 11 steals.
Milwaukee was led by Allen's 26 points, Glenn Robinson's 24 and Sam Cassell's 20.
''They were the No. 1 seed and we were No. 2. No. 1 got the victory, but we're not holding our heads down,'' Cassell said.
Iverson scored Philadelphia's first six points of the third quarter and the Sixers were ahead 68-61 when Allen was called for an offensive foul as he tried to drive around Eric Snow. The two banged knees on the play, and Allen stayed down for two minutes before walking off gingerly. As the Bucks came out of a timeout, Allen was helped to the locker room.
Allen returned to the bench late in the third quarter -- just in time to see Iverson step back and nail a 3-pointer at the buzzer for an 82-71 lead.
Allen then reported to the scorer's table 40 seconds into the fourth quarter, giving him a perfect view from behind Iverson as the MVP launched another 3-pointer from nearly the identical spot that swished through for an 85-71 lead.
That was pretty much the end of things.
''We've talked all series about his ability to explode,'' Bucks coach George Karl said. ''He proved himself to be a great player tonight. He moved himself to a standard that very few players get to.''
The 76ers did get a scare when Iverson fell hard to the floor and jammed his left wrist while leading by 15 with about three minutes left. Iverson shook off the injury, stayed in the game and took part in the festivities afterward, running to hug his family as Tyrone Hill and Sixers president Pat Croce danced atop the scorer's table.
Karl exchanged a warm hug with Brown after the final buzzer, knowing that Brown will be going to the NBA Finals for the first time in his illustrious coaching career.
The 76ers nearly traded Iverson last summer, but a proposed deal fell through and Iverson promised to rededicate himself to being the type of player Brown wanted.
Brown made Iverson a team captain, and Iverson -- whose tardiness and insubordination were a huge issue last season -- began to behave like an adult.
''I had a chance to change things around, be the first to practice, be the last to leave -- sometimes,'' Iverson said. ''Those are the types of things I had never done before.''
Iverson sat at his locker afterward and said his wrist felt fine as his mother, Ann, sat alongside wearing four diamond-encrusted bracelets, two dazzling pendants, a Sixers jersey and an Iverson MVP cap.
She had shared many great moments with her son, but none as rewarding as this.
''You all know how this marriage has been,'' Brown said. ''I couldn't have scripted this any better. Not just because of his basketball, but he's come so far as a human being and a teammate. I can't imagine a player having any more influence on a team or a city.''
Milwaukee went after Iverson early, giving the ball to whomever the little guy was guarding. Cassell scored twice on post-ups, Allen hit a 3-pointer and Robinson scored on a jumper to give the Bucks a 20-19 lead.
Allen hit a 3-pointer early in the third to complete an 8-0 run and give the Bucks a 34-25 lead, which was when Brown inserted Bell into the game.
The Bucks tried to go right at the rookie, but it took them away from what had been working. Bell had a wide-open dunk off a steal and a fast-break layup to complete a 12-0 run, and Iverson had consecutive 3-pointers for a 43-36 lead.
Bell hit a 3 to extend the run to 23-4 and give Philadelphia a 48-38 lead, but Iverson picked up his third foul and went to the bench with 3:22 remaining in the half.
Milwaukee drew within six at halftime but never got closer than that in the second half.
Notes: Brown picked up a technical foul midway through the third quarter for running onto the court to protest an out-of-bounds call. ... Cassell was irate after he was given a technical foul several seconds after he thought he got away with tripping Iverson. ... Sixers Hall of Famer Moses Malone received a standing ovation.
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