Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers turned back the hands of time. The Wachovia Center was jam-packed. Sixers fans hit levels on the decibel meter untouched in several years. Players bounded with excitement in pre-game like it was a big game. "The Answer" was back in town and back in uniform.
The Sixers controlled the opening tip and 11 seconds later Allen Iverson launched his first shot. Unfortunately, the layup rolled off the rim to the collective groan of the sell-out crowd, followed by the "what could have been" smile of Iverson. Make no mistake, fans turned out in droves to take a trip back to better days in hope of seeing the original A.I. ignite an otherwise "not ready for prime time" team. It all felt like old times.
Even as a skeptic, it was easy to get drawn in and feel a level of optimism and excitement. Could Iverson be the catalyst to turn the second worst team in the Eastern Conference around? Could he bring back the excitement that many fans had decided was so infrequent that it was not worth the price of admission? Could he be the missing "go to" player to take the ball when someone needs to step up when the momentum is going the other way or when the pressure is on in crunch time? Could he be "The Answer?"
From the opening toss, the home team played on adrenaline fueled emotion, coming out of the gates bounding with energy. They out hustled the Denver Nuggets, fighting to grab rebounds and jumping on loose balls. Every time the Nuggets would edge close, the Sixers would respond to the encouragement of the raucous crowd to get a stop, drop a twisting jumper or drain a three. As if to protect his stature on the team, the new A.I. looked for the ball and played with an intent to make things happen as many have longed to see on a consistent basis. Iguodala even channeled Lebron James throwing in a 93 footer at the end of the first quarter (regrettably a split second after the buzzer.)
Unfortunately, the Sixers seemed to crash at the end of the 3rd quarter when the Nuggets began a 17-0 run that turned a 5 point deficit into a 77-65 lead. Suddenly, the Sixers could not make a pass, grab a rebound or make a stop. Players found themselves standing around on both ends of the court and "The Answer" was not ready for the rescue. The legs were just not there yet, presumably after the de-conditioning from a month long layoff.
This game ended the same way the previous 9 games had ended with the Sixers having the lower point total, this time 93-83. The Nuggets are clearly the better team as their opposite records (16-5 vs 5-16) validate, but for awhile it appeared that Iverson helped to close the gap. Until the adrenaline rush crashed, it was easy for the fans to raise their hopes, but the Nuggets swiftly reminded them it won't be that easy.
The talent, energy and excitement that Iverson brings to a team has never been in question as was on display last night. The problem has always been the baggage that he brings along with him. And, it is worth noting that the first warning flare fired into the air before the game even begun. Iverson arrived late to the stadium for his own "Welcome Home" party, showing up a little over an hour before game time.
Team and fan sentiment is on his side right now, but he clearly won't have the lengthy rope that he had in his previous stint. If Iverson really feels the sentiment that he expressed by kissing the team logo at center court during pre-game introductions, he would be wise to make some adjustments or his second tour of duty could be very short. When the Sixers decided to turn back the hands of time, they were not looking to dial up the circus that had precipitated Iverson's previous exit.