- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

In slightly less than two weeks, the NBA playoffs have produced six performances of 40 points or better, something that happened four times in last year's entire postseason.

"I guess you can say that the guys who are supposed to be the superstars are being the superstars early on," said former coach and ESPN analyst Jack Ramsey. "There have been some electrifying performances."

Heading into the three games played last night, the 40-point barrier most recently was broached when Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki scored 42 against Portland last Friday. But rest assured. With every round of the playoffs now set for seven games, there probably will be plenty more 40-point performances.

And Los Angeles' Kobe Bryant hasn't even entered the 40-plus club in these playoffs. At one point this season, Bryant posted nine consecutive games of 40 or more.

Of the six performances of 40 or better, two belong to both Nowitzki (he also scored 46) and Orlando's Tracy McGrady (43, 46), and Boston's Paul Pierce scored 40 in the Celtics' Game 1 victory over Indiana.

The best single-game performance of the playoffs has come from Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, who scored 55 on 21-for-32 shooting in the Sixers' Game 1 victory against Charlotte.

Iverson's mark, the sixth best scoring performance in playoff history, set a franchise record. It came exactly 17 years after Chicago's Michael Jordan scored a league playoff record 63 in a double-overtime loss to Boston.

"I just caught a rhythm," Iverson said. "I got in one of those rhythms where the basket looks like an ocean and I was just throwing rocks in it. My teammates did a superb job just getting me the ball in the spots where I need them, and every time I came up free, the ball was there."

There are those who might see these performances as "gunning." However, that would be a mistake this season because those gunners have helped their teams. Teams with a 40-point or better performance are 5-1, with the lone loss coming when McGrady's 46 was not enough to carry the Magic to a Game 2 victory over the top-seeded Pistons.

Last season, when Shaquille O'Neal (twice), Iverson and Pierce netted at least 40 in a playoff game, their teams went 4-0.

"You don't want to run into a hot guy like that, especially if it's in the playoffs," Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said after Nowitzki scorched his team for 46 in Game 1 of their series. "I played with Dr. J in his prime. When he got it going it made everything else come easier for the other guys on the court. Everyone's confidence goes up. All you want to do is give him the ball, get out of the way and not make any mistakes in the process. At that point all you are doing is trying to stay out of his way."

Although Pierce went for 40 in Game 1 against the Pacers, nobody believes this was his best performance of the postseason.

"No, he was way better in Game 4," said teammate Antoine Walker. "Much better."

The lower-seeded Celtics, who lead the series 3-2, took a 3-1 lead when Pierce, after being held to five points in the first half, scored a franchise-record 32 points in the second to lead the Celtics to a 102-92 win. Pierce's explosion pushed the Pacers to the brink of elimination. What's more, considering that it wiped out a 16-point third quarter Indiana lead, it might turn out to be the performance that, if they are eliminated in the first round, the Pacers will identify as the back breaker.

"Pierce exploded and we just couldn't get him under control," said Indiana coach Isiah Thomas, who once scored an NBA Finals record 25 points in one quarter against the Lakers.

Added Pierce: "I got on a roll and they just kept giving me the ball. I hit two or three in a row and just fed off the crowd. My adrenaline was going, and that's what sparked it."

However, one-man teams never go very far in the playoffs. Therefore, any team that can't adjust on those nights when its top scorer is off is eventually going to exit the playoffs.

This fact isn't lost on the Sixers, who have adjusted since Iverson came back to earth after dropping 55 on the Hornets in the opener.

Since that game and before last night, Iverson has averaged 26.3 points and shot 35.7 percent (30 for 84). But his teammates appear to have gotten the message. In their two victories since his big night the Sixers got 40 points and 23 rebounds out of their starting frontcourt, and then placed five other players in double figures in a win at New Orleans.

"I think if I'm a fan, sitting there watching what he did, I would be pretty excited," Philadelphia coach Larry Brown said of Iverson. "It was pretty neat. He took it upon himself and did extraordinary things. I don't know how it could get much better than that.

"But we can't do it expecting him to get 51. We have to do it as a team. In fairness to him, we have to have people step up and accept that responsibility."

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