PHILADELPHIA, May 20 (AP) --
The Answer passed his biggest test. The Graduate failed on the final shot and had to settle for a diploma. Allen Iverson
didn't have to win Game 7 all by himself, and he was smart enough to know it. Handing off a career-high 16 assists on a night when his shooting touch was off, Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers into the Eastern Conference finals Sunday as they edged the Toronto Raptors 88-87.
|Alvin Williams ran into tough defense from Allen Iverson.|
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE Photos
| NBA.com TV highlights: 28.8+ |
Iverson, the league MVP nicknamed "The Answer," didn't score a point over the final 6 minutes but had assists on two of the Sixes final three baskets. Vince Carter
, who graduated from North Carolina earlier Sunday and then flew on a private plane to Philadelphia, attempted the final shot of the game -- a 23-footer just before the buzzer that was long.
Iverson ran to hug his mother and daughter, confetti fell from the ceiling of the First Union Center and the rest of the Sixers celebrated the franchise's first trip to the Eastern Conference finals since 1985.
The 76ers will begin their conference final series against Milwaukee at home on Tuesday night.
In a series marked by spectacular 50-point scoring performances by Iverson (twice) and Carter (once), the deciding game was much more balanced for both teams.
Iverson didn't even lead his team in scoring, finishing with 21 to Aaron McKie
's 22, but his passing made all the difference. He continually found the open man for the types of shots that allowed the Sixers to hold onto the lead for almost the entire game.
"We're a team," Iverson said. "For the first time in my life I'm on a team."
McKie shot 8-for-16 and scored Philadelphia's final four points, Jumaine Jones
shot 6-for-9 and added 16, Eric Snow
contributed 13 points and five assists and Dikembe Mutombo
grabbed 17 rebounds and scored 10 points.
Carter finished with 20 points, scoring just four in the final quarter. Antonio Davis
led Toronto with 23. Dell Curry
pulled up in transition and hit a 3-pointer to pull the Raptors to 88-87 with 54 seconds left. Iverson missed a jumper at the other end, but Tyrone Hill
grabbed the offensive rebound and the Sixers ran the clock down to 10 seconds before Iverson passed to Snow for a jumper that missed.
The Raptors rebounded, but didn't call timeout until 3.6 seconds remained, and the Sixers had a foul to give and used it -- running the clock down to 2.0 seconds. Carter got free for the inbounds pass and faked Hill off his feet, but his open jumper clanged hard off the rim.
It was a disappointing loss for the Raptors, who battled from behind all evening only to finish short in the first Game 7 -- and the first conference semifinal appearance -- in franchise history.
Although he wasn't shooting well right from the start, Iverson was doing all the little things the Sixers needed. He had a dunk and a layup off his first two steals, and his fifth assist came on a give-and-go layup by McKie that put the Sixers ahead 29-16.
Pat Croce and Sixers fans celebrate the win:
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Toronto began the second quarter with an 8-0 run to pull within two, 31-29, but Philadelphia came right back with a 10-3 run that included two putbacks by Jones. After one of them, two of the Raptors pointed fingers of blame at Jerome Williams
-- a clear sign they weren't all working together.
Iverson picked up his 10th assist on a dunk by Hill that made it 56-52 early in the third, and Toronto missed a chance to tie when Davis got the ball isolated in the low post against Snow but missed a layup.
Iverson had one of his best plays on Toronto's next possession, racing downcourt and leaping a foot above the rim to get a finger on Alvin Williams
' fast-break layup attempt, causing him to miss.
Carter finally gave the Sixers their first lead since the first quarter by converting a three-point play with 2:30 left in the third, but Philadelphia quickly regained it and held it the rest of the way. Notes:
The Sixers, who made 41 of 42 free throws in their previous two home games, made their first 10 and then missed four in a row. They finished with 32 attempts to Toronto's 17 ... Iverson's previous career-high in assists is 15. ... The first four games of the conference finals will be played Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Monday.