Welcome on A Link to the Past ! Every week, we talk about a great performance that just happened in the NBA and put it in an historical perspective. Then we tell a story about NBA history. This week, for our first article, we use Dunleavy’s 35pts and his 8-10 from beyond the arc to revisit one of the best series in the 2000 playoffs : the 76ers-Raptors 2001 series.
The Bulls had an amazing regular season this year, after D-Rose injury, after Deng was sent to Cleveland. They were the best defense in the league and Noah was awarded a well deserved DPoY title, but he was also great in offense, especially in passing. But they seemed completely lost in the playoffs ! Lost and confused. In the last game they scored only 69 points in Chicago… That’s one of the worst home performances ever. Even if they did worse last year with a 88-65 defeat against Miami. It required a miracle for them to win a single game… It was game 3 in Washington and the Bulls needed Mike Dunleavy to score 35 points ! And a huge 8-10 from three point range.
That’s an amazing performance and not a lot of people have done this in NBA history. Three point shooting is a very recent specialty and all 35/8 performances in postseason occured in the last 20 years. Dunleavy is only the 8th player to make it, here’s the list :
And Ray Allen is the only player who did it twice. But what’s the most intriguing about this list is how close Iverson and Carter performances are. Same playoffs, same week, same series ? Yes sir ! Not any series, one of the best in the early 2000’s in a depressing Eastern conference. Here we go !
Before we talk about this series, a conference semi-finals match-up between Philadelphia and Toronto, let’s check how the two teams look like and how they played in the regular season and in the first round.
The Sixers have a huge year on top of the Eastern conference (56-26). The last time Philly won 56 games in one season it was 1984-85, featuring Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks and rookie Charles Barkley !
Of course, they’re built around the league MVP Allen Iverson (31.1ppg, .420 FG%, 4.6apg, 2.5spg). Aged 25, Iverson gets 93 votes out of 124 and wins this award with a huge margin over Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal.
The rest of the team is mainly made of roleplayers : Aaron McKie, Eric Snow, George Lynch, Tyrone Hil… But the 76ers face the playoffs with a second dominant player : DPoY Dikembe Mutombo (10.0ppg, 13.5rpg, 2.7bpg) is traded from Atlanta in February.
In the first round, Philly has an unpleasant surprise and loses game 1 at home to the Pacers led by Jermaine O’Neal (12pts, 20rbds) and Reggie Miller (17pts). But the Sixers win the 3 next games and cruise to the semi-finales. Iverson (31.5ppg, 6.5apg) and Mutombo (14.8rpg, 4.5bpg) are where they’re expected to be !
The Raptors are 5th in the East (47-35) and they’re having the best season in the history of their young franchise (created in 1995).
Like the 76ers, they’re a one man team built around their superstar Vince Carter (27.6ppg, .460 FG%, 3.9apg, 1.5spg), the 5th scorer in the league and All-NBA 2nd Team. There’s only one other player above 10ppg in the Raptors roster ! And it’s Antonio Davis (13.7ppg, 10.1rpg, 1.9bpg).
In the first round, they face the Knicks in a very tough match-up. Vince Carter has trouble shooting, Allan Houston has none and NYK leads 2-1. But Toronto forces a game 5 with a 100-93 home victory behind Carter (32pts) and a huge Chris Childs (25pts, 8-11 FG). The decisive game can be explained by one action. Raptors lead 85-83, 1:30 left. Carter shoots, misses. Antonio Davis gets the rebound, give the ball to Carter. Carter shoots… and misses again. But he grabs his own rebound and scores at the rim ! The Raptors win 93-89 and earn the right to face the 76ers.
GAME 1 : 96-93 RAPTORS
The 76ers have a rough start at home. AI scores 36 points but shoots an ugly 11-34. Carter scores 35 points (13-29) and makes the difference in the last seconds. With 13 seconds to play and a 92-90 Raptors lead, he tips his own shoot in the basket ! After a 3-pointer from Iverson and two free throws made by VC, Philly has a shot to force overtime but it’s missed by an open Aaron McKie.
GAME 2 : 97-92 SIXERS
There starts the legend. The 76ers can’t afford another loss after game 1 so Iverson takes care of everything and scores 54 points (21-39) ! That’s way more than the rest of his team (42pts) and an almost historical performance. Before 2001, only five players had a 55+ game in the playoffs : Elgin Baylor (once), Wilt Chamberlain (once), Rick Barry (once), Charles Barkley (once) and Michael Jordan (five times). After 2001, only one and it’s… Iverson two years later. Despit this tremendous outburst from AI, it’s a tough game for Philly. They lead only 85-84 with 5 minutes left and Iverson has to score another 11 points to even the series !
GAME 3 : 102-78 RAPTORS
The first large win of the series. And Toronto thanks for it Vince Carter who scores 50 points (19-29) and ties a postseason record with 9 3-pointers ! The most impressive about VC performance is his first half. He finishes the second quarter with 34 points and an historical 8 3-pointers, crushing the previous record (6). He even makes his first 8 3-pointers before missing one ! Vinsanity 1 – AI 1. But Toronto takes the lead.
GAME 4 : 84-79 SIXERS
Can the 76ers win a game if Iverson scores less than 54 ? Yes they can ! With their defense (Raptors FG% = .333) and some roleplayers playing at their best level (McKie 18pts 8-13, Mutombo 13pts 17rbds 4bcks). Iverson (30pts 10-30) and Carter (25pts 8-27) both have an horrible game and the series is tied !
GAME 5 : 121-88 SIXERS
There the legend goes bigger. Allen Iverson crushes the Raptors with 52 points (21-32), 7 assists, 4 steals and 8 3-pointers ! Wow. He’s only the second player ever to score 50+ twice in a series (guess who’s the other one). And three 50+ games in one series ? How big is that ? Really, really big. Numbers : three is the number of postseason 50+ games we had in the last ten years, between 2004 and 2014 ! Two games ago, Toronto was confident about winning the series and now Philly leads 3-2. Two match points for the 76ers !
GAME 6 : 101-89 RAPTORS
In a way, this series sumarizes Allen Iverson. One game he’s unstoppable, one game he’s… just stoppable. The Raptors double-team him in Toronto and he goes for an awful 6-24 (and 1-7 from three point range). Carter scores 39 points (17-31) and sends the series back to Philadelphia.
GAME 7 : 88-87 SIXERS
This series was destined to end like that. On a last shot, deciding the fate of both teams. Carter (6-18) and Iverson (8-27) both have a terrible scoring game 7, but AI makes a huge difference passing the ball to his teammates : 16 assists ! And the 76ers should have won the game more easily. They lead 88-82 with 3 minutes left and still 88-84 with only one minute left. But Aaron Williams blocks Iverson and Carter gives the ball to 36 years old Dell Curry for the three : 88-87 Philly ! And the 76ers can’t score a point in the clutch. So Vince Carter has a shot to send the Raptors in the Eastern conference finals. But the ball bounces on the ring and falls away…
What happened after this series ? The Raptors never went to the conference semi-finals again. Until this year, maybe. The 76ers beat the Bucks in the ECF, thanks to 44 points from Iverson in game 7, and went to the NBA finals… where they lost 4-1 to the invincible Lakers and to a huge Shaq (33.0ppg, 15.8rpg, 3.4bpg). Then, they never went to the conference finals again… And it will need another few years for the 76ers fan to even hope for it !