Iverson and Co. Able to Have Hearty Laugh

"I don't play with my size. I play with my heart and I think I have one of the biggest hearts in this league."

Allen Iverson,

the day before his first NBA Finals


Anyone looking for a deal on about a million brooms?

Forget David. A little waif named Allen, listed at 6 feet, 160 pounds, slew the gigantic Lakers on Wednesday, stunning everyone but himself and his teammates, who have seen him drop a few other behemoths in his time.

"I'm glad nobody bet their life on it," said a grinning Iverson later, resplendent in sunglasses, Eagle jersey, diamond earrings and a jeweled cross on a jeweled chain, "because they definitely would be dead right now."

The Lakers aren't dead, but going 52 minutes as Iverson did, and dropping 48 points on them and beating them, 107-101, in an overtime thriller, definitely got their attention.

The Lakers' unbeaten postseason is over, as are their hopes of going down as the greatest team ever.

Oh, and they no longer have home-court advantage in the finals, which puts their title in doubt, so you can tell the LAPD it can take a break from all that riot-prevention training.

For the 76ers, it was the usual improbable effort, starting with the pregame lineup sheet listing most of them as injured:

George Lynch (Fifth left metatarsal fracture)--Out.

Matt Geiger (Right quadriceps tendinitis)--Game-time decision.

Dikembe Mutombo (Left fifth finger fracture)--Probable.

Allen Iverson (Left sacroiliac contusion)--Probable.

Eric Snow (Right ankle fracture)--Game-time decision.

On the 76ers these days, "probable" and "game-time decision" mean you're playing, and "Out" means you may throw away your crutches at halftime and go out there if they really need you.

Arrayed against them, of course, were the mighty Lakers, starting with the dread Shaquille O'Neal. Philadelphia Coach Larry Brown doesn't like to double-team, but Shaq has been known to devour opponents in single coverage whole, like Pop-Tarts.

"After reading the papers," Brown said the day before, grinning, "they say it [double-teaming] would just make Shaq angry. We're going to have a vote in the locker room, how to play him. I don't want to get anybody mad."

The answer was straight-up, man-to-man defense with a little help. This left the rest of the 76er defense at home, in good fundamental position, rather than spread haphazardly over the floor, the way the San Antonio Spurs were, opening up huge lanes for Kobe Bryant to drive through, and loosening up coverage on the Laker perimeter shooters.

Of course, the Lakers who were supposed to be rusty, went on a little 16-0 run in the first quarter, and anyone who wasn't thinking "sweep" then wasn't paying attention.

"I thought it was Middle Tennessee against North Carolina," Brown said. "You know those [video] games you buy? I was scared to death. I was petrified."

And then the 76ers did what they do, which was to fight back.

Late in the first quarter, they went on an 11-2 run as Iverson started dropping in shots--30 points worth in the first half--on Derek Fisher and Bryant and the crowd put down its brooms and cell phones.

In the Eastern half of the draw, Iverson faced double coverage all postseason as opponents decided to let any other 76er try to beat them. However, Laker Coach Phil Jackson has always tried to guard him with one defender. Wednesday, Iverson sent Fisher and Bryant back to the Laker bench, looking like burnt matchsticks.

In the second half, Jackson found someone who could bother Iverson, in the unlikely person of Tyronn Lue. The Lakers rallied from 15 points behind, sent the game into overtime, took a five-point lead with 3:00 left.

Then Iverson made two free throws, a three-point basket and a 20-footer on successive trips, and what can you say but, how does he get a 150-pound heart into a body that goes only 160?

"You get down five points in the finals to the L.A. Lakers," Iverson said later. "Everybody's got their brooms out. That's what drives you. . . . That's the extra drive."

Injuries, long postseason, short turnaround, 52 minutes with three different Lakers chasing him all over the floor Wednesday night, doesn't this guy ever get tired?

"I've been waiting for this opportunity all my life," Iverson said. "I'm not thinking about fatigue. Fatigues are army clothes."

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