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In the heirarchy of all-time mismatches, it goes "Insert Conference Here" vs. the SEC in college football bowl games, David vs. Goliath and Iverson's 76ers vs. the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals. In that order.
Phil Jackson's Lakers, the reigning champs, entered this series riding a 19-game winning streak, 11 of which came during their three-round sprint through a loaded Western Conference. In successive rounds, they swept Rasheed Wallace's Portland Trail Blazers, Chris Webber's Sacramento Kings and Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs.
As for Iverson's 76ers, well, they were lucky to still be standing. They dropped one game to the Indiana Pacers in the opening round, then three each in the next two series against the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks.
According to ESPN's Chris Sheridan, Lakers fans were chanting "sweep" 30 minutes before Game 1 even tipped off. It wasn't so much arrogance as it was a simple understanding of the two teams on the floor. L.A. had a championship team, rife with Hall of Fame talents (Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant) and championship experience. Philly had Iverson.
But for one night, for those 52 minutes, Iverson was enough.
Less than nine minutes into the game, the Lakers had already built a 21-9 lead. By halftime, though, Iverson had completely pulled all the attention away from the defending champs as he entered intermission with 30 points and his team nursing a 56-50 lead.
Out of the break, L.A. focused solely on stopping the undersized scorer. Iverson scored just 11 points over the next 24 minutes, none in the final nine minutes of regulation.
Thanks to Eric Snow's game-tying layup at the 1:38 mark of the fourth, though, Iverson would get his chance at redemption. Neither team scored again in the quarter, so an extra session was needed to untie this 94-94 knot.
L.A. scored the first five points of overtime, but Philly answered with a 7-0 run of its own to take a 101-99 lead with 1:01 remaining.
After a Rick Fox turnover, Iverson put this game on ice and Lakers' guard Tyronn Lue on the unfortunate end of the game's most unforgettable image. A stepback dribble gave Iverson enough space to fire a 16-footer from the corner that drew nothing but net. Lue slipped and fell to the floor, and Iverson took two slow, calculated steps over him before heading back to the other end.
The 76ers escaped with a 107-101 win, and Iverson, who finished with 48 points, six assists, five steals and five boards, relished the chance to serve crow to all of the doubters after the game.
"Big-time underdogs," he said, via Sheridan. "I'm glad nobody bet their life on it because they'd be dead now."