Allen Iverson finally shook his shadow and shook up the NBA Finals.
Hounded by unheralded Tyronn Lue, Iverson scored seven of his 48 points in a one-minute span of overtime as the Philadelphia 76ers stunned the Los Angeles Lakers with a 107-101 victory in the opener of the NBA Finals.
Iverson scored 30 points in a scintillating first half, letting everyone know that the 76ers were going to be more than another pushover for the powerful Lakers. His late flurry silenced the Staples Center and unceremoniously ended Los Angeles' run at a perfect postseason.
"Anybody that bet on it, some broke people out there," Iverson said. "I'm glad nobody didn't bet their life on it 'cause they definitely would be dead right now."
Instead, the Sixers -- double-digit underdogs -- are very much alive as they again displayed their heroic heart.
"Our guys just try hard," Sixers coach Larry Brown said. "This is kind of unexpected but it's neat."
In between Iverson outbursts, Lue stymied the NBA Most Valuable Player for nearly 20 minutes, using his quickness to prevent Iverson from even getting the ball, let alone shoot it. He had spent the last two practices impersonating Iverson and apparently got pretty good at it.
"I just try to deny him the ball as much as possible, because when he does get the ball, the best penetrator in the game is going to be hard to stop," Lue said. "We were trying to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible."
"He was holding me the whole time," Iverson said.
But the third-year reserve let his guard down for just a second and it cost the Lakers. Iverson's two free throws pulled the Sixers within 99-98 with 1:46 remaining and the Lakers called a timeout.
Lue drove and threw up a wild shot as he fell out of bounds. The Sixers rebounded and Iverson ran out in transition. With Lue nowhere in sight, he drilled a 3-pointer that gave Philadelphia the lead for good at 101-99 with 1:19 left.
"That was really the knife that wounded us," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
Rick Fox spoiled a solid game by throwing away a pass and Iverson made a step-back baseline jumper for a 103-99 lead with 47 seconds to go.
Kobe Bryant, who shot poorly and could not defend Iverson, hit a baseline jumper with 33 seconds to play. But Eric Snow, whose runner late in the fourth quarter saved the Sixers, made a similar shot to seal it with 10 seconds left.
On the eve of his 26th birthday, Iverson made 18-of-41 shots and 9-of-9 free throws, adding six assists and five steals. Playing his first NBA Finals game, his explosion offset 44 points and 20 rebounds by Shaquille O'Neal as he won the duel between the league's last two MVPs.
The Lakers rallied from a 15-point third-quarter deficit only to blow a five-point overtime lead as they lost for the first time since April 1, a span of 20 games. They had come into this series as huge favorites, having romped through the postseason with 11 straight wins by an average of more than 15 points.
"I'm kind of relieved it's over in some ways but but it does put some pressure on us to get a win on our home court," Jackson said. "We've got to go out on Friday night and find a way to get this series tied up."
The Sixers came in with no one expecting them to win a game, let alone the series. But they used their trademark toughness to do in just one game what the weak knees of the Western Conference could not do in 11 -- beat the Lakers.
"They thought we were gonna get swept and that was like a slap in the face to us," Iverson said.
Game Two is Friday at Los Angeles. Philadelphia is trying to knock off the defending champions and win its first title in 18 years.
"Now it's a series," O'Neal said.
However, Philadelphia may have to try a little harder. Guard Aaron McKie, who did a superb job of defending Bryant, suffered a chip fracture of his right ankle but is probable for Friday.
Both Iverson and O'Neal abused a series of defenders. Iverson sent starter Derek Fisher to a permanent seat on the bench and also had his way with Bryant before Lue came on.
"You can't take anything away from Tyronn Lue," Iverson admitted. "A lot of guys go out against a player that's named MVP of the regular season and won't give it his all, act like he's scared. But he gave his team a great lift."
O'Neal met some resistance from Mutombo but manhandled Matt Geiger and Todd MacCulloch at the end of the third quarter. He made 17-of-28 shots but just 10-of-22 from the line.
Most of O'Neal's offense came against single coverage from Dikembe Mutombo, who sat down with foul trouble for most of the third quarter but still contributed 13 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks.
His presence allowed Philadelphia to swarm to Bryant, who had an awful game with just 15 points, on 7-of-22 shooting, and six turnovers.
"They got into Kobe's body, and bodied him on the dribble, stripped the ball when he picked it up," Jackson said. "He really didn't clear himself for shots very easily tonight."
Snow scored 13 points and injury-hampered Matt Geiger provided an unexpected 10 for the Sixers, who shot 48 percent (40-of-83) and missed just two of 25 free throws, which came at the worst possible time.
O'Neal's dunk off a feed from Bryant with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter gave the Lakers a 94-92 lead, their first since midway through the second period.
Snow answered with his first running jumper and the Sixers had a chance to take the lead when Mutombo rebounded a miss by Snow and was fouled with 34 seconds to go. But he missed both after Philadelphia had hit its first 19 from the line.
Bryant and Snow missed, sending it to overtime, where it looked like the Lakers were ready to win. O'Neal threw in a hook, Bryant spun for a layup and O'Neal split a pair from the line for a 99-94 lead.
The Sixers looked dead when Raja Bell found himself trapped in the lane with the shot clock running down. But he pivoted and threw in a scoop shot with his left hand with 2:19 remaining, sparking the comeback.
Fox scored 19 points for the Lakers, who were playing for the first time in 10 days and shot 44 percent (40-of-90).
At the start, it looked like another Lakers landslide. A 16-0 burst capped by Bryant's first basket gave Los Angeles an 18-5 lead with 5 1/2 minutes to go -- and perhaps allowed complacency to set in.
"We watched games that they played when they jumped out on guys and guys just packed it in and stopped playing," Iverson said. "But we've been like that before. We've been in games where we started off slow and ended up winning."
Iverson scored 10 points in the rest of the period, then opened the second quarter with a jumper over Bryant for a 24-23 lead.
The Lakers still held a 38-36 lead midway through the second quarter when Jackson was hit with a technical foul for arguing a non-call against Mutombo.
Iverson made the foul shot, Geiger hit two jumpers to give the Sixers the lead at 41-40 and Iverson took over from there as he scored Philadelphia's last 15 points of the half, mostly off his trademark crossover dribble.
His 3-pointer gave the Sixers a 56-48 advantage before O'Neal hammered home a miss by Bryant in the final second.
At intermission, Iverson had 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting, lighting up Bryant, who was 2-of-10 for four points with five turnovers.
"Allen really stepped it up," Brown said. "His first half was about as good as it gets."
It continued in the third quarter, as Iverson fed Jumaine Jones for an alley-oop slam, sank a jumper and dropped a layup over O'Neal for a 64-54 lead. He took a steal in for a layup and hit a fading corner shot before Eric Snow's three-point play gave the Sixers their largest lead at 73-58 with 5:23 left.
But with Mutombo on the bench, Philadelphia could not fight off O'Neal, who overpowered Geiger and MacCulloch and muscled Los Angeles back into it. He scored 14 points in the final 5:10 of the period, and with Lue shadowing Iverson, the Lakers pulled within 79-77 entering the final period.
Philadelphia led by as many as seven points early in the fourth quarter, when Mutombo picked up his fifth foul and again sat down before returning less than a minute later as Geiger fouled out.