Iverson had 36 points and 11 assists Sunday night, giving Philadelphia one major, distinct advantage—a player who could create with the ball—as the 76ers evened their second-round series 2-2 by beating Detroit 95-82 Sunday night.
“That’s what makes their team so hard to play; you have to deal with him and all the chain reactions he causes out there,” Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. “Obviously, we’re going to have to do a better job.”
Chauncey Billups returned to the lineup for Detroit after missing two games because of a sprained ankle, but the point guard shot just 1-for-6 and didn’t make a drive to the basket all night.
Backup Chucky Atkins had all sorts of difficulty trying to defend Iverson, whose quickness allowed him to free himself for jumpers—or to drive the lane or the baseline, draw extra defenders and create enough easy baskets to allow Philadelphia to maintain a comfortable lead throughout.
Philadelphia coach Larry Brown said he called more pick-and-roll plays that he had in his entire pro coaching career—quite a statement, considering this was his 2,277th game as a head coach.
“It was a pick-your-poison thing,” Iverson said, “and after a while I wanted to run it every play, because they couldn’t adjust to it.”
Iverson not only had his usual foot speed, he had his shot working, too, making jumpers on three straight possessions early in the fourth quarter to give Philadelphia a 70-56 lead. Iverson finished 13-for-27 from the field, and his 11 assists accounted for more than half of Philadelphia’s total. He scored 15 in the final quarter.
The series doesn’t resume until Wednesday night, giving Billups two days to rest his sore left ankle—and Carlisle the same amount of time to devise a strategy to neutralize Iverson.
“We think we’re going to win the whole thing, as far as this series is concerned,” Philadelphia’s Kenny Thomas said.
Hamilton is the only Detroit defender who’s had any luck staying close to Iverson while chasing him around, but he spent less time defending Iverson in this game than he did in the three previous ones.
That probably was a scheme to allow Hamilton to save his energy for the offensive end, where he was the only Detroit player with more than two field goals at the start of the fourth quarter.
One problem, though: Atkins got the assignment and was overmatched.
“It’s his ability to get to full speed on his first or second step—that’s what makes him so much harder to guard than other people,” Atkins said. “This guy’s at full blast running on his first or second step.”
Hamilton finished with 30 points and Atkins had 11 for Detroit. Ben Wallace grabbed 15 rebounds.
Corliss Williamson made a layup with 3:31 left to get Detroit’s deficit down to nine, but Iverson answered right back with his first and only 3-pointer of the night. The Pistons called a timeout, and Iverson cupped his hand to his ear to rile up the crowd.
Earlier in the quarter, Iverson hit three jumpers from almost the exact same spot—one on a dribble move that shook Atkins, the second from behind Coleman’s pick, and the third on a step-back move against Hamilton. The last shot gave Philadelphia a 70-56 lead—a huge advantage in a series in which offense isn’t easy to come by.
“We got outworked, that’s all,” Wallace said. “We played in spurts, didn’t play a solid game.”
The Sixers played from ahead almost the whole game, slowly building their margin during the second quarter and taking their first double-digit lead, 39-29, when Coleman scored inside over Zeljko Rebraca with 3:53 left before halftime.
Detroit had only one field goal over the final 8 1/2 minutes of the first half.
Billups hit his first shot of the third quarter, a 3-pointer, but he followed it with two quick misses and never shot again. He missed the twoprevious games because of the sprained ankle.
Iverson has led the 76ers in assists in all four games of this series. … Carmelo Anthony of the NCAA champion Syracuse Orangemen attended the game. Anthony is expected to be a top-three pick in next month’s draft. … Hamilton had seven of Detroit’s 19 turnovers, while Atkins had four. … Pistons assistant Kevin O’Neill said he has spoken with Toronto general manager Glen Grunwald about the Raptors’ vacant head coaching position. He said he had no idea what his chances are of getting the job. … Sixers F Tyrone Hill strainedhis right calf in the third quarter and did not return.