Iverson schools, Webber learns
AI's averages of 31 points and 10 assists weren't enough to get the Sixers around Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace and the Pistons.
This was Allen Iverson, in a sitdown with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, before the playoffs began:
"I'd be lying if I said the window is not closing. It is. I know it. I know it. There's a possibility that Allen Iverson can be one of those guys who we call a great player when he played the game but never won a championship."
This was Allen Iverson on Tuesday night, sitting proudly at a podium even after his Sixers managed just one victory over Detroit in Round 1:
"I think the management did a great job (this season) of putting guys around me and making a future for me in Philadelphia."
Which one is it?
Window closing or future materializing?
Maybe we're just getting sentimental as the years pass, but our growing appreciation for Iverson here in Dimedom -- and likewise at Stein Line HQ and other ESPN.com enterprises -- makes us want to believe that there is a future in Philly out there for AI if you look hard enough out the window.
It's true that you had to look real hard after a Detroit series that didn't generate much reason to be optimistic. It's also true that Chris Webber, who managed just 11 points in a fatal Game 5, offered up his first real hint of frustration in trying to become the first No. 2 scorer in Sixers history to forge a productive partnership with the little Answer.
"It was a learning experience," Webber said after running through a list of his favorite all-time teammates in the backcourt. "It made me a better person, and my faith in God has definitely had to increase."
Iverson's name did make it onto Webber's list along with Rod Strickland, Mark Price and Mike Bibby, but you could easily interpret the statement (and his subsequent shrug) as a concession from Webb that he hasn't developed the chemistry he hoped to have by now with AI. Then again, you could also surmise that Webber is frustrated about a lot of things ... when you factor in Webber's struggles to find a niche in coach Jim O'Brien's system, his slow recovery from knee troubles and a cool reception from Philly's fans and media.
Yet our sentimental side won't allow it. Iverson turns 30 in June, and he'll have to live up to a lucrative contract extension starting next season, but the durability Iverson displayed this season has to alleviate a least a little concern in Philly. He was an undeniable MVP contender at 29 after switching to a new position at the point, willing Philly into the seventh seed when it looked for so long that the Sixers wouldn't even make the playoffs.
I'm still not ready to write off the Iverson-Webber partnership, either. That's partly because Webber now has a full summer to get stronger and make another run -- with the benefit of a training camp -- at making the partnership work. You also can't dismiss the fact the Sixers' core also features the promise of youth (Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert) to supplement Webber's mere presence in the locker room.
It's a considerable presence, too. Just by being there, as a fellow star who has AI's respect, Webber makes Iverson believe he has a better chance to win than he did before Webber's arrival.
Window closing? Future materializing?
There is obviously plenty to debate here, and we'll continue to do so, but let's close instead with one postgame assertion from AI that we don't have to pick apart.
"I honestly think," Iverson said, "it was one of my best seasons."
No argument here ... or anywhere.
I'm sure that at some level the Boston Celtics knew they had a playoff game on Tuesday night. But you'd never know it from their performance. The Celtics committed an inexcusable backcourt violation two seconds after the opening tip and continued the sloppy ballhandling the entire evening. Though Boston's 22 turnovers resulted in part from Indiana's defense, most were the result of extreme carelessness with the ball.
Five of those 21 turnovers were pilfered by the hands of Jamaal Tinsley, who made a surprise appearance and energized the Pacers after their moribund performance in Game 4. Despite not having played in two and a half months, Tinsley got the Pacers' struggling offense rolling and was a major factor at the defensive end.
Since on Tuesday he was still shaking off the rust -- even losing his handle and dribbling the ball off the ref in the first quarter -- his impact could be even greater in Thursday's Game 6.
Game 5 was the key game of this series.
Indiana's Stephen Jackson called the series a "legal pit bull fight," and whichever team were to come away with the 3-2 advantage would have seized it by the throat. With a 2-2-1-1-1 format, you absolutely do not want to lose Game 5 at home and then have to try to win an elimination game on the road just to force another on your court.
On the other hand, you are straight up lovin' life if you've taken Game 5 on the road, because now you get to go home to try and close it out. Fail, and there's another game.
So the Pacers have a little more space between their backs and the wall than Boston does right now.
Van Gundy (seated) has never been afraid to mix it up.
We polled you, the citizens of SportsNation, to see what you thought of the Jeff Van Gundy situation. More than 22,000 of you clicked in with your views.
What is your opinion of the $100,000 fine levied against Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy?
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Overall, how would you rate the performance of NBA officials in the playoffs?
Phoenix 4, Memphis 0
Phoenix wins series, awaits DAL-HOU winner
San Antonio 3, Denver 1
Game 5: Wed., at San Antonio, 9:30 ET, TNT
Seattle 4, Sacramento 1
Seattle wins series, awaits DEN-SA winner
Dallas 3, Houston 2
Game 6: Thurs., at Houston, 9:30 ET, TNT
Miami 4, New Jersey 0
Miami wins series, awaits CHI-WAS winner
Detroit 4, Philadelphia 1
Detroit wins series, awaits IND-BOS winner
Indiana 3, Boston 2
Game 6: Thurs., at Indiana, 7 ET, TNT
Chicago 2, Washington 2
Game 5: Wed., at Chicago, 7 ET, TNT
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Sonics rule: Peja scored 38, but the Kings remained soft defensively, allowing Reggie Evans (shown here) and his Seattle teammates to shoot 56 percent and move on to the Western Conference semifinals.
Play of the Day
-- Seattle's Jerome James is still sticking to the story that the Kings handed him a plastic garbage bag to take home his belongings after releasing him as a rookie. And that, James says, is why he wore a black garbage bag as a cape in the postgame celebration after the Sonics clinched their berth in the second round.
Here's the biggest reason you should be paying attention to Washington and Chicago: These two teams will be battling in the Eastern Conference playoffs for years to come. Look up and down the rosters of both teams, and you'll notice that almost all the key players are 25 or younger. Even the so-called "veterans" are young.
Perhaps these two clubs know they're bound to meet again, because there's already a serious rivalry between the two. They got in a fight in a preseason game, for crying out loud, and have been engaged in a war of words for much of this series.
They present a wonderful contrast in styles, the coaching battle has been terrific, they're both rising forces, and they absolutely hate each other. Regardless of what happens to the winner in the next round, this is exactly the kind of playoff series that's worth watching.
When Wizards coach Eddie Jordan called Michael Ruffin's number instead of Kwame Brown's, that was the last straw for Brown's D.C. career, it appears. But the coach -- not the first Jordan to show disappointment in Kwame -- knew what he was doing. According to our Plus/Minus and Five-Man Unit stats, Ruffin has been good at helping the Wizards dig out of the hole that Brown has put them in.
And on a day when Ben Gordon was named the league's Sixth Man of the Year, we have to wonder if he even is the Sixth Man of the City. ESPN Insider John Hollinger would have voted for Chicago's Tyson Chandler as the league's top Sixth Man, and the Bulls' playoff numbers support his case -- the team has performed better with its defensive stopper Chandler on the floor than with any other player.
Nuggets coach George Karl made one lineup switch after the first two games of his team's series against San Antonio, replacing DerMarr Johnson with Greg Buckner.
It hasn't worked out as he hoped. While Buckner has had occasional flashes at the defensive end, including his block of Manu Ginobili's shot at the end of regulation in Game 4, he's a big reason Denver's offense is stuck in the mud. In two games as a starter, Buckner has contributed just two baskets, for a measly 3.0 scoring average.
Compared that to Johnson's output. As a starter in the first two games, he averaged 8.0 points and only missed three shots. He's kept it up in limited minutes over the past two games as well, shooting a team-best 55.0 percent on the series and nearly tripling Buckner's scoring average in fewer minutes. With his team on the brink of elimination, Karl might want to reconsider that shooting guard swap.