This article was originally published in the Inquirer on January 14, 2001.
First, the jumper was falling. Fastbreak layups were available for good measure. Then, strictly for entertainment purposes, Allen Iverson danced on Antonio Daniels - buckling his knees one moment, shaking him to the ground on the next - en route to yet another stellar offensive showing. And by the time the final buzzer sounded, the rest of the 76ers had joined right in.
Courtesy of another big night offensively from Iverson, some quality assistance from Toni Kukoc and key spurts from both Aaron McKie and Rodney Buford, the 76ers avenged arguably their most embarrassing loss of the season last night. They used a game-high 40 points from Iverson to upend the San Antonio Spurs, 100-83, in front of a sellout crowd of 20,607 at the First Union Center.
But there still were problems.
The Sixers held a team meeting following the game; the reason why was unclear. What was clear, though, is that Iverson was angry. He refused to talk after the game, saying, "I'm serious. Leave me alone. "
But he did answer a question.
"I started off fast but I didn't really need much of an offensive performance in the second half," he said. "My teammates were handling things so well. "
An 11 a.m. practice, originally scheduled for today, was changed to an optional one before any of the Sixers left the building.
But on a night when friction - more benign than malignant - threatened to tarnish the evening, the Sixers' collective effort against a championship contender simply reduced the matter to secondary status until another day.
Iverson hit his first 10 shots of the game en route to a 17-for-29 shooting performance as the Sixers got even with the Spurs, who had handed them a 96-76 defeat in San Antonio on Nov. 25. Kukoc was splendid himself, adding 17 points on 3-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc and 7-for-11 shooting off the bench overall.
Aaron McKie, who erupted for eight straight points to begin the fourth quarter, finished with 12 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. And, coupled with the Portland Trail Blazers' loss to the New York Knicks, the Sixers regained the league's best record, 27-9.
"We started clicking in the first half, with Allen hitting shots, then myself," said Kukoc, who hit 6 of 8 field-goal attempts in the first half, with Danny Ferry defending him. "That's what it's really about, finding a rhythm. Once we do that, we're pretty tough to beat. The trick is continuing to do it. "
It was supposed to be difficult. In fact, with Tim Duncan (29 points), David Robinson (10 points) and Derek Anderson (23 points) coming into their house, it wasn't suppose to happen. But injuries to guard Avery Johnson (hamstring), Philadelphia native Malik Rose (sore right hip) and Sean Elliott (rotator cuff) only served to help the Sixers' cause.
"Not really," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "They just played great basketball. It helps when Iverson comes out and hits his first shot, when Kukoc comes off the bench and adds three three-pointers. They were energized, they played aggressively and, unfortunately, we were a bit flat. But I was pleased because we really tried. We just didn't have it tonight. "
Despite Iverson's hitting 9 for 9 in the first quarter, the Spurs (23-12) still hung around, trailing just 28-27 entering the second quarter. By halftime, their deficit was just 54-48. But once McKie nailed a three, then a jumper, the Sixers had turned a 7-0 run into a 76-64 advantage at the end of the third. By the fourth, he stuck a nail in San Antonio's coffin.
A post-up jumper over Derrick Dial. Then another. Then a driving layup on Daniels, and a layup off a spin move. While McKie was on his streak, Duncan was in the process of scoring 10 straight for San Antonio to open the fourth quarter.
The difference? McKie had help. Duncan did not.
Then with under six minutes remaining in the game, Iverson made the play of the night.
Dribbling between his legs, Iverson took a step left, stopped, then watched as Daniels fell on his backside, and nailed a jumper. The basket didn't count because Theo Ratliff was called for an offensive foul, but the message was emphatic:
The night belonged to the Sixers, who shot 53.2 percent for the game and improved to 19-0 when they shoot better than 45 percent.
It belonged to Iverson, who started things off, just as he always does.
"He was wild tonight," Sixers' coach Larry Brown said of his star guard. "He was phenomenal. "