This article was originally published in the Inquirer on May 17, 2001.
Another explosion by Allen Iverson, a 76ers victory in Game 5. Now, Toronto sits on the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference semifinals series.
After last night, the Raptors must be wondering whether they can survive. They were annihilated in front of a sellout crowd at the First Union Center.
On the night he hoisted the NBA's most-valuable-player trophy, Iverson led the way for the Sixers, pouring in a game-high 52 points in a 121-88 destruction of Toronto.
Iverson, who received the Maurice Podoloff Trophy from NBA commissioner David Stern before tip-off, went 21 for 32 from the field, nearly matching his epic 54-point effort in Game 2 a week earlier.
So dominating was Iverson's performance that the franchise guard - chastised for swearing at his coach for removing him from games many times in his career - asked out of this one with 4 minutes, 25 seconds remaining.
Predictably, he left to chants of MVP, MVP. Even Stern joined in the standing ovation.
When asked whether chills were running through his spine during the game because of the MVP ceremony, Iverson replied: "Nope. Once [the game] started, it started. And once it ended, it ended. I owe too much to my teammates and to everybody here in the stands to keep dwelling on that while the game was going on.
"I just knew I had to come out and play basketball. Just take my time, not try to do too much, try and catch a rhythm. And once I got a rhythm, stay in it. "
Boy, did he!
Iverson scored 29 points in the first half. He finished the game hitting 8 of 14 shots from beyond the three-point arc. He scored from every conceivable angle, registered a four-point play, embarrassed Raptors guard Chris Childs, and may have taken the heart right out of Toronto.
Iverson had 12 points after one quarter, 47 after three.
Although it was learned later that he had suffered a sprained left thumb, he officially made a liar of Raptors forward Charles Oakley with 8 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the game by hitting a three-pointer to surpass 50 points. After Iverson's 54-point blitz in Game 2, Oakley had vowed it would not happen again.
He is only the second player to score 50 or more points twice in a playoff series. Michael Jordan did so against Cleveland in 1988.
Iverson was not the only Sixer injured in the game. Center Dikembe Mutombo suffered a fractured left pinkie.
But Iverson ultimately set a franchise playoff record for three-pointers made. He helped the Sixers hit a record 11 threes and shoot 60.3 percent (47 of 78) from the field, a team best for a playoff game.
Guard Aaron McKie, with 19 points, and forward Jumaine Jones, with nine, were stellar in supporting roles. But the show belonged to Iverson.
His heroics put the Sixers up, three games to two, in this best-of-seven series, with Game 6 scheduled for tomorrow night at Toronto's Air Canada Centre.
Maybe then the Raptors will have an answer. Maybe then "they'll find a way to take the ball out of Iverson's hands," said former Sixers superstar Julius Erving, who was at the First Union Center with Billy Cunningham, a former Sixers star and coach, for the MVP ceremony and the game.
But even Dr. J wasn't sure. Iverson's extraordinary efforts have come to be expected.
"Oh, no! " Sixers coach Larry Brown said. "If you take these for granted, there's something wrong. Not to be disrespectful, but this league has been around a long time. This is in the playoffs. This kid has gotten 50 in the playoffs, twice. And when I look at who's played for this franchise, I mean . . .
"This kid is 6-feet, 160 pounds. He's still 25 years old. It's remarkable what he's done. "
If the Raptors can come up with an answer, it's likely to be provided by Vince Carter, who exploded for 50 points in Game 3. But they gave no indication last night that they were capable of pushing the series to a Game 7 on Sunday.
Toronto yielded the game's first 11 points to the Sixers. Four minutes into it, the Raptors looked like an AAU squad without plays, running amok on the school yard. They committed seven turnovers in the first 12 minutes and yielded 15-of-24 shooting from the field to the Sixers.
They were pouting, coach Lenny Wilkens was waving his hands in disgust, and they all appeared to be looking for the first exit out of the First Union Center after just one quarter, when they trailed by 33-12.
Like boxer Felix Trinidad in his destruction of William Joppy on Saturday, this one was over quickly.
"They just came out and took the game to us, from beginning to end," Childs said. "They had guys they've had all year step up, and that's the making of a team that doesn't let injuries get in the way of their goal. We have to play better and we've got to win Game 6. Whatever it takes, that's what we've got to do. "
Just like last night, Childs could not provide an answer.
Pair of Fifties
Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan are the only NBA players to score at least 50 points twice in a playoff series.
Allen Iverson, 76ers
54 Game 2; won, 97-92
52 Game 5; won, 121-88
Michael Jordan, Chicago
50 Game 1; won, 104-93
55 Game 2; won, 105-95