Twenty minutes after Sunday's Game 7 had ended, Toronto point guard Chris Childs made his way through the congestion in the Philadelphia 76ers' locker room. His Raptors had fallen in an 88-87 classic, and now he was proffering congratulations. Childs approached Allen Iverson, whom he had struggled to guard for much of the series. "Great playing, Al," he said warmly. "Call me this summer." But when Childs spotted swingman Aaron McKie, his smile vanished. "You killed us," he said to McKie. "You just killed us, man."
With both teams in final jeopardy, most of the questions about Game 7 were phrased in the form of the Answer. That is, could Toronto defuse Iverson, who had twice exploded for more than 50 points in the Eastern Conference semifinal series? "If we don't stop him..." said Raptors center Antonio Davis before the game, letting the thought linger in the air like an Iverson runner, "we're in serious trouble."
Toronto did contain Iverson, double-teaming him and pressuring him far out on the perimeter to limit him to 8-for-27 shooting. But the Iversonaires, the team's unsung supporting cast-players like forward Jumaine Jones (16 points), who started for the injured George Lynch, and guard Eric Snow (13 points)—filled the scoring void. "We didn't want to go home," says Jones. "So we all did a little something."
None more than the 6'5" McKie. The 2000-2001 Sixth Man Award winner, McKie joined the starting lineup in the postseason because of Snow's bum right ankle. On Sunday, McKie played 45 minutes of efficient, blue-collar basketball and scored a team-high 22 points. He made Toronto pay dearly for doubling Iverson—who had a career-high 16 assists—by positioning himself on the weak side and burying cold-blooded jump shots, including the Sixers' final two baskets. "It seemed like every time we started making a push, he'd hit a jumper," Toronto forward Jerome Williams said.
Befitting a player who was regarded largely as a defensive stopper when he broke into the league with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1994, McKie also grabbed seven rebounds and hectored Vince Carter into 6-for-18 shooting. "Aaron is so clutch on both ends of the floor," says Sixers center Dikembe Mutombo. "People are finally recognizing what he's been doing for us all year."
McKie's contributions go beyond the court. Teammates say that his calming influence has played no small role in Iverson's transformation from the NBA's prodigal son to its most celebrated player. When Iverson accepted the MVP award last week, he said he has tried to imitate McKie and "become a professional like he is, day in and day out."
McKie must shoulder a heavy load in the conference finals against Milwaukee, for his defensive assignments will include small forward Glenn Robinson and point guard Sam Cassell. After averaging 16.1 points against Toronto, he also is likely to draw more attention from the Bucks than he did during the regular season. "Maybe they've taken note," McKie said with characteristic modesty. "But if they want to forget about me and leave me open, I'm O.K. with that too."