Iverson MVP as East rallies to pull upset

This article was originally published in the Inquirer on February 12, 2001.

For most of the NBA's 50th All-Star Game, 76ers coach Larry Brown looked like a monk at a disco.

This annual spectacle wasn't about weak-side screens and the complex patterns he loves to diagram on chalkboards.

This was Showtime on steroids. Unfettered. Unbelievable. Uncoached.

Just before the opening tip-off last night, Brown waved to his son L.J., seated far back in the MCI Center's lower level. Then, with the first three periods being dominated by the graceful chaos that is an All-Star Game, he didn't smile for a long, long time.

But when a fabulous final five minutes put an exclamation point on a game that had wavered typically between the erratic and the brilliant, Brown was happy again.

His supposedly overmatched East stars, paced by Allen Iverson's 25 points and Dikembe Mutombo's 22 rebounds, had rallied from 21 points down in the fourth period to defeat the West, 111-110. The Sixers' Iverson had been named the game's MVP.

The spectacular conclusion, which saw young stars Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Chris Webber and Kobe Bryant shoot it out in the final two minutes, matched all the fireworks, lasers, drums and hoopla that had preceded it.

Bryant led the West with 19 points. Webber, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett added 14 each. Vince Carter scored 16 points and Ray Allen 15 for the East in a game that confirmed the ascendancy of the NBA's next generation of stars.

"I can honestly say that we [younger players] are the best basketball players in the world," said Marbury, who hit two huge three-pointers in the last 54 seconds. "The younger guys make mistakes, and they do things that, you know, are stupid on the basketball court. But that is all part of it. "

There were the usual remarkable dunks and no-look passes and athletic miracles. But it was the unrelenting intensity of the final minutes that made this All-Star Game special. Next year's game will take place at the First Union Center. Philadelphia officials can only pray for such an ending.

"That was a great finish," Mutombo said. "A great game. A great weekend. "

The East, battered inside by the big bodies of Webber, Duncan, Garnett, David Robinson and Antonio McDyess, dominated the first and third periods. Only Mutombo's defense and rebounding kept the East from falling too far behind to have a chance.

The West led by 13 after one quarter and 19 after three. With 9 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the fourth, the West advantage was 21, at 95-74.

But through it all, the East bench, particularly Alonzo Mourning, who was seated in a banged-up back row of sidelined stars with Orlando's Grant Hill and the Sixers' Theo Ratliff, yelled constant encouragement.

"They were really positive on the bench," Brown said. "Alonzo was cheering louder than anybody. I just got the feeling that, if we could get back in the game a little bit, something crazy could happen. "

It happened with an explosion that matched the noisy pregame show.

The West led by 100-90 with a little less than five minutes to play when Brown went to a lineup that featured Mutombo and four extremely quick players - Iverson, Carter, Marbury and Tracy McGrady.

"Kobe was like 'You're going small now, at the end of the game? ' " Marbury said. "And with [Iverson] going the way he was going, there was no way we were going to lose. He put us on his back. "

Iverson scored 15 of his game-high point total in the last period. For not the first time, he was maneuvering in and out among opponents who were slower and wearier.

"We wanted to win," said Iverson, who frequently looked pleadingly at Brown during the 13 minutes he didn't play. "Everybody was saying we could not win because of our size. But it's not about the size on paper, it's about the size of your heart. "

Brown had ridden to Washington with Marbury, the New Jersey Nets guard, on the train and told him that he hoped to get a chance to play him and Iverson together. Iverson re-entered the game just about the time the West held its biggest lead. After the lead was halved in the next five minutes, Brown went to Marbury, too.

"I thought that was the perfect time and place," Brown said.

Carter, who made at least three spectacular slams, including a whirlwind 360, hit a three-pointer. Iverson, off a steal, converted a layup and a free throw. After a time-out, Iverson hit two free throws and McGrady scored a basket to tie the score at 100.

"[Through that stretch], Dikembe was guarding everybody," Brown said.

An three-pointer by Iverson with 2:45 left gave the East its first lead, 103-102.

The East led by a point again, at 105-104, before Bryant made the first of his three consecutive baskets. His second gave the West a 108-105 advantage.

Marbury then hit a long three to tie the score. A jumper by Bryant made it 110-108, West. Marbury then banged in another three with just 24.8 seconds left as the sellout crowd stood and screamed with delight.

After a time-out, with the East up by 111-110 and 10.8 seconds remaining, the West inbounded. Bryant got the ball at the top of the key but saw Duncan open 10 feet from the hoop. Duncan's shot was partially blocked by Carter, and Webber's hurried follow, launched just as the horn sounded, missed.

"The fans, playing on a national stage, playing in an All-Star Game - everybody around the world is watching. If you can't motivate yourself to go out there and play in a situation like that, then you don't need to be playing the game," Ray Allen said.