NBA East 111, West 110
Monday, February 12th 2001, 12:00 am
News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) â€” During a timeout with 5:34 to play in the NBA All-Star game, Allen Iverson slapped his hand on the scorer's table and guaranteed victory.
Never mind that the heavily favored Western Conference was leading by 13 points. Or that this 50-year-old annual exhibition is usually more about show than desire as the clock winds down.
Iverson was about to deliver.
``One of the guys (at the table) said we would do good by just letting them win by 10,'' Iverson said. ``I told them we were going to win. I was joking with him, telling him to bet something if he thought we weren't going to win. None of them wanted to bet, so obviously they knew something that God knew.''
Iverson and Vince Carter, with serious help from Stephon Marbury and Dikembe Mutombo, then finished the comeback that stunned the West on Sunday night. The Philadelphia 76ers guard finished with 25 points and was named MVP as the East overcame a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 111-110.
``We had every reason to make this like a regular All-Star game and lay down and stop playing, and it didn't happen,'' East coach Larry Brown said. ``I had no idea we could come from behind. It was a wonderful ending for us.''
The incredible finish, which featured a final-minute shootout between Marbury and Kobe Bryant and a block by Carter on Tim Duncan at the buzzer, turned a sometimes routine All-Star game into an electric memory.
``It was like a championship game out there,'' said Mutombo, who had 22 rebounds. ``I've been in the All-Star game the last seven years, and I've never seen anything like this.''
It was what the NBA needed in as the league wrestles with a post-Michael Jordan post-lockout slump. All-Star weekend was starting to drag: Saturday's Slam Dunk competition was a bore, and Bryant openly questioned the game's value by saying he showed up only because he didn't want to get suspended.
This year's season has been lopsided, with a talent-loaded West and a mediocre East. The trend continued early in Sunday's game as the East missed its first seven shots and had five turnovers to fall behind 11-0.
The rout was on, it seemed, and a few scattered highlights would have to do the rest of the way. Carter had two eye-popping dunks in the second quarter â€” a 360-degree and a windmill â€” that would have won him the Slam Dunk contest for the second year running had he entered. Jason Kidd capped an 8-0 run with a 50-foot shot at the halftime buzzer to give the West a 61-50 lead.
But then came the fourth-quarter rally, in which Iverson all but screamed for the fans to give the young generation its due.
``You're never going to be able to replace Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Larry Bird,'' Iverson said. ``You're asking too much. They brought everything to the game. They made us able to be able to come in with our own identity and our own image and be ourselves. We're not going to put our feet in those shoes.''
Iverson scored 15 of his 25 points in the final nine minutes. Marbury hit two 3-pointers in the final minute as he dueled Bryant and the lead seesawed.
Bryant's short jumper made it 106-105, and his 20-footer gave the West a 108-105 lead with a minute left. Marbury, ecstatic over making his first All-Star appearance, tied the score on a 3-pointer with 53 seconds left.
Bryant answered right back with another jumper, but Marbury did him one better with another 3-pointer that gave the East a 111-110 lead with 28 seconds left.
The West set up for a final shot after inbounding with 10.9 seconds left. Bryant got the ball, but with everybody in the building expecting him to shoot â€” his injured teammate Shaquille O'Neal was probably certain of it â€” Bryant faked Marbury off his feet and then threw the ball to Duncan for a short shot that was partially blocked by Carter just before the buzzer.
``I was just reading the defense. I wasn't thinking about anything else, not about the fans, not about the end of the game,'' said Bryant, who led the West with 19 points. ``I had an opportunity at a shot, but I was thinking Tim had a better look.''
The East trailed 95-74 with nine minutes left after the West dominated the first 39 minutes behind its superior size. It appeared the game would come out looking like a mismatch that would back up all the Western Conference superiority theories that have been thrown around so frequently this season.
``Everybody was saying we couldn't win because of our size. It's not about size. It's about the size of your heart,'' Iverson said. ``Coming into the fourth quarter, we were all sitting on the sidelines saying 'Why not us? Why can't we be the ones to come back from a 19-point deficit (after three quarters) in an All-Star game?'''