Sixers Fit to Be Tied Pistons pounded; series evened

Posted: May 12, 2003

The innocence reflected from his shiny eyes, which watched with amazement the 76ers' 95-82 victory over the Detroit Pistons last night. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse's sensational freshman, has no idea what awaits him in the NBA.

But Allen Iverson knows. After seven years in the league, with not one NBA championship ring adorning his finger, Iverson is acutely aware of how difficult this whole postseason dance is. It is hard, so very hard.

With what Iverson called "a big team win," the Sixers evened this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece, sending the Pistons home with the nasty uneasiness the Sixers felt after falling into a 2-0 hole. Now the pressure is on Detroit. Now the Sixers are in control.

What 20,549 fans saw at the First Union Center last night was a collection of Sixers who have never won a title trying to stay in this series. Iverson, 35-year-old Derrick Coleman, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown - none has a ring. They are hungry.

Anthony will learn.

"Time's not waiting on anybody," Iverson said after dropping a game-high 36 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds and 5 steals, with 4 turnovers, on the Pistons. "Just like that, this is my seventh year, and I thought coming into the league that I would have won at least three or four championships now. It's hard. It's hard. I take my hat off to anybody who's ever been a part of a championship team, because it's hard."

For the Sixers, things got significantly easier last night. For the second consecutive game, they shocked the Pistons, disrupting them defensively and shutting down all but Richard Hamilton offensively.

Hamilton got his, finishing with 30 points, but he got little help from the Pistons' starting frontcourt of Michael Curry, Ben Wallace and Clifford Robinson, who combined for 14 points. Chauncey Billups, back after missing two games because of a sprained ankle, was ineffective in 23 minutes - none in the fourth quarter - and finished with three points and three assists.

Meanwhile, the Sixers again got huge games from several players. Coleman had 14 points and 15 rebounds. Playing with a strained right quadriceps, Kenny Thomas scored 14 points. Playing with an injured right foot, Eric Snow contributed 11 points and six assists. With a last-minute three-pointer, Aaron McKie finished with 12 points in 17 minutes off the bench.

The Sixers basically led from wire to wire, never allowing the Pistons within eight in the fourth quarter. They shot better (52.1 percent to 42.6 percent), forced 10 more turnovers than they committed, and again dominated inside.

"Now," Brown said afterward, "it's a three-game series. We don't have the home court, and we have to get back that game we gave them last week."

Game 5 will be Wednesday at the Palace of Auburn Hills, either at 8 or 8:30 p.m., depending on who wins tonight's game between New Jersey and Boston. If the Nets sweep the Celtics, the Sixers' game will begin at 8.

Although they evened the series, the Sixers still are smarting from dropping Game 2 at the Palace. They led by three points with a minute to go, and Iverson had a chance to put the game away at the foul line and didn't.

A win there now might be easier. The Pistons seem to be in disarray, unable to slow Iverson and unable to deal with so many offensive threats. Their worst nightmare is a pass-happy Iverson, who equaled his assist total of Saturday night.

"We've got to step it up in the next game," Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. "They took it to us twice here. We've got to play better. . . . Iverson had his shot going tonight. He was dishing the ball, and guys were making shots. It was tough."

With less than four minutes to play, Detroit's Corliss Williamson cut the Sixers' lead to nine points, 83-74. This felt, perhaps, like the start of an anticipated Pistons run.

Or maybe not.

At the other end, with calm precision, Iverson dropped in a three-pointer that forced Carlisle to call a time-out. With the crowd going crazy, Iverson walked with his hand to his ear, asking for even more noise.

If there had been any doubt, there was none now. This game was over, Detroit's little trip to Philly a failure.

Now Game 5 means everything. If the Sixers win on Wednesday, they can close out the Pistons on Friday at home, bucking the odds by advancing despite having fallen into a 2-0 hole. If the Sixers lose, Friday turns to do-or-die, win-or-go-fishing.

"I feel good about what we accomplished," Iverson said.

But there is more to come - a lot more - before Iverson finally gets that ring.

Contact staff writer Ashley McGeachy Fox at 215-854-5064 or amcgeachy@phillynews.com.

Rarely Done

The 76ers, tied 2-2 with the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, haven't won a seven-game playoff series when they didn't have home-court advantage since 1985. In their franchise history, they have achieved this accomplishment only three of 19 times.

Year Opponent Series Round

1985 Milwaukee 4-0 Eastern Conference semifinals

Sixers won the first two at the Mecca, where Milwaukee had lost only five times all season, in sweeping Don Nelson's Bucks.

1982 Boston 4-3 Eastern Conference finals

Sixers were rematched with the Lakers after Andrew Toney strangled Celtics with 34 points in Game 7 at the Boston Garden.

1980 Boston 4-1 Eastern Conference finals

Julius Erving averaged 24.2 points in the series as the Sixers stomped on rookie Larry Bird's Celtics in five games.

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