This article was originally published in the Daily News on April 25, 2001.
The enormity of the moment had set the stage for a performance like this. And you just knew that neither Allen Iverson nor Reggie Miller would disappoint. Iverson had his back to the wall. Miller was circling for the kill.
Unstoppable force vs. immovable object.
When it was over, Iverson's amazing 45-point, nine-assist effort last night was good enough to lead the Sixers to a critical, 116-98, Game 2 victory over the Indiana Pacers, despite Miller's equally remarkable 41-point outburst.
It was vintage Miller and enlightening Iverson.
Basketball doesn't get much better than that.
"You saw two of the best performances you'll ever see in the playoffs," Larry Brown said of the player he coaches in Philadelphia and the one he used to coach in Indiana. "I just thought the way that Reggie and Allen played, that's as good as it gets. It was two phenomenal performances. "
Stars shine. Stars rise to the occasion.
Miller, now a 35-year-old veteran of 14 NBA campaigns, came out swinging just like the younger self his retro look wanted to recapture.
From that first three-pointer he drained 14 seconds into the game, Miller told everyone in the First Union Center that the game-winning shot he launched in Game 1 was just the opening act of his show.
By the end of the first quarter, Miller had 16 points. By the end of the half, he had 33 points, sinking 13 of 15 shots.
"Things were just going for me," said Miller, who matched his career playoff high in points. "I was getting good looks for the release on my jump shots. But you almost wish things would have been reversed. There are four quarters to a game. I hate doing things early. I'd rather do things late. "
And this was a game in which timing would be crucial.
Because while Miller was lighting up the scoreboard, the bottom line was the Sixers led at the half, 61-59.
And while a lot of people were focused on his phenomenal shooting, Miller was more aware of what Iverson was doing on the other side.
"Allen was also in a zone," Miller said. "He was feeling it as well. "
Iverson had an epiphany. With his team facing a devastating, 0-2 hole, the player known as "The Answer" played perhaps the smartest game he ever has played in a Sixers uniform.
It wasn't just the career playoff-high 45 points. It wasn't just the nine assists. It was the way Iverson went about orchestrating every point and every assist.
This was dissection by design.
"I'm going to remember this game for a long time," Iverson said. "I have been doing a lot just off of my God-given ability, but this game took a lot of thinking.
"I'm really pleased with my mental aspect about this game. I came in knowing that Indiana was going to try to do what they did to me in the first game and take me out of the offense.
"When guys doubled me, I found my teammates and they knocked down shots. I don't feel as if I forced too many things. Double teams usually frustrate me, but tonight they really didn't because I just took everything that they gave me. "
In the first quarter, the Sixers had 13 field goals. Iverson was directly connected to eight of them (five field goals, three assists).
In the second quarter, the Sixers had 13 field goals with Iverson linked to six of them (four field goals, two assists).
Eric Snow, Aaron McKie and Jumaine Jones all made open jumpers on passes from Iverson out of double-teams.
"[Iverson] played a whale of a game tonight," Pacers guard Travis Best said. "He was aggressive from the start and just kept making things happen. He was finding other guys and creating for himself. "
Shot-creation was the difference between Iverson and Miller in the second half.
Miller is a shooter, one of the best in NBA history. Still, his offense is more dependent on the flow of the Pacers' offense. When things bogged down in the third quarter, Miller got off just three shots.
"I didn't get as many looks as I should have," said Miller, who made just one of seven shots in the second half when Indiana was outscored, 55-39. "I should have been more aggressive. "
Iverson is a scorer. He can always find a shot, and never lacks for aggression in looking for one.
"I would feel good if they would just play me one-on-one, then I know I could get the shots that I want," Iverson said. "But I feel better when they double me because I know my teammates are getting shots that they can make with their eyes closed.
"If they make those shots, then hopefully [the Pacers] will stop double-teaming me. If they don't, then it will be important for my teammates to stay aggressive on offense like I always am."
The Allen and Reggie Show in Game 2 was that good. What will they do for an encore?