This article was originally published in the Inquirer on May 3, 2001.
The 76ers wanted no part of a Game 5. So there will be no Game 5.
Last night, in front of a frenzied crowd that hoped to see the Indiana Pacers' first-round playoff series extended for 48 hours, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference responded like a champion.
Although Allen Iverson suffered a horrid second-half shooting performance, the Sixers relied on another former Georgetown star to prevent a series-deciding Game 5 in their conference quarterfinal.
And when it was over, after center Dikembe Mutombo netted a pivotal jump-hook shot with 1 minute, 9 seconds remaining, after Aaron McKie rebounded a crucial miss and drilled two free throws with 5.8 seconds to go, the Sixers had an 88-85 win in front of the sellout crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The team that had been eliminated by Indiana in the last two postseasons finally was able to finish off its nemesis, three games to one.
After losing Game 1 at the First Union Center, the Sixers had taken three in a row to transform lofty expectations into reality.
They did so, in part, because of a late herculean effort by Mutombo, the 7-foot-2 giant they acquired barely two months ago.
The Sixers advanced to the East semifinals for the third consecutive year primarily because of a game-high 33 points by Iverson, even though he hit just 3 of 10 shots for nine points in the second half.
Iverson is still playing. The Pacers are not.
"This is so special," Iverson said. "I wouldn't trade this feeling for anything. We've struggled so much with this one team. It just feels so good to know that I'm a part of a team that finally beat [Indiana]. "
Added Iverson: "It's been rough on me. To play hard all year, then to get to the playoffs . . . we could never get by this team. Those were tears of joy," he said of his tears on the court after the win. I just felt good about what we accomplished.
"And I know it's only the first round," Iverson said. "I'm not acting like we won a championship. But for a team that has beaten you two years in a row, shattered your dreams, it feels good to beat them. "
The Sixers will feel even better if they can finally get beyond the second round, in which they will meet either the New York Knicks or Toronto Raptors. Those two teams will play a series-deciding Game 5 at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night; the Raptors won Game 4 by a score of 100-93 last night.
Tomorrow's winner will face the Sixers in a best-of-seven playoff beginning at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the First Union Center. The Raptors have beaten the Sixers in three of four games this season; the Knicks have dropped three of four to the Sixers.
Last night, none of the Sixers was admitting to a preference for an opponent.
Instead, they sighed in relief over their ability to avoid a Game 5 at home tomorrow, and another 48 minutes for Reggie Miller to inflict some damage. The Pacers' all-star guard dropped in 32 points on 11-of-22 shooting but couldn't finish the Sixers off when the game was on the line last night.
"You can never really feel good about losing, but we gave it all we had," Miller said. "You've got to be proud of the guys in our locker room. They gave it all they had, but Philadelphia did what they had to do. They scored when they had to, played defense when they had to. The ball bounced in their direction when they had to. You've got to give them credit. "
With 8:47 left, it appeared the Pacers had given the Sixers all they could handle.
After a driving slam by Austin Croshere around George Lynch, the Pacers were up by 76-68. The Sixers immediately responded.
Eric Snow drilled a jumper and converted an Iverson steal into a fastbreak layup. Tyrone Hill hit a baseline jump shot, then Iverson hit a jumper. By the time 7:02 remained, the Sixers had roared on an 8-1 run, pulling within 77-76. Once 4:37 remained, they were ahead 82-80.
A thriller was in session.
With 1:53 left, McKie (10 points) scored on a jumper, pulling the Sixers within 85-84. Then Mutombo (16 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocked shots) scored on a jump hook with 1:09 left, pushing them ahead by a score of 86-85. Ultimately, it would come down to the Pacers getting two final chances.
The first ended in Miller misfiring on a three-pointer over Tyrone Hill, which ultimately was rebounded by McKie and converted into two free throws with 5.8 left. The second - and last - chance ended with Jalen Rose (18 points) launching a three as time expired. That shot barely touched the rim.
As promised by George Lynch, the Sixers were returning home – for the semifinals. Not a Game 5.
"I'm glad I didn't put my foot in my mouth," Lynch said. "And I'm really glad we got this series over with. Indiana played us tougher than I thought they would. "
But the Pacers are still heading home for the postseason.
The Sixers have moved on.