Iverson returns but can't carry Sixers in Game 1Posted: Sunday April 21, 2002 3:27 PM
Updated: Sunday April 21, 2002 6:48 PM
BOSTON (AP) -- The Boston Celtics' return to the playoffs was much better than Allen Iverson's.
The Celtics won their first postseason game since 1995, beating Iverson's Philadelphia 76ers 92-82 Sunday to open their Eastern Conference series as last season's league MVP missed 11 of 15 field-goal attempts.
Iverson missed the 76ers' final 14 games of the regular season after breaking his left hand, which was heavily bandaged Sunday.
Paul Pierce led the way for Boston with 31 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and three blocks.
Fans yelled, "M-V-P! M-V-P!" after Pierce's layup put Boston up 89-73 with about 31/2 minutes left, then repeated the chant when his 3-pointer made it 92-75.
"It sent chills through my body," Pierce said.
Iverson, who led the league in scoring average at 31.4 points, said his hand felt fine. And he did lead the 76ers with 20 points. But his only field goals came in the first quarter, when he had 15 points, and he missed his last nine shots.
"I was just playing like I usually play. I didn't think a whole bunch about" the hand, he said. "I'm cool. I can run forever."
He'll have plenty of time to rest before Thursday night's second game of the best-of-five series.
"You're anxious to get back out on the court, even though we won, just to get back in that atmosphere," Pierce said. "I could do this every day."
The Celtics led throughout the last three quarters and by double figures for the last 18 minutes. Pierce, third in the NBA in scoring average (26.1), hit a 3-pointer to open a 14-6 run that gave the Celtics a 73-59 lead after the third quarter.
"It was very important for us, myself and Paul and some of the young guys who have not had playoff experience to get a win under our belt," Antoine Walker said.
The Celtics -- owners of an NBA-record 16 titles but without a playoff series win in the past nine years -- got 20 points from Walker and a surprising 14 from Walter McCarty, who averaged 3.8 this season.
Matt Harpring scored 18 for the 76ers.
"We weren't playing with any organization at all," Philadelphia coach Larry Brown said. The Celtics "were so far superior to us in terms of preparation and execution, it wasn't even close."
Iverson broke a bone in the non-shooting hand while playing on the same floor nearly a month ago when he was hit by the Celtics' Tony Battie.
Iverson missed the rest of the regular season -- the 76ers went 7-7 -- but he was cleared to play Sunday morning after being examined by Dr. Jack McPhilemy, the 76ers' team physician.
Iverson started well Sunday, hitting the game's first shot, then converting two free throws for a 4-4 tie. He had 15 points in the first 11 minutes.
But he provided little offense after that as Boston won the first NBA playoff game in the FleetCenter, where the team moved from the Boston Garden before the 1995-96 season.
"I don't think it was my great defense," Boston guard Kenny Anderson said. "I just tried to make him work, harass him, slow him down."
The Celtics led 54-48 at halftime, and Iverson couldn't lead the defending Eastern Conference champions back.
"I just missed shots," he said. "It didn't have anything to do with the hand or with the defender."
Midway through the fourth quarter, McCarty made a layup and was fouled. Before the free throw, Pierce held up his left hand to his ear to encourage the cheering crowd.
"I thought I knew what the playoff atmosphere was like, but I didn't until I got out on the court," said Pierce, in his fourth season with Boston.
McCarty hit the shot for an 82-67 lead with about 7 minutes remaining. The closest the 76ers came after that was the 10-point final deficit.
Notes: Ten minutes before the game, the crowd stood and cheered as
Celtics president Red Auerbach and former players Bill Russell, Bob
Cousy, K.C. Jones, Tom Heinsohn and JoJo White crossed the court.
They stopped at midcourt and chatted with Iverson. ... The 76ers
are in the playoffs for the fourth straight year after missing them
for seven in a row. ... Iverson entered the game with a 33.5-point
average against the Celtics this season. The 76ers were 3-1 against
Boston in the regular season. ... Boston won eight of its last nine
games entering the playoffs, while Philadelphia lost its last two
without Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo or Derrick Coleman.