The NBA season is postponed until further notice. With games on hold, fans have an opportunity to catch up on NBA history and look back on some of the most important moments and players.
Allen Iverson’s performance in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals is one of the most notable performances in league history.
Eastern Conference Champs
The Philadelphia 76ers earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference at the end of the 2000-2001 season, winning 56 games. In his fifth season, point guard Allen Iverson was at his peak, averaging 31 points per game during the regular season, and earning the 2001 MVP Award.
The team acquired Dikembe Mutombo mid-season, who would go on to win Defensive Player of the Year. Iverson, Mutombo, along guard Eric Snow and defender Aaron McKie would head into the postseason looking for a title.
The Sixers defeated the defending Eastern Conference champion Pacers in the first round 3-1, despite three of the four games being decided by less than five points.
In the Semi-finals, Philadelphia dueled with Toronto, who had lost Tracy McGrady that offseason. The series went seven games, and despite scoring 52 in Game 5, Iverson struggled to give his team the decisive edge in the last two games. The Sixers would win Game 7 as Vince Carter missed the go-ahead jumper.
In the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, Iverson and the Sixers would go on to win another seven-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks led by All-Stars Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson. In the final game, AI put up 44 points, six rebounds and seven assists to clinch the series at home, 108-91.
The NBA Finals gave Iverson and the Sixers their toughest foe yet. The preseason-favorite Los Angeles Lakers were looking to repeat as champions behind the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant duo. The team swept the Kings, Blazers, and Spurs en route to the finals. Game 1 against Philly would be their only playoff loss.
At the end of the first quarter, Philly trailed by one, with Iverson leading the way with 12 of the team’s 22 points. Iverson was scoring from everywhere on the court, and poured in 18 points in the second quarter. As for the star guard on the Lakers, Bryant notched just four points at halftime.
In the third quarter, Phil Jackson made the decision to put Tyronn Lue on Iverson, as Bryant and Derek Fisher couldn’t slow him down. Iverson was limited to three points in the fourth quarter, shooting 20 percent from the field. Regulation ended with the game tied at 94.
In overtime, AI stepped-up- making two of his three shots and scoring seven points total, including a transition three to put the Sixers up by two with a minute and 20 seconds left. The Lakers failed to score on the next possession.
With 50 seconds remaining, Iverson extended the Sixers’ lead in iconic fashion. After getting the ball in the right corner, he dribbled, crossed-over Lue, and drilled a long-two pointer. Lue fell to the ground after contesting, and the cold-blooded Iverson stepped over him in one of the most memorable single shots in NBA history.
Philadelphia stole the first game on the road despite a monster game from O’Neal, who ended with 44-20-5. Iverson led the team to the 107-101 victory, with a stat-line of 48 points, five rebounds, six assists, and five steals. One of the greatest single-game performances of all-time.
Aftermath and Legacy
The Lakers would go on to win the next four games of the series, winning the last two by double-digits. O’Neal was named Finals MVP for what would be the second time of three consecutive years. Iverson carried Philadelphia, averaging 35.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Yet, it wasn’t enough.
AI would never reach the Finals again, and makes the list of one of the best players to end their career without an NBA title. He would retire in 2013 as an MVP, 11-time All-Star, and four-time scoring champion.
Iverson is one of the best players of the modern-era, with Game 1 of the 2001 Finals going down as his most iconic performance, with or without ‘the step’.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.