Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Return of the King

In a perfect world, Allen Iverson would have made his triumphant return to Philadelphia as a 76er once more by putting up his familiar numbers — something along the lines of 30 points, 6 assists and two steals — or hit a buzzer beater and lead the Sixers to victory. In reality, we all knew better than that. The Sixers came in at 5-15, in shambles, while the Nuggets came in at 15-5, behind only the defending champion Lakers in the entire West. And Allen had played little basketball since, really, he was a Denver Nugget. There was going to be some rust, and a team mired in a 9-game losing streak would be hard-pressed to get off the schnide against Melo and company.

That didn't stop an electric atmosphere, both outside the arena and in. For once, the Wachovia had some life, some buzz on a night the Sixers were to take the court. I got off the subway from the work around 5:45, and when I got to the Wachovia Center, there were long lines waiting to get in. For a Sixers game. This is a team that has been lucky to get 10,000 fans a game. Unsurprisingly, even though they knew the game was sold out, the Sixers were ill-prepared, failing to open the building early to accommodate the extra people. Though admittedly, they didn't have to wait outside long.

I went to will call and picked up tickets, met Arkansas Fred, then silver fox and a friend of ours. As we waited for Toonces, up rolled a familiar friend, one Sonny Forriest Jr., donned in Sixers gear and singing his heart out about "Iverson coming home." Once Toonces arrived, we were all set for this damn thing to get started. We wanted to see Al, hear his named introduced and watch how he'd fare in his first action as a Sixer for the second time. We just wanted to to see Al:

As exciting as it was to see Iverson back out there, to hear Matt Cord announce his name — "A six-foot guard from Georgetown, No. 3, ALLEN IVERSON!" — I couldn't help but be completely and utterly disgusted by the fact they insisted on introducing Andre Iguodala last. Listen, this may be Iguodala's team, but last night was Allen Iverson's night. And lest Iggy forgets, this is Allen Iverson's city when it comes to basketball, not his. It was a major, major letdown to announce Al fourth instead of fifth. Hell, before the intros started, I said they should just announce Allen Iverson five times. That's what the fans wanted.

And I wasn't the only incredulous one. Arkansas Fred almost blew his top, and Joltin Joe sent me this text: "They gave it to Iggy?!?!" That was really pretty awful, but the electricity in the place was undeniable. Once the intros were over and the players took the court, everyone in the building was just waiting to explode on the first Iverson bucket. We all thought we had our chance almost immediately, as Al broke free for a layup off the opening tip on the game's first shot, but he couldn't get it to fall. A collective "Awww" went up in the crowd. Finally, with 7:01 left in the first quarter, Allen Iverson made his first bucket in act 2 as a Philadelphia 76er. The place went bonkers.

It was a truly great moment to witness, and it brought chills down my spine. But the truth of the matter is, just as A.I. cautioned, he didn't quite have his sea legs and his game was a bit rusty. Iverson wasn't his typical aggressive self, whether he was out to prove a point that he can coexist with teammates and accept a slightly diminished role or it was a simple fact of not quite being in game shape. Either way, his final stats weren't terrible or great: 11 points on 4-11 shooting, five boards, 6 assists, one turnovers, one steal, 3-4 from the line in 37 minutes and 34 seconds of action. So much for easing him in with 15-20 minutes last night.

But Iverson's presence on the court did give the Sixers a shot in the arm. With another scoring option on the floor, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young were given more space, and boy did this duo do some damage. Thad had a nice game with 21 points and five boards, doing some excellent work cleaning up down low and using the space Iverson helped create. And Andre, well, damn. You could tell that guy was motivated beyond belief from the start.

In the first half, Iguodala seemed to feed off the crowd energy more than anyone, and he was determined to make a statement: Al may be here, but this is still my team. Iggy went completely nuts in those first 24 minutes, looking like the franchise player and all-star the Sixers want him to be. The guy was all over the court in the first half, swiping steals, limiting Carmelo Anthony's touches, nailing some high-arching jump shots and throwing down some thunderous dunks.

He scored 18 points in the opening half on a very efficient 7-10 shooting. He nailed two threes, got his teammates involved as well, and led the Sixers to a 44-41 halftime lead. Oh, and he also did this after time expired at the half:

That's how ridiculously in the zone Iggy was that first half. The Sixers should sign Iverson every game if it can get him to play like that.

Unfortunately, Iguodala and the Sixers couldn't carry over that emotion and that play the rest of the way. The second half was much more of a struggle for Iggy, though he did finish with 31 points, tying Chauncey Billups for the game high, but his torrid field goal percentage came down and he began to force the issue too much, turning it over four times. Still a nice game of 31 points on 11-21 from the field, 4-10 from three, 5-5 from the line, four boards, two assists and three steals, but he couldn't keep up that spectacular pace from the first half.

That's when the Nuggets took over. Chauncey did what he's made a career of doing, coming up big when his team needed it. Billups did a little bit of everything for Denver, doling out 8 assists, grabbing 8 boards and scoring those 31 points. He got tremendous help from Arron Afflalo, who hit three back-breaking three-pointers, and Ty Lawson, who used his speed to slice through what the Sixers call defense to create many easy layups for himself or his teammates.

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Chauncey was taking over and the Sixers were unraveling. It didn't end in storybook fashion. No Iverson buzzer beater, no ridiculous stat line. Just the Sixers' 10th straight loss to drop them to 5-16. It certainly didn't help that at one point the Sixers had a quintet of Willie Green, Jason Kapono, Royal Ivey, Rodney Carney and Samuel Dalembert on the court for a stretch. And it certainly didn't help that Eddie Jordan continues to bury Jason Smith on the bench despite the fact that Marreese Speights is hurt and Elton Brand completely sucks. But truth be told, it was the outcome we all expected, even if we wished otherwise. Hell, the five of us at the game were taking bets on how many Melo would put up, all of us way off. I went with the outrageous high of 55, and silver fox was the low man at 35. Melo, who leads the NBA in scoring, finished with 14 points on 5-21 shooting … and the Nuggets still won. Meanwhile, Iggy had a very, very good game, and the Sixers still lost. If that doesn't speak volumes, I'm not sure what will.

It certainly wasn't the best of Allen Iverson or the Sixers, but I don't care. Last night that building was rocking and it gave us all a reason to care again. Maybe Iverson won't help turn the tide a little for the fledgeling Sixers, but frankly, it's just nice to have him back around.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. WHAT ON EARTH...is Iguodala doing, shooting ten threes???

    I was thrilled to see The Answer back in action last night. Here's hoping he has a great remainder of the season, and can help get that thing turned around.

  2. Iggy went a little nuts in the second half. Forcing all sorts of shit. But after hitting that full-courter, can you blame him?

    It would be nice to see A.I. have a hand in the Sixers turning things around … then again, John Wall would look pretty good next year too. Or Derrick Favors.