Reliving an Epic Series From 2001 Finals Run
Prior to 2019, the only playoff meeting between the 76ers and Toronto Raptors was an epic Eastern Conference Semifinals series in 2001. The seven-game heavyweight between the Atlantic Division rivals featured a classic ‘game within a game,’ as superstars Allen Iverson and Vince Carter seemed to one-up the other.
Iverson and Carter each epitomized the expanding realms of basketball excellence. The Answer, of course, was six feet tall, but a fearsome scorer in the paint thanks to his speed, body control, and uncanny crossover.
Vinsanity, meanwhile, brought an assortment of aerial assaults that defied gravity.
Toronto, however, wasn’t a one-man band, and it showed in Game 1.
Its team defense straight-jacketed Iverson into an off shooting night (11-34 fg). But A.I. was still merciless in drawing fouls, as he converted 12 of 15 free throws on his way to 36 points, and pillaged Toronto with seven steals.
Carter delivered 35 points and seven assists for the Raptors, as they held off a Sixers’ rally in the fourth quarter to win Game 1 by the final score of 96-93.
After losing the series opener at home, the Sixers were carried to victory in Game 2 by perhaps the best playoff performance in Iverson’s career: 54 points on 21 for 39 shooting from the field, and 9 for 9 on free throws. The Sixers eked out a 97-92 win.
With the scene shifting to Toronto for Game 3, Carter exacted revenge with a 50-point effort of his own. The shooting guard was purely amazing, as he connected on 19 of 29 field goals overall and hit 9 of his 13 3-point attempts. Center Antonio Davis pitched in 20 points and 14 rebounds, and the Raptors won convincingly, 102-78.
Key to the Raptor win, besides Carter’s outstanding showing, was Toronto’s defense clamping down on Iverson again. The 2001 MVP was held to 7 for 22 shooting and uncharacteristically shot 8 for 15 from the foul line.
Down 2-1, the Sixers had to snag a Game 4 victory to maintain a reasonable chance of winning the series. The Toronto defense again harassed Iverson into a poor shooting night (10-30 fg), but the favor was returned. The Sixers’ defense keyed in on Carter, resulting in the All-Star guard slipping to a miserable 8 for 27 shooting performance.
With Iverson struggling, Dikembe Mutombo and Aaron McKie seized the moment for the Sixers. Mount Mutombo was devastating with 13 points, 17 rebounds, and four blocks, while McKie ran hot with 8 for 13 shooting on his way to 18 points, five boards, and five assists.
Unfortunately, forward George Lynch was lost for the playoffs after suffering a broken foot in the third quarter.
The Game 4 slugfest ended 84-79, and the Sixers evened up the series at two games apiece.
Back home for Game 5, the Sixers easily trounced Toronto for a 121-88 victory.
Prior to the Game 5 blowout, Iverson received his Most Valuable Player trophy from NBA Commissioner David Stern in a pregame ceremony. Powered by the trophy, Iverson went out and decimated the Raptors with a ridiculous 52 points on 21 for 32 shooting, which included eight 3-pointers.
In Game 6, however, the absence of Lynch showed as Carter got loose for 39 points and Raptors swingman Morris Peterson got hot for 17 points. With a huge surge in the fourth quarter, Toronto saved their season with a 101-89 win.
With the series tied 3-3, the decisive Game 7 would be played back home in Philadelphia.
Given their 50-point games and shocking athleticism, the marquee duo of Iverson and Carter did not display their typical scoring prowess in the deciding game. To be sure, they both produced needed buckets for their teams, but it was arduous for both.
After two weeks of game-planning, both teams’ defenses knew the tendencies and moves of each star. Carter was frustrated with 20 points on 6 for 18 shooting, while Iverson mustered 21 points on 8 for 27 shooting.
Like true superstars, however, both players found ways to aid their teams. Carter added nine assists, seven rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Iverson dished out a career playoff high of 16 assists.
But with neither star at his scoring best, the rest of the Sixers and Raptors got to work scraping out whatever buckets they could.
For Toronto, standout performances came from their veteran frontcourt of Charles Oakley and Antonio Davis. The 37-year-old Oakley scored 11 points to go along with 10 rebounds and four assists. Davis was superb delivering 23 points on 11 for 15 shooting.
If not for foul trouble, his impact would have been even greater and perhaps fatal for the Sixers.
Meanwhile, Mutombo and McKie unsurprisingly rose to the occasion. Dikembe snared 17 rebounds, including nine on the offensive glass. McKie led the team with 22 points.
Key to the final victory however were Eric Snow and Jumaine Jones. Snow had 34 minutes of stabilizing play (13 pts, 5 ast, 4 reb). And the 21-year-old Jones – in just his second season –scored a career playoff high of 16 points on 6 for 9 shooting.
Naturally, the rollercoaster series ended with one last wild ride in the final four minutes.
The sequence began with Iverson penetrating and kicking the ball out. Snow caught the pass at the top of the key and nailed the open jumper to give the Sixers an 84-80 lead.
Toronto returned the favor, as Carter drove to the basket and kicked it to an open Oakley, who swished a baseline jumper.
On the very next play, McKie drove hard down the baseline, used his shoulder to create separation on Carter, stopped on a dime and popped in the short jumper.
86-82, Sixers. 3:30 left.
On Toronto’s next trip down court, Snow stripped the ball from Davis. After Toronto snuffed out a potential fastbreak , Snow pulled the ball out and fired a pass to McKie curling off a Tyrone Hill screen. McKie caught the ball and effortlessly swished a 20-foot jumper.
88-82, Sixers. 2:54 remaining.
After a timeout, Davis took the ball square into the chest of Defensive Player of the Year Mutombo and banked in a left-handed hook shot.
88-84, Sixers. 2:26 left.
For the next minute, defense dominated, and the Raptors came up with a steal. Carter pushed the ball ahead to a streaking Dell Curry, who pulled up at the 3-point line.
Curry swished the jumper and closed the lead to just one point.
88-87, Sixers. 0:54 left.
Fortunately for the Sixers, those were the final points scored in the game.
With two seconds remaining, Toronto inbounded the ball to Carter. Tyrone Hill closed out hard, but Carter eluded him with a pump fake. The hard close out, though, meant Carter was off-balance as he launched his jumper.
Thanks to the off-kilter release, the ball hit the rim’s back iron.
Still 88-87. No time left. Sixers win.
With that the 76ers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1985.