LOS ANGELES -- For those who thought the Philadelphia 76ers didn't have a chance, Allen Iverson had an answer that will change a lot of minds.
Thanks to the MVP's performance in overtime and his team's no-quit attitude, there won't be a sweep in the NBA Finals unless it's the 76ers -- not the Los Angeles Lakers -- who can pull one off.
In a thrilling opener to the championship round, Iverson had a mesmerizing first half, a poor second half and a clutch overtime in scoring 48 points to lead Philadelphia to a 107-101 victory Wednesday night.
Iverson scored seven straight points in overtime after the clock ticked inside two minutes to give Philadelphia a lead it never relinquished.
The prohibitive underdog 76ers ended the Lakers' 19-game winning streak and handed them their first loss in 67 days, stunning a Staples Center crowd and a worldwide audience that was all set to anoint the Lakers as the NBA's next dynasty.
''I'm glad nobody bet their life on it because they'd be dead now,'' Iverson said. ''Everyone said we can't do it, and that drives us.''
Shaquille O'Neal hit a jump hook for the first points of the overtime, Kobe Bryant spun around Eric Snow for a layup and O'Neal hit one of two from the line for a five-point lead with three minutes left.
''You get down five in the finals against the Lakers and everybody's got their brooms out. That drives us,'' Iverson said.
Raja Bell flung up an underhanded shot with his left hand that fell through, and Iverson hit two foul shots to get the 76ers within 99-98 with 1:46 left. Tyronn Lue then missed a drive and Iverson beat him downcourt and hit a wide-open 3-pointer.
After a turnover by Rick Fox, Iverson buried a corner jumper over Lue for a 103-99 lead. After the ball fell through, Iverson looked down at his sprawled opponent and took two purposeful high steps over him, as if to say ''Take that!'' as he ran back up the court.
Bryant answered with a jumper, but Snow hit a runner from the lane with 10.5 seconds left for a four-point lead that all but ended the game -- along with all the talk about how the Lakers would become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated through the postseason.
''That's the way we are. We play hard,'' Iverson said. ''We came in here expecting to win. We know we can win. Everybody's been counting us out.''
O'Neal finished with 44 points and 20 rebounds, but Bryant scored just 15 points on 7-for-22 shooting.
''I don't think Kobe Bryant had a Kobe kind of day and he will play better Friday,'' Snow said. ''In OT, we came out slow but gathered the troops, Allen hit a big shot and we got some stops.''
Game 2 is Friday night.
Iverson had his third consecutive 40-point game, and Snow and Dikembe Mutombo added 13 points each.
Mutombo also had 16 rebounds and five blocks.
Fifteen minutes before tipoff, the crowd at Staples Center began chanting, ''SWEEP! SWEEP!''
But when Iverson started hitting from all over, the chorus turned to ''OOH'' and ''AAH.''
Iverson scored 30 points in the first half as the 76ers came back from an early 13-point deficit, and he opened the second half with a jumper that hit nothing but net and brought more howls of astonishment from the celebrity-studded crowd.
Midway through the third quarter, Iverson came up with a steal, raced ahead of O'Neal and braced himself for a 350-pound impact as he went up for a layup. O'Neal, however, barely even swiped at the ball. The layup gave Philadelphia a 68-56 lead, and a three-point play by Snow put the Sixers ahead 73-58 with 5:23 left in the third.
That's when the Lakers started to show some resiliency of their own.
O'Neal scored the Lakers' next 12 points, dominating Matt Geiger and Todd MacCulloch as 76ers coach Larry Brown gave Mutombo (who had three fouls) an extended rest -- the final 6:18 of the quarter.
Mutombo made a hook shot with 8:41 left for an 88-81 lead before Lue -- perhaps the only player in the NBA quicker than Iverson -- came up with two steals and a 3-pointer that got the crowd on its feet.
O'Neal dunked off a pass from Bryant to give the Lakers a 94-92 lead, but Snow answered with a runner with 1:19 left. Philadelphia missed its next two shots but grabbed offensive rebounds both times.
Mutombo missed two foul shots with 34 seconds left -- the Sixers had been 19-for-19 until then, and Bryant lost the ball out of bounds with 18.9 seconds left. That gave the Sixers the last shot of regulation, but Iverson couldn't free himself of Lue and Snow missed a running 3-pointer at the buzzer.
''They're a feisty team, they played great defense and they hit some shots,'' O'Neal said. ''Now it's a series.''
The Lakers were worried about being rusty, but that was not the case in the early going. After Iverson gave the Sixers a 5-2 lead, the Lakers ran off 16 straight points to take an 18-5 lead.
Showing their refusal to quit, the Sixers kept coming. Iverson hit a corner jumper as the shot clock expired after having his shot blocked twice by Bryant, and Aaron McKie stripped Bryant of the ball on a crossover dribble and fed Iverson for a layup as Philadelphia closed the quarter with a 17-5 run to trail 23-22.
Iverson hit a jumper over Bryant to begin the second quarter, giving the Sixers the lead, and Geiger scored eight points in the quarter while also diving twice for loose balls.
That kind of scrappiness wasn't expected from Geiger, who was injured for most of Philadelphia's playoff run. But this was a night when many pre-finals expectations were proven false.
''It's unexpected, but it's kind of neat,'' Brown said. ''We're one up, the sweep isn't going to happen and we just have to do whatever we can to stay in it.''
Notes: Commissioner David Stern gave his finals prediction: ''the referees are going to be great.'' ... This is the Lakers' 20th trip to the finals since they moved from Minneapolis. They are 9-11 in Game 1s. ... Geiger had scored a total of 12 points in his seven previous playoff games. ... This was only the second time in finals history that players from opposing teams scored 40 or more. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley each scored 42 in Game 2 of the 1993 finals. ... O'Neal had his third 40-20 game of the postseason.
© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us