If you care to check out the current Eastern Conference standings, you’ll see that the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers are on opposite ends of that spectrum. Toronto has jumped out to a 20-6 start—believe it or not, they were the fourth team in the league to reach 20 wins; quite an accomplishment—while the Sixers stumbled out of the metaphorical gate and rather than run the race, took a big steaming dump on the track. Believe it or not, these two teams faced off in a pseudo-classic postseason series almost 14 years ago, and that friends, is where we are going in the final edition of TGIFF: Thank God It’s Flashback Friday in the year 2014.
2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 7, Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers
This seven game series doesn’t hold up too well historically, which makes sense in some ways—neither team won the title in 2001 or had a prolonged amount of success after that season, and neither team was too talented outside of their respective superstars—but not so much in other ways. The series did feature league’s MVP Allen Iverson, 2nd Team All-NBA budding superstar Vince Carter, three 50-point performances (two from Iverson, one from Carter) a semi-memorable Game 7, and a still controversial decision by Vince Carter to attend his college graduation in North Carolina the same day as a Game 7 in Pennsylvania. For what it’s worth, I didn’t attend my college graduation because I didn’t really want to, plus I had the opportunity to make $200 by selling the tickets I had gotten for free for my family. So clearly Vince and I have different priorities. Anyway, it’s time to crack into the Handy Dandy Notebook and look at what mattered from this game that wouldn’t turn out to matter all that much anyway—I say this because no matter who represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, they were going to get bum-rushed by any Western Conference team regardless.
- At the announce table for NBC is one of my personal favorite crews: Mike Breen, Doug Collins and Bill Walton. Seriously, you could make a case that this is the 1985 Chicago Bears of NBA announce teams. Breen is at the very top of the game-caller power rankings, Collins offers unique insight having been a player and a coach, and Walton is Bill freaking Walton and anything he says is profound. You best believe you’re gonna be treated to some Walton gems in the next thousand or so words.
- The starting five’s for the game are Alvin Williams, Morris Peterson, Vince Carter, Antonio Davis, Charles Oakley for Toronto, and Allen Iverson, Aaron McKie, Jumaine Jones, Tyrone Hill and Dikembe Mutombo for Philadelphia. I had eight thoughts immediately after my first glance of these rosters: 1: Yuck. 2: I just gained a lot more respect for Iverson and Carter for carrying these teams to 54 and 48 wins respectively. 3: I now completely understand why Vince Carter forced his way out of Toronto. 4: MO-PETE! I loved that guy! 5: I wonder how old Charles Oakley was at this point in time. 6: I can’t believe Philly stole a game from Los Angeles in the Finals. Oops, I guess I should have hit you with a spoiler alert before that one. 7: Where is Eric Snow? 8: And people think the Eastern Conference is bad now?
- It turns out Charles Oakley was 37 at the time, and he nearly averaged a double-double for the season. I’m serious. 9.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 39 percent shooting … I have no idea what to make of those numbers.
- Philly’s crowd was on fire early on in the game. This has been a common denominator of all of my TGIFF columns thus far—well, I suppose with the exception of the crowd in attendance for the Malice at the Palace. I guess you could argue in some way that the Detroit crowd was “on fire” but not really in the way that the Sixers crowd, or any rational or law-abiding crowd should be.
- In case any of you guys forgot, AI was wearing the arm sleeve on the right arm and the elbow pad with “The Answer” stitched on it on the left arm. Not only was Iverson the first guy to regularly rock an arm sleeve, but to my knowledge, he’s the only guy ever to wear paraphernalia with his own nickname on it. Count me in as someone who wishes that were a trend that caught on to the point where we could at least buy arm bands, elbow pads, arm sleeves, or head bands with our favorite players nickname brandished on it. I’m not a Joel Przybilla fan, but I would spend a good chunk of my hard earned cash for a head band that says “Vanilla Gorilla” on it.
- I’ve always joked that when LeBron took the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 he did so with Eric Snow as his point guard, and we couldn’t even say that Snow was past his prime because he never had a prime. Well, I take that statement back. I’m sorry Eric, I didn’t realize that you were actually a legitimate difference maker at one point in your career. Or maybe I did, but the thought of so many bricked wide-open fifteen foot jumpers has erased it from my memory. Snow came in off the bench and even with a bum ankle he impressed me. He made a ton of smart plays, he played hard and he stepped into those same fifteen foot jumpers with confidence and knocked them down.
- I could pick a lot of nits related to this game if I wanted to, but I’ll just stick with the jerseys. They’re bad. The Sixers should have never ditched the red, white and blue uni’s/logo for the way too busy Black, White, Blue, Gold and Red color combo that makes my head hurt. As for Toronto, these are arguably the worst jersey’s in their franchises short history. I hope it doesn’t need to be said, but the all-time best Raptors uniforms are the ones with the basketball-playing Raptor right on the front of it. Their current uniforms are a clear step down, but the Purple-on-the-front/Black-on-the-back uniforms are just goofy, and not even in a good way.
- I forgot to mention earlier, Doug Collins opted to take the Washington Wizards head coaching job not too long before this game. Bill Walton, not a stranger to saying whatever pops into his head, came right out and asked Collins who the Wizards were going to take with the number one pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. I love it, and I guarantee you that in retrospect Collins wishes he would have said, “I really like the looks of that Spaniard Gasol; I think we’ll take him” live on television so the Wizards were locked into it and could’ve avoided taking Kwame Brown.
- This was such an Iverson-y game it’s not even funny. If you’re familiar with Iverson’s work, you know exactly what I mean. He took a ton of forced shots and missed most of them—19 to be exact—but found other ways to make an impact on the game. Even with a bad back Iverson played harder than anyone else involved in this game, dished out 16 assists, and found a way to remain effective despite the fact that nearly all of the bad shots he was taking weren’t falling. Iverson could jack up a bad shot with the best of them in his day. I can’t help but wonder how Twitter would’ve changed the long term impression of Iverson’s career. You just know there would be an army of individuals who pounced on AI every time he had one of those 7 for 31 shooting nights.
- Our first Walton gem: “I think bowel movement for Philadelphia is really going to expose some of the tendencies defensively of a Dell Curry, a Jerome Williams or a Vince Carter.” Oh wait, you know what? I think he said ball movement.
- The Raptors trailed by 10 points after the first quarter and eight at halftime, but steadily climbed back into the game in the 2nd half thanks to contributions from everybody. Carter had a few buckets, as did Mo Pete and Alvin Williams. Antonio Davis played the game of his life—well, I don’t know if this is true; I’m not too up to date on the career of Antonio Davis, but his 23/9 performance in this Game 7 was the best I’ve seen of him—and even Charles Oakley got into the fray when he buried a corner three.
- For the most part, Carter was pretty quiet throughout the game but as the announce trio noted, it would be silly to blame it on the graduation ceremony. Philly was doing just about all they could to get the ball out of Vince’s hands and he was just making the right reads. The shots weren’t going down—he was 6 for 18 shooting—but he finished with seven rebounds, nine assists, three steals, and probably nine more should’ve been assists.
- It took 47 minutes and 5.3 seconds, but Mike Breen finally delivered his trademark “Bang!” after a Dell Curry three-pointer cut Philly’s lead to one. I’d normally go more into the Curry three, but since this game was played almost fourteen years ago, I want to make a point that applies to the present. Is there a better play-by-play announcer for a big game than Mike Breen? My God, he’s so damn good. Not only does he have “Bang!” in his arsenal, but he also has “Puts It In!” that serves almost as the appetizer to the main course that is “Bang!” Are you guys following what I’m saying?
- Philadelphia got two horrible shots after the Curry three—a contested Iverson jumper and an Eric Snow three—and now we’re set up with just seconds left for the very memorable look that Vince Carter got from the corner to win the game.
Dammit, I grabbed the wrong one.
And as you can see, that did it. Philadelphia won 88-87 and would go on to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Iverson would never get back to a Conference Final. Vince Carter would be traded to the New Jersey Nets three years later, and he still hasn’t made a Conference Final. Philadelphia hasn’t made the Playoffs since 2012 and they won’t any time soon. Toronto hasn’t made it past the first round of the Playoffs since 2001, but that might change this year. Mike Breen is still calling games, and “Banging” more than ever, and that is what matters most.
Merry Christmas, everyone. TGIFF will be back in 2015. If you want to watch the game in its entirety, you can do so by clicking here.