This article was originally published in the Inquirer on May 10, 2001.
Two minutes before halftime, the people who had packed the First Union Center began chanting MVP. Five minutes into the fourth quarter, they were still chanting.
Even before Game 2 of last night's Eastern Conference semifinals had ended, before Allen Iverson had finished mesmerizing a national television audience, 76ers coach Larry Brown - normally reluctant to highlight individual performances - was left with no choice but to blush in admiration and give his star a hug.
In one of the most electrifying playoff performances of our time, Iverson obliterated the fact that another star, Vince Carter, was on the court with him. In a showcase of skills that was unquestionably Jordanesque, Iverson scored 54 points - including 19 straight in the fourth quarter - to lift the Sixers to a heartstopping 97-92 win over the Toronto Raptors.
The win tied this best-of-seven playoff series at one game apiece. Game 3 is set for 8 p.m. tomorrow at Toronto's Air Canada Centre. By then, perhaps the hypnotic effect of Iverson's offensive explosion will have subsided. But last night, certainly, Iverson's 21-of-39 shooting display sent chills through spectators' spines.
"It's something that you expect to happen every night," the all-star guard said. "Especially with me. I expect to have a great shooting night every night. "
With his 54 points, Iverson set a team playoff record, surpassing the 50 scored by Billy Cunningham against Milwaukee in 1970.
"It was amazing," Brown said. "The first half, he was 12 for 19, they were shooting the ball well and we were struggling, and he kept us in the game. In the third quarter, I thought he got a little hyper again. And the fourth quarter, he was just phenomenal.
"He didn't settle for shots. He took it to the goal and got inside. The last shot he made was a 12-footer, and I commented, 'That's got to be his mind-set. ' But it was an amazing performance. "
The Sixers ended the first quarter down by 31-21, after Iverson had scored only eight points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field. They ended the first half up by 49-47 after Iverson hit 8 of 11 shots, scoring 20 points in the second quarter, lifting the team to 57.9 percent shooting at the same time.
The third quarter was more like the first, and Iverson shot only 3 for 12, the Sixers shot 34.8 percent, and Toronto ended the period down by only 73-71 after quick three-pointers by Carter (28 points) and Dell Curry.
Then the fourth quarter - money time - arrived. The Answer answered the call.
"There have been some great basketball players to come through this league, but Allen is definitely different, definitely in a league of his own," said guard Aaron McKie, who received the NBA Sixth Man Award before the game. "He makes things look so easy. He goes in there and puts his little scoop shot up, and big guys hardly block it. He drives guys hard and shoots that little mid-range shot.
"They took his crossover away from him when they came up with the new rules. So he uses his speed and the mental part to beat people. I've never been a part of a performance like this. "
When 9 minutes, 27 seconds remained, Eric Snow had scored on a driving layup to put the Sixers up by 77-73. There aren't too many players who can say they have been a part of what then took place.
With 8:52 left, Iverson drilled a three-pointer. With 7:32 to go, he fired in another. With 6:40 remaining, he scored on a pull-up jumper. At that point, everyone in the arena was sensing an explosion. Iverson already had scored 43 points. Toronto was nip-and-tuck with the Sixers, but it didn't seem to matter.
"I was thinking we should've doubled him way before then," Raptors center Antonio Davis said afterward. "But right then, I knew we needed to do something. "
Trip Iverson? Slap him? Head-butt? Pull his shorts down? Nothing was going to stop him.
The Raptors were within 85-84 when Iverson drove right and pulled up for a 12-foot jumper with 4:34 left. About a minute later he added two free throws. His 28 first-half points - second-most for this year's playoffs behind the 33 Reggie Miller dropped on the Sixers in Game 2 of the first round - was an afterthought. So was every other Sixer.
Iverson was all that mattered. He couldn't be stopped.
Eventually, he drove left and put up a high-arcing layup with a spin, getting fouled and completing the three-point play with 1:16 left. With 39.9 seconds left and the Sixers up by only 92-89, he sank another pull-up jumper. Then with 15.9 seconds to go and the game in the Sixers' grasp, he sank two free throws, capping his evening. An exit from the game would follow. So would a hug from Brown and nearly every one of his teammates, to raucous applause. Then came reflection, and admiration.
"Life," Iverson said, when asked where he gets his energy. "Going through the things that I've been through. Trying to get to this point. Poverty. Everything. I feel like God has given me an opportunity to do something positive with my life. A lot of guys in my neighborhood would love to just be on the bench. That is what gives me all of my energy. "
"He had a good game," Raptors forward Charles Oakley said. "He had to go for 50 for them to beat us. He's a scorer. He's a warrior. He likes the ball in his hands and he's their president. He delivered. "
The next move belongs to the Raptors. What ever will they do?