by Emry DowningHall
To say the crowds at the Wachovia Center this year have been “less than enthusiastic” would be very kind. Two weeks ago, I was at the Sixers/Sonics game and my boys and I had to use our “6-inch voices” to keep our conversation under wraps.
This is far from the case tonight as the Wachovia is sold out with a reported 20,674 people in the building. The influx of media requests have pushed me to the balcony of the arena, and from my perch I’m overlooking a sea of Iverson jerseys. I see the Mitchell and Ness rookie throwback, some Team USA joints, assorted Sixers home and away versions, and of course the latest Denver installment. There’s also an uncomfortable amount of people who are actually dressed like Iverson. There ensemble includes Reebok Questions, an arm sleeve, either headband or doo-rag, and a #3 jersey. Allen’s style is his own, and although some people could pull it off, the Caucasian middle-aged father seated near center court was struggling with the look.
The media likes to represent Philadelphia as one of the toughest sports markets in the world, and I while that label is fair, there was no doubt what kind of reception A.I. was going to receive. During warm-ups Iverson trotted to mid-court, bent down and kissed the S in Sixers. I’m feeling real nostalgic right about now. Time to show that love Philadelphia. Everyone in the arena was on their feet and his introduction was drowned out by thunderous applause. Iverson circled the court soaking it in and it kept falling on him.
He placed his hand to his ear — his go-to move during the 2001 Playoffs — and challenged the fans to really let him hear it, and they responded. It was 45 seconds of thanks for everything he ever did for the franchise. The game winners, the crossovers, the press conferences, the step back, the step over (Tyronn Lue), the heart, the passion, the blood, restoring national relevance, and of course for the MVP season no one in the city will ever forget.
I was in the Wachovia Center for Jordan’s last game, sneaking away from my intern post to watch the introduction, and while the love rained down for Michael as well, it couldn’t compare to what AI received tonight.
At first I was a little worried Steven Hunter might steal some of AI’s thunder with his own Philadelphia homecoming, but George Karl hit him with a DNP-CD to cool any controversy.
Iverson’s first touch results in the exact opposite of how a superstar is usually treated on the road. He catches a swing pass from Anthony Carter at the top of the key and once again hears it from the crowd.
Andre Iguodala gets out of the gate quick throwing down back to back two handed jams along the left baseline.
Believe it or not, the Nuggets are more interested in getting out on the break then digging in on the defensive end. The Sixers are doing a strong job of getting back on D forcing the Nuggets into their half court offense: Iverson/Anthony isolations on the wing.
Iverson gets his first bucket at the 6:31 mark on a step-back off the dribble. 20,000 people have just experienced déjà vu.
The Sixers are following up tonight’s sell out by hosting Sci-Fight night on Saturday. Team owner Ed Snyder has stated publicly this season that he’s baffled by the poor attendance numbers… Ed, I feel you, but as for the marketing effort… Sci-Fi night. Really?
JR Smith checks into the game with 3.00 left in the quarter. Smith understands tonight is about Allen, and expresses this by jacking two quick threes, 7 seconds into the shot clock. No matter the occasion, he gets his.
Iguodala throws down his 3rd, 4th, and 5th dunks of the first quarter within 2 minutes of one another. Iggy’s lost in transition.
76ers forward Jason Smith hears a chorus of boos after sending Iverson crashing to the floor. I think that one was a force of habit for Sixers fans.
Philadelphia leads 34-31.
Philadelphia is killing Denver on the offensive glass and George Karl responds by placing his hands in his pockets and subbing in Eduardo Najera.
Najera vs. Louis Scola in one of those PPV, No Holds Barred matches, who ya got?
Andre Miller’s got something for Iverson, baiting him into a reach, hitting him with a crossover and pulling up for a jumper in his mug.
JR Smith is matched up with Reggie Evans after a switch on a screen. Smith’s eyes explode as he hits him with a nasty step over dribble for the easy two points.
Kenyon Martin misses a wide open Carmelo Anthony on a break because he’s dribbling with his head down. Can the Nuggets look out with a Better Basketball video or two for K-Mart?
The Sixers open up a 10 point lead at the 2.58 mark after a corner trey from Rodney Carney.
The Sixers have the lead due to their willingness to make the extra pass and are getting more layups and open jump shots. As high caliber as the Nuggets weapons are, the hesitations in there ball movement is costing them easy looks.
Kevin Ollie should never shoot the basketball. At least a shot clock violation would prevent the break.
Sixers hold a 65-58 halftime advantage.
Anthony Carter hits a cutting K-Mart for a nasty two handed oop. Martin has a game high 15 points, and though I get at him for his fundamentals, it’s likely not stressed growing up when you have a 44-inch vertical.
Iverson draws an offensive foul on Willie Green after flopping on a Green forearm. The crowd erupts in yet another rare instance of celebrating after a home-team turnover. Green looks puzzled.
Iverson and Green go at each other and exchange back to back three balls on successive possessions. Both guys are looking to workout on the other when they are left in iso.
Andre Miller (28 points, 12 dimes) knocks down three consecutive 15 footers against a Nuggets defense that resembles an empty gym. Sixers are up 87-84.
With the Sixers on a run, George Karl scratches his head, once again puts his hand in his pockets and calls Najera’s name. I’m not clear why, but going to the pockets is clearly related to playing time for EN.
After drawing a foul on what appeared to be a clean block by Sixers rookie Jason Smith, the Nuggets get a stop, and Carmelo Anthony catches an outlet pass from Marcus Camby. Andre Miller attempts to time a block on ‘Melo and ends up eating Carmelo’s jersey.
At the end of the third quarter the Nuggets hold one, 93-92.
The Sixers are shooting 65% through three quarter to Denvers 59%. Lights out tonight.
Rodney Carney has given the Sixers a nice lift tonight off the bench, as he swoops in for the and1. As a Memphis alum he would appropriately miss the free throw.
The Sixers have struggled to fill the seats this season, and are clearly motivated by tonight’s crowd. It’s Iversons night but Iggy, Miller, and Green are all putting on a nice show.
Iverson catches a Camby outlet pass and gets to the hoop in three dribbles. His game speed is unreal.
On the next Denver possession, Iverson is isolated with Lou Williams defending. Iverson clearly likes this match up. He waives off a screen, leaves him with the crossover and gets Williams off his feet for 2 free throws.
With 3.30 left to play, both teams have decided to lock down on defense. It’s half court sets from here on out. Kenyon Martin, be easy.
With Denver down 5, Iverson is given the opportunity to show the sold out crowd he still runs the Wachovia. He bangs a deep three on the wing to cut the lead to 2. Denver gets a stop and the ball is back in Allen’s hands as he drops off a sweet dime to K-Mart for a 2-handed stuff and the tie at 110-110. Timeout Philadelphia.
Carmelo Anthony has his drive pinned off the backboard by Sammy Dalembert. On the other end K-Mart rejects Iguodala’s layup attempt. Still tied with 2:00 to play.
Andre Miller breaks the tie with an up-fake that gets Iverson off his feet. Miller uses his pivot foot to get under Iverson sending him crashing to the floor, the baskets good, and1. Sixers hold three. The crowd is going insane.
Written like a Hollywood script Iverson comes flying down the court, waits for Miller to match up and bangs a three for the corner. He falls back into the stands, tying the game at 113.
With the score still tied, Andre Iguodala drives right and attempts to draw a foul. No whistle follows and as he rotates his body 180 degrees in the air, falling to the floor, he flips the ball up behind him to Sammy Dalembert who lays it in. The Wachovia Center erupts, Sixers hold 2.
The Nuggets call timeout as the Rocky Theme pumps through the arena. Jada Kiss told us, “I’m similar to Carmelo with the game winners” but George has got to calls Iverson’s number on this one.
Out of the timeout, the inbounds goes to Iverson on the left side of the court, shadowed by Willie Green. Iverson looks to drive right and steps back for a long 2 on the baseline. No good, tip in attempt, no good. Iguodala steals the ball and sprints down the court as time expires.