All week long, Tyronn Lue was Allen Iverson.
And Lue loved it.
As the Lakers prepared to face the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the focus in practice was on stopping Iverson, the NBA's most valuable player, the man who dragged his injured, battered body onto the court game after game in the postseason to shoot down the opposition.
With Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher expected to shoulder the defensive load against Iverson, the 6-foot, 175-pound Lue did his best imitation of the 6-0, 165-pound Iverson in practice.
"I did crossovers," Lue said, "I did the behind-the-back. I shot threes."
Lue felt as if he were back in college at Nebraska, where he was the school's seventh all-time in scorer (1,577 points) and fourth in three-point shots made (145).
"I played freely this week, just like in college," said Lue, a third-year player whose regular job consists mostly of sitting on the bench or getting in some garbage time.
Fisher and Bryant didn't learn much from the experience.
In the first half of Game 1 Wednesday night, a game Philadelphia would win, 107-101, in overtime, Iverson scorched Bryant and Fisher for 30 points, making 11 of 24 shots.
Eventually in the third quarter, Lue got the nod from Coach Phil Jackson. Instead of being Iverson, he was facing Iverson.
Lue and Iverson match up pretty well from their size to their speed and even to their hair styles.
"Ty added some speed and energy to the game," Jackson said, "and was able to stay with Allen."
Iverson had 38 points when Lue took his place in the 76er guard's face. Iverson didn't score again in the third quarter and added only three points to his total in the fourth quarter.
But even Lue could only stop Iverson for so long.
Iverson regained his touch in the overtime, scoring seven of his team's 13 points, including a three-pointer, to push Philadelphia into the lead for good.
"Those were two Ferraris out there," Bryant said. "Two speedsters. Ty doesn't get tired. He can run all night. He stopped Iverson from getting to the speed spots. He did a good job."
"You have to keep the ball out of his hands," Lue said. "When they backed off Iverson, he was hitting those jumpers. Once he catches the ball, he is hard to contain."
Iverson was yelling to the referees that Lue's idea of good defense was to grab and hold on for dear life.
"You've got to do what it takes," Lue said. "You've got to do a little bit of everything to slow him down."
Stopping Iverson wasn't Lue's only contribution. He also had five steals, his season high, and made the only three-point shot he attempted.
Seeing how successful Lue was, Jackson left him in.
Lue played 22 minutes, getting five points and three assists.
In 10 previous postseason games, Lue had played a total of 58 minutes.
Lue gained not only unexpected minutes, but regained confidence in himself.
"It gave me my confidence back," he said. "Now I feel good about playing against these guys. I hope the coach continues to have confidence in me."
Whether Jackson will give Lue another big chunk of playing time in Game 2 remains to be seen.
For now, Lue can go back to being Iverson in practice.
It's not as much of a challenge as facing him, but it sure is a lot of fun.
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Plenty of Rest
Longest layoffs in days between end of conference finals and start of NBA Finals:
11--1982 Lakers (Won Finals)
9--1999 San Antonio (Won Finals)
9--1998 Utah (Lost Finals)
8--1996 Chicago (Won Finals)
8--1989 Lakers (Lost Finals)
8--1978 Washington (Won Finals)
8--1977 Portland (Won Finals)
8--1964 Boston (Won Finals)