Monday, July 6, 2015

ALLENlujah!

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This article was originally published in the Daily News on March 27. 2001.

Larry Brown wasn't the only one who needed to change his diet. The 76ers placed Allen Iverson back on the menu and left the Milwaukee Bucks with a basketball version of acid reflux.

The Sixers, who desperately needed something to settle their collective stomachs, used a prescription-strength dose of Iverson to carve out a 90-78 victory last night at the First Union Center, ending a five-game losing streak, matching San Antonio for the NBA's best record at 49-21 and re-establishing their own shaken confidence.

Iverson, who had missed five of the previous six games with a small tear in a muscle in his left hip, looked as if he never had been away.

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He careened around the same dangerous curves, scored 36 points on 15-for-35 shooting and came up with a season-high six steals in 43 minutes.

"He still sometimes amazes me,'' marveled backup point guard Kevin Ollie, "and I've been around him for two years. ''

Amazing, maybe. Surprising? None of the Sixers seemed to think so.

"Nothing he does surprises me,'' said Eric Snow, the starting point guard who delivered 13 assists against two turnovers on an aching right ankle. "He's a special kid, a special player. That's why he's the best player in the league. ''

Iverson, who had first taken aggressive therapy for his injury, then took a few days of total rest, said Sunday that he would dress for last night's game. By yesterday morning's shootaround, he knew he would play. After his first touch, he knew he would play long and hard.

"I felt all right,'' said Iverson, who - despite missing the five games - maintained his league lead in scoring, minutes and steals.

"But I got kind of tired in the first quarter. That really scared me; I can't remember ever getting tired in a game. Then, in the third or fourth quarter, I started cramping.

"My hip. . .the first play of the game, the first time I touched the ball, I went to the basket, felt a little pull. I thought maybe I tried to move too fast, but that's what I wanted to do, make my hardest move, see if I could deal with the pain. Once I could deal with the pain, I felt like I could go the rest of the game. ''

His mere presence seemed to lift the Sixers, who had been reeling for a variety of reasons. Brown had missed three of the previous four games as he was being treated for acid reflux and a hiatal hernia; Snow was playing on an ankle still sore from surgery in early January to repair a stress fracture; Aaron McKie was battling continuing pain in his right shoulder; and Matt Geiger was dealing with a sore knee and his twin brother's recurring illness.

Perhaps all of those factors contributed to the Sixers missing 15 of their first 16 shots, including a nightmarish 0-for-13 sequence. But once they survived that, down just 25-19 at the end of the first quarter, they began grabbing the game by the throat. Center Dikembe Mutombo and power forward Tyrone Hill, feasting on the Bucks' lack of an inside game, combined for 32 rebounds. The defense forced 25 turnovers leading to 25 points, and the offense kept its own errors to a modest 14, yielding just six points.

By the end of the night, the Sixers had advantages in points in the paint (40-26), second-chance points (16-6) and fastbreak points (25-13). And Iverson, who knows only one speed, seemed oblivious to any difficulties with his hip.

"I know I am [going to be sore], that's the way it goes,'' he said. "Eric is sore after games, Matt is sore, Aaron is sore. . .My thing is, as long as I can run, I can play. If somebody bangs me on it or knocks me to the floor, I can deal with all of that. When it comes to the point where somebody can guard me, then I'll really feel I'm hurt.

"God's been looking out for me with every injury I get. A lot of times, people act like they're amazed when I come back early. There are a lot of doctors who say, 'He's going to be out this long and that long. ' A doctor really can't tell you exactly. It's the person's body, the way you heal up. Obviously, I heal up a little faster than other people. ''

What Iverson - and the Sixers - really did was inflict a measure of pain on the Bucks, who have had one of the league's best records since starting the season 3-9. The Sixers had the remarkable distinction of shooting 32.1 percent (18-for-56) in the first half and coming away with 16 offensive rebounds and a 45-42 lead.

"One of our coaches said it looked like we were playing darts when we were shooting, we were so close and so tight,'' Brown said. "I've never been with a team that got 16 offensive rebounds and shot 32 percent. That's a miracle. ''

Brown is steeling himself for what today might bring, in terms of the physical condition of Snow, McKie and Iverson. After the game, McKie received his second cortisone injection.

"I saw Aaron about four times when he couldn't get his shoulder up,'' Brown said, wincing.

The Sixers, to a man, didn't mind Iverson launching 35 of their 93 shots because, by doing so, he was rocking the Bucks back on their heels and creating open spaces for the rest of them. McKie finished with 20 points and Mutombo had 12 to complement his 17 rebounds.

"Allen is one of those high-energy players who outruns everybody,'' forward George Lynch said. "When we play that way, when we're more active, we get good looks at the basket, we're able to stop [the opponents], get big rebounds.

"Playing defense was the big thing. We didn't let [the Bucks] feel comfortable, the way they did the last two times we played them. They were up 2-1 [in games] on us, and we knew we had to split the series or, if we had to face them in the third round [of the playoffs] they might think they're better than us. Without Allen, we kind of got the idea that we had to outscore teams. With him back, we can get back to doing our thing. We're a defensive-minded team with Allen as our focal point; everybody plays off him. ''

By the end of the night, the re-energized Sixers had the Bucks grumbling. Literally.

"I was highly disappointed in our approach to the game more than anything else,'' Bucks coach George Karl said. "They came after us with defense and rebounding, and we didn't react to it. ''

Then there was Glenn Robinson, who had 18 points and eight rebounds, who came out with 1:31 left in the third quarter and never came back.

"We were only down 12 points,'' Robinson said. "I felt I should've been in the game. . . [Karl] didn't say anything to me. I don't know what that was. I know I wasn't playing that bad on the defensive end. I don't like that. I don't like that one bit, at all. I'm not here to sit on the bench in the fourth quarter. "

The Bucks did get 20 points from Sam Cassell and 18 from Ray Allen, but they had no answers for Iverson or the Sixers' swarming defense.

And whatever confidence that had seeped away from the Sixers came flooding back.

"I saw Allen in warmups, flying and dunking, and I knew he'd be himself,'' Geiger said. "He was feeling good, he had his quickness. We got more quick, easy buckets than we had been getting. George got a couple because the Bucks were watching Allen. We got maybe five or six like that.

"I think back to the [0-4] road trip, and if we could have gotten five or six like that in those games we might have won two or three.''

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