Friday, May 29, 2015

On this night, no Answers

This article was originally published in the Daily News on June 14, 2001.

AS USUAL, THE effort of Allen Iverson could not be faulted. He played with the heart of the NBA's Most Valuable Player.

But this game couldn't be just heart and effort and courage. For the Sixers, in Game 4 of the Finals, it had to be about the result.

And this time, it just wasn't there.

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The Sixers didn't just need a big night from Iverson, they needed a huge one - maybe his biggest of the postseason.

It just wasn't there.

Perhaps we were just wrong to assume it would be, but how could we not?

Throughout this entire postseason, whenever the Sixers were at their most desperate, Iverson had been at his best.

Six times in their previous three series, the Sixers had played games in which a loss would either have put them down by two games or ended their season.

The Sixers went 6-0, with Iverson averaging 37 points and 8.1 assists.

Last night at the First Union Center, the Sixers faced a seventh must-win situation.

The Los Angeles Lakers held a two games to one lead in the Finals. Another victory would put the Sixers in the unenviable position of trying to become the first team in NBA history to win a title after trailing 3-1.

Once again, the awesome burden of responsibility was placed squarely on Iverson's shoulders.

He wanted to carry the Sixers. He tried to carry the Sixers.

It just wasn't there.

The final box score shows that Iverson scored a game-high 35 in the Lakers' 100-86 victory, but this time the number doesn't tell the entire story.

In this game, timing would prove to be crucial. There were moments, critical moments. Moments similar to the previous games, when we saw Iverson make big-time play after big-time play.

That's what the Sixers needed from Iverson again.

It just wasn't there.

Oh, things started out well enough for Iverson. In a must-win situation, he attacked the way everyone knew he would.

And on his first basket, when he blew past Derek Fisher and fearlessly went right at Shaquille O'Neal to score a scoop layup, it looked like it was going to be one of those nights.

But Iverson couldn't get off to a quick start, and neither could the Sixers.

Despite missing their first six shots, the Lakers managed to lead after the first six minutes, 10-6.

The tone had been set for Iverson and the Sixers.

The game was lost in the first 24 minutes.

That's when the Sixers shot just 34.3 percent, totaled 37 points and trailed by 14.

Iverson was off. He scored 15, but shot just 4-for-14 from the floor.

By comparison, the Lakers got 20 points and 11 rebounds from O'Neal.

"A whole lot of Shaquille O'Neal, both defensively and offensively,'' Iverson said. "That team starts with Shaquille O'Neal and ends with Shaquille O'Neal. ''

The same thing can be said about the Sixers and Iverson. Trailing 51-37 at halftime, the Sixers needed a big third quarter to get back in the game.

Normally, that's Iverson time. It needed to be again.

But the book was written in the first two minutes. On the first possession, an Iverson pass intended for Raja Bell was kicked by Kobe Bryant, but the officials ruled it a turnover.

Then Iverson missed a pull-up jumper in the lane. Fisher made a three-pointer and O'Neal had a dunk.

Less than four minutes into the second half, Los Angeles had pushed the lead to 56-40.

As usual, the First Union Center crowd looked to Iverson, but under constant double-teaming, he managed just four points on 2-for-7 shooting.

Even when the Sixers made a desperate comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, cutting an 18-point deficit to 77-70 behind Iverson's six points in the first four minutes, there came a critical moment.

Iverson missed a jumper. Aaron McKie missed a three-pointer. The Lakers put the game away with an 11-1 run that pushed the margin to 88-71 with 6 1/2 minutes left.

Iverson tried. The Sixers tried.

It just wasn't there.

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