Work in Sports
PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) -- With one good leg to stand on, Allen Iverson watched Aaron McKie keep the Philadelphia 76ers in the game until he was ready to carry them into the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Playing through a chip fracture in his right ankle and ineffective for most of the second half, Iverson scored seven straight points to put the 76ers ahead to stay as they pulled away for a 105-99 victory over the Charlotte Hornets, clinching their first-round series in four games.
The 6-foot, 165-pound Iverson had been hampered throughout the season by a rotator cuff injury, a broken toe and elbow and shoulder ailments. Friday in Game Three, he suffered the ankle injury when Charlotte guard David Wesley stepped on his foot.
After putting up 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting in the first half to help Philadelphia to a 54-50 lead at the break, Iverson managed four points in the third quarter and was held scoreless while the Hornets built an 85-77 lead with 11:12 to play.
But McKie, who started in place of injured point guard Eric Snow (ankle), posted career playoff-bests with 25 points and 11 assists and put on a shooting clinic in the fourth quarter.
He drilled four 3-pointers in a three-minute stretch, including a rare four-point play, to keep the Sixers from falling out of contention and giving them a 90-89 lead with 7:33 remaining.
"You can kind of look in (the Hornets') eyes," McKie said. "They were like 'Dang' every time a shot would go in. They would put their head down and go down the court, like with each shot they were losing a little bit."
Iverson, who finished 10-of-23 from the field for 26 points, made his first basket of the fourth quarter with five minutes left, a driving layup that put Philadelphia ahead to stay, 96-95.
Suddenly energized by the raucous, sellout crowd at the First Union Center, the NBA's second-leading scorer buried a 27-footer and was good from 19 feet to open a 101-95 advantage with 3:10 to play.
"My heart more than anything (got me through the pain)," Iverson said. "My teammates, I wanted to be there for them and the fans in Philly. My adrenaline was pumping so hard that I didn't feel anything. The good part about everything is, I'm learning how to play with injuries. When I get older and I'm in the league stealing money in the league off my name, learning to play hurt now will help me."
Antony Mason answered with a layup for Charlotte and Iverson committed a turnover on Philadelphia's ensuing trip. But after two missed free throws by Hornets forward Derrick Coleman, Iverson fed Theo Ratliff in the lane with 27 seconds left, resulting in a foul and two made free throws to seal the win.
Matt Geiger had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Sixers, who advanced to the conference semifinals for the second straight season and will face the winner of the Indiana-Milwaukee series.
"This is just the first step," Iverson said. "I'll enjoy it tonight, believe me. Tomorrow, it's back to business. We have a goal and we can't stop here. I had this feeling last year, and then we got swept in the second round (by Indiana). I don't want that to happen. I feel like we're better than we were last year. We had a great chance last year, they just skated by us.
Now, we want to do something different. We want to get past the second round. We want to win it all."
Mason rebounded from a dismal one-point effort in Game Three with 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. But he was held to just two points over the final 12 minutes as the Hornets suffered their third first-round ousting in five postseason appearances.
"You have to learn from it," Mason said. "The mistakes you make, the resources that you don't tap into. It's disappointing to end it like this. You don't look at just the players, you have to look at the whole organization. You just hope next year you can do better."
Charlotte's frontcourt, which had been thoroughly dominated in Game Three, bounced back in a big way tonight. Elden Campbell had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Derrick Coleman added 18 and 11 as the two combined with Mason to give Philadelphia fits along the interior.
But Tyrone Hill, Theo Ratliff and George Lynch combined for 28 points and 20 boards, combining with Geiger to help the Sixers hold their own in the paint.
Snow watched his second straight game from the sidelines with a chip fracture in his right ankle and had to enjoy the view as McKie buried 9-of-15 shots and Kevin Ollie went 3-of-4 for six points. Playing a combined 52 minutes, McKie and Ollie committed just one turnover.
McKie had 10 first-quarter points and after Toni Kukoc snapped a 25-25 tie with a 3-pointer, Ollie accepted a feed from Iverson and beat the buzzer with a 14-footer that gave Philadelphia a five-point lead entering the second period.
After misfiring on three shots and a free throw to start the second period, Iverson sank a 21-footer, two from the line and a seven-footer to give Philadelphia a 43-38 lead with 4:31 remaining in the first half.
"The shoulder has healed a bit. The toe is a heck of a lot better. The elbow is about 60% and the ankle is hurt," Philadelphia coach Larry Brown said of his best player. "A lot of guys miss games for any one of those injuries. Aside from the fact that he always comes to play, he takes so much punishment with the way he plays. That sends a message to your team. When your star player is obviously hurt and he lays it on the line, it sends a message to a lot of people in a very positive way. Plus the crowd showed their appreciation, which I thought was kind of nice."
Geiger and Lynch added driving layups as the Sixers stretched the margin to 49-41 before Charlotte crawled back into contention. Campbell hit an eight-footer, Brad Miller converted a three-point play and Mason made two free throws to shave the deficit to 49-48 with 42 seconds left.
But Geiger answered with a three-point play and Iverson answered two more free throws from Miller with a driving layup that gave Philadelphia a 54-50 halftime lead.
Ratliff opened the second half with a 14-footer and Hill a driving layup to make it an eight-point bulge.
Coleman slammed on consecutive trips and Eddie Jones turned a turnover by Ratliff into an emphatic dunk that forged a 62-62 tie with 6:26 left in the third quarter.
Jones' 19-footer put Charlotte in front 71-69, but Geiger responded with a 16-footer off a feed from Ollie as the teams proceeded to trade baskets.
A game that featured 13 lead changes and 12 ties seemed to turn in the Hornets' favor when Jones and rookie Baron Davis combined to hit four free throws, giving Charlotte a 79-75 lead entering the fourth quarter.
That momentum carried over when Davis started the final period with a 16-footer and a thunderous dunk that made it an eight-point bulge. Ratliff and Campbell exchanged baskets before McKie caught fire.
The 6-5 fifth-year guard out of Temple led Philadelphia by making 36 percent (44-of-121) of his 3-point shots during the season. He drilled a 24-footer and a 28-footer to cut the deficit to two and answered a 14-footer by Cambell with a 26-footer from the left side, drawing contact from Wesley, and sinking the ensuing free throw to forge an 87-87 tie with 8:02 to play.
"He didn't surprise me," Jones said of his former college teammate. "When you leave Aaron open, he is going to hurt you at some point. We left him open a lot. All he had to do was hit one (three-pointer) to get his confidence going. Once he got it going, you saw what happened."
Campbell made two free throws before McKie took a pass from Iverson and brought the house down with a 26-footer from the right sideline, giving the Sixers a 90-89 lead with 7:33 left.
"Put yourself in my shoes, how would you feel?," McKie said.
"It's a great feeling. I can enjoy this, look back and say 'Hey, Game Four of this series was a good one for me. I had a big contribution in putting Charlotte away. But, my eyes are set on the big picture. I want to get further."
Ratliff followed with a six-foot hook in the lane, but after a timeout Coleman made a layup and Campbell a free throw to tie it at 92-92 and set the stage for Iverson.
"Allen is a throwback to the old days when guys played hurt," Charlotte coach Paul Silas said. "With the kind of injuries that he has, three or four of them, and he doesn't complain. He just goes out and gives his all. Other guy see that and it uplifts them. My hat goes off to Allen because he was a real trooper this whole series, and I'm sure he will be in the next series."
Philadelphia shot 51 percent (40-of-78) and scored 18 points off turnovers.
Jones scored 17 points for Charlotte, which made 44 percent (36-of-81) from the field and held a 44-36 rebounding advantage.