Iverson scored 11 of his 22 points in the final nine minutes to spark the Philadelphia 76ers to a pivotal 91-85 victory over the slumping Pacers.
Through the first three quarters, Iverson struggled with his game, making just 5-of-20 shots with four turnovers as the 76ers played from behind. He was limited to 11 points, and Philadelphia entered the fourth quarter trailing, 63-58.
“I always think I could miss 20 shots and believe that the 21st is going in,” Iverson said. “I just keep fighting.”
The Pacers had to like their position. They were 26-0 at home when leading after three quarters, a big reason why they boasted the Eastern Conference’s best home record at 28-6.
But Iverson finally found his offense and turned around the game. His jumper at the 8:39 mark gave Philadelphia its first lead at 68-66 and began a brief duel with Pacers All-Star forward Jermaine O’Neal.
Another jumper by Iverson gave the Sixers a 76-74 lead with 4:25 to go. After a pair of free throws by Al Harrington tied it, Iverson used his penetration to set up Keith Van Horn for a dunk off a lob pass, then drilled a 22-footer from the top for an 80-76 lead with 3:09 left.
“Every time we would get close it seemed like we’d get a turnover or they would get a stop,” Iverson said. “We just could not get over the hump. But there was still a lot of time left and we knew we had to be patient. Eventually, things would turn our way.”
Van Horn went backdoor for a layup, and Iverson got into the lane and fed Derrick Coleman for a dunk and an 84-76 advantage with 1:44 left.
Iverson added three free throws in the final 35 seconds to help seal the win. In all, the three-time scoring champion was 9-of-26 from the field but 4-of-6 in the fourth quarter. He also handed out five of his 10 assists in the final period.
“I’ve learned to play when I’m struggling,” Iverson said. “I think that’s what being a professional and growing up is all about. You realize you’re not going to play well every night. You keep fighting and something good will happen.”
“We did everything we could,” Harrington said. “We were trying to help on Iverson, but he did a great job of picking us apart. They are a very tough team to defend.”
Eric Snow scored 18 points for the Sixers (42-28), who improved to a league-best 17-4 since the All-Star break. More important, they moved 1 1/2 games in front of the fourth-place Pacers (41-30) in the East standings.
“There are still a lot of games to be played,” Snow said. “(Positions) one through six is still up in the air. You can slip a couple of spots if you don’t take care of business.”
O’Neal scored 24 points despite sitting out the third quarter with a painful bruised right shoulder that prevented him from extending his arm. O’Neal scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, but his teammates managed just nine.
“My shoulder was still hurting, even after doing some rehab during the game,” O’Neal said. “My collarbone is really sore, too.”
“Every night we’re playing without a couple of starters,” Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said. “It has been difficult to get consistency and rhythm.”
“The Pacers’ trouble in this stretch of games has been that they are really banged up,” Sixers coach Larry Brown said. “With Tinsley losing his mother, that is a huge part of their team.”
O’Neal went to the locker room late in the second quarter and did not return until just before Iverson gave the Sixers the lead. He answered with a free throw, a lane jumper, a fast-break dunk and a turnaround jumper over the next two minutes, giving Indiana a 76-74 edge.
Jumpers by Snow and Iverson gave the Sixers the lead before Harrington’s free throws tied it for the last time. Philadelphia made 13-of-17 shots in the fourth quarter.
“I think our shot selection was at its best in the fourth quarter,” Brown said.
“Our defense really let us down in the fourth quarter,” Pacers guard Reggie Miller said. “I think we played nearly flawless basketball up until that point. We had done a good job in containing their key guys.”
Reserve Aaron McKie scored 14 points and Coleman added 13 and 10 rebounds for the Sixers, who shot 44 percent (36-of-81) and held a 44-33 advantage on the boards.
Erick Strickland did a nice early job on Iverson and had 11 points and nine assists in place of Tinsley. Indiana shot 48.5 percent (32-of-66).
“Iverson was very good in the fourth quarter and I thought Strickland just wore down,” Thomas said.
O’Neal scored 12 points in the first quarter as Indiana grabbed a 26-20 lead. Miller made consecutive 3-pointers to widen the advantage to 44-35 late in the second period. Iverson made just 4-of-16 shots in the first half.