Iverson scored eight of his 28 points in the final 73 seconds to salvage his team's season and lead the Philadelphia 76ers to an 83-81 victory over the Boston Celtics that evened their Eastern Conference first-round series at two games each.
"Win. It's the only thing we can think about," Iverson said. "We fought hard to get back in the series. We're really not thinking about anything more. The only thing I care about is finishing out."
After shooting poorly all game, Iverson made his last three shots and two clinching free throws that sent the series between the long-time rivals back to Boston for Game Five on Friday.
Iverson upstaged Pierce and Walker, who are playing in their first postseason. They have carried the Celtics all season but again came up just a bit short in their quest to eliminate the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Pierce had to work hard for his 20 points as he struggled for most of the game before coming alive briefly in the fourth quarter. Walker scored 25 points but was scoreless in the final period.
"This is what playoff basketball is all about," Pierce said. "Nobody said it was going to be easy when we got here. It's obviously not."
"It's hard to get the clinching game," said Iverson, who has gotten five of them in his career. "Those shots at the beginning of the game are a lot easier than the ones at end of the game, when you're looking to close a team out."
The 76ers found themselves trailing 77-75 with 1:17 remaining and watched as Aaron McKie missed the potential tying free throws. But the second miss was back-tapped to Iverson, who quickly drove for a tough floating layup.
"Even though he was struggling shooting, we were still in the game," 76ers coach Larry Brown said. "He was 5-for-21 and we still were in it. He kept his head, and obviously he made a huge shot on the missed free throws. " "(Derrick Coleman) tapped it and it just went right into my hands," Iverson said. "I saw that there wasn't anyone on the right side of the floor, so I took it right and tried to put it off the glass. It hit the side of the rim, but I guess I shot it soft enough that it was able to go in."
At the other end, McKie poked the ball away from Pierce. Eric Snow picked it up and fed a streaking Iverson for a layup and a 79-77 lead with 54 seconds to go.
Pierce missed a layup, but the rebound was tipped to Rodney Rogers, whose banker tied it with 38 seconds left. Iverson responded with a fadeaway jumper over Kenny Anderson for an 81-79 edge with 22 seconds to go.
Walker left a 3-pointer short, and it bounced out of bounds with 2.3 seconds to play. Iverson was fouled and made both free throws to seal it.
"I know that the play did run correctly," Walker said. "I was feeling it all night. It felt good leaving my hands. I thought I was going to make it." Derrick Coleman had 14 points and nine rebounds and Dikembe Mutombo added 10 and 14 for the Sixers, who are trying to defy history. They have never won a series after losing the first two games, and only six teams have erased an 0-2 deficit to win a best-of-five series.
"They had the momentum the first two game at home," McKie said. "They played well, they made shots and made plays. We came here in Philly and we scratched and clawed and got two wins. Now I think the pressure pretty much is on those guys. We have come out and be aggressive and attack those guys early."
"A series played this hard maybe should go down to five games," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said. "May the best team win."
Pierce made 7-of-16 shots but battled foul trouble and sloppiness. He committed seven turnovers and was hounded by McKie in the final period.
"I was pretty much trying to do the same things I had been doing all series long, just push him out a little and make him work for his shots," McKie said. "You have to understand, when you're playing the games, there are players who are going to touch the ball 50-60 percent of the time. They are going to get their baskets and they are going to go to the free throw line. You want to make them work for it and make it tough." Walker made 9-of-21 shots and again was launching from deep, hitting 5-of-11 3-pointers. He has attempted 26 3-pointers in the last two games after taking just seven in the first two.
Boston was 9-of-29 from the arc and under 40 percent (31-of-78) overall. It shot just 14 free throws while Philadelphia attacked the basket more often and attempted 30.
"They took 29 threes again," Brown said. "Even though they make some that break your back, we have to find a way to keep them out on the perimeter."
"I just worry about shot selection," O'Brien said. "I don't worry about missing sometimes."
In a game that was tight throughout, the Sixers led 38-36 at halftime. Walker scored 11 points in the third quarter, including five in a 7-0 spurt that gave the Celtics a 61-55 lead late in the period.
A low-post basket by Eric Williams gave Boston its largest lead at 65-58 with 11:01 to go before Philadelphia rallied. McKie started and ended a 10-2 surge with jumpers, giving the Sixers a 68-67 lead with 6:40 to go.
Erick Strickland made a 3-pointer, but Iverson hit a jumper and found McKie for an inside basket. Pierce finally came alive, making a free throw and 3-pointer around a basket by Snow to pull Boston into a 74-74 tie with 2:25 left.
Snow made a free throw, but Pierce followed in his own miss and drew a foul. The three-point play gave the Celtics a 77-75 edge with 1:39 remaining.
"We had a few bad turnovers and a couple of fouls that got them back in the game," Walker said. "It was a game of runs. It was a very good basketball game between two teams that are capable of stops and spurts. They got the last spurt at the end and they came out with the win." McKie had 11 points and five steals and Snow handed out 11 assists for the Sixers, who shot 47 percent (31-of-67), their best showing of the series.
Anderson had 12 points and eight assists for the Celtics, who were beaten on the boards, 43-37.