Incredible Iverson effort sends Magic home early
Posted: Sunday May 16, 1999 12:40 PM
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- After Allen Iverson saved the 76ers, the little guy couldn't keep his emotions inside any more. He took three giant steps toward center court, waved to the crowd and exited to an enormous ovation.
Watching from high atop the First Union Center, Julius Erving had to admit he was a little jealous.
"The fans out there were absolutely going crazy," said Erving, who helped the Sixers win their last NBA title in 1983. "You got people with wigs on and taking their shirts off. I was looking around, and I was like, 'Is this a basketball game?'"
Iverson scored 37 points and helped rescue the 76ers after they blew an 18-point, second-half lead as Philadelphia eliminated the Orlando Magic with a 101-91 victory in Game 4 of their first-round series Saturday.
From the sparkling play of Iverson, Eric Snow and rookie Larry Hughes to the frenetic atmosphere in a building that has become uniquely Iverson's, it was clear that basketball is back in the town once ruled by Dr. J.
The Sixers, in the playoffs for the first time since 1991, will give this playoff-starved city and its frenzied fans at least another series, a second-round matchup with the Indiana Pacers beginning Monday.
"The joint was jumping, the place was rocking," said Erving, now the executive vice president of the Magic. "I really felt this genuine outpouring of, 'We waited a long time for this, now we're really going to let it out.' They're not holding back. It's totally uninhibited."
With the Sixers in the playoffs for the first time since 1991, their fans took it out on Penny Hardaway.
The Magic star, who may have played his last game with Orlando, lived up to his promise to shoot more. Booed and cajoled by the crowd and public address announcer, he was only 3-for-17 for 17 points and missed his first nine shots.
"I just missed my shots," Hardaway said. "I wasn't making anything. No excuse."
Hardaway finally made a basket, a 3-pointer with 3:47 left in the third, during an incredible rally that saw the Magic erase a 64-46 deficit to tie it at 79-all.
But the inexperienced Sixers passed their biggest test to date, sending the Magic home to an uncertain offseason.
"It's up to the coaching staff and the management," said Hardaway, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. "When they figure it out, hopefully I'll be the first to know."
Iverson settled his team and hit a clutch floating jumper with 45 seconds left to give Philadelphia 95-89 lead. That followed another high-flying dunk by Hughes, the 20-year-old rookie too young to have a conscience, making it 93-86.
"It feels great," said Iverson, decked out in his usual assortment of jewelry and using the Yankees for his cap du jour. "It's still hitting me now at this moment. It's something I've been waiting a long time for, and to finally get it is special."
Sixers coach Larry Brown, the only coach to lead six teams to the playoffs, will face one of his former teams beginning Monday in Indianapolis.
Brown, who has feuded at times with Iverson during his two seasons as coach, said the "little kid" has changed his mind.
"In my first season, I wasn't too sure," Brown said. "But from the second half of last season to now, he's really stepped up."
Snow scored 20 points, responding to a challenge from his coach -- and the Magic -- to shoot the ball more when Iverson was double- or triple-teamed. Hughes, playing well above the rim, again sparked the Sixers with 14 points.
"We grew up," said Snow, transformed by Brown from a fourth guard in Seattle into a starting point guard.
"We had to win here under a lot of pressure," said Magic coach Chuck Daly, the 68-year-old Hall of Famer who added that he's "not quite sure" what will become of the Magic.
"If it is going backward, I don't want to be a part of it," Anderson said. "I can't do nothing. I can't draft nobody, I can't sign nobody."
Hardaway, who had warned Philadelphia fans that they were motivating him, could only stand and watch, shaking his head and chuckling, as Iverson scored his final points at the free throw line before exiting to a huge ovation.
Despite all the noise and the Sixers' dominant play for the better part of three quarters, the real celebration was delayed until the final minute.
Iverson hit a fallaway jumper to give him 23 points, then made a 3-pointer off the dribble for a 62-44 lead. After Snow hit two free throws for a 64-46 lead with 6:45 left in the quarter, the Magic woke up and went on an 18-4 run that threatened to change not only the game, but the series.
Hardaway ended his 0-for-9 skid with a 3-pointer -- after Austin got an offensive rebound on a missed free throw. Austin made two free throws, cutting it to 68-64 -- an incredible accomplishment considering Hardaway's 1-for-10 shooting and eight points. To that point, Iverson had 30 on 12-for-23 shooting.
As quickly as Sixers fans could tell Penny to "shoot," the Magic tied it at 79 on Armstrong's 3-pointer with 9:90 left.
Orlando took an 80-79 lead when Matt Harpring hit 1 of 2 free throws, but they lost Austin on the same play with a terribly bent finger as he tried to swat a rebound away from Geiger. He returned for the final two minutes.
Snow hit the first of his big shots down the stretch, a 3-pointer that gave the Sixers an 84-81 lead. The nervous crowd responded to a Rocky highlight video during a timeout, and Iverson, Snow and Hughes proceeded to knock out the Magic.
Notes: The best sign in the crowd proclaimed, "Moses did, Allen will ... lead us to the promised land" -- a play on words referring to Moses Malone leading the Sixers to their last NBA title in 1983. ... Iverson's mother, Ann, who always shows up at games with signs, brought an enormous one reading, "We're proud of you, Bubba!" That's Iverson's rarely used nickname. ... Tampa Bay Buccaneers All-Pro Warren Sapp and Ron Harper of the Chicago Bulls attended the game.
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