- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 27, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — Allen Iverson, with his tattoos, cornrows and hip-hop persona, ended up in the center of a celebratory group hug with the fans in the expensive courtside seats at Wachovia Center.

Seconds earlier, with just 3.3 seconds remaining in overtime and the scored tied, Iverson jumped in front of Jarvis Hayes’ inbound pass near midcourt and raced home for a layup, securing a 116-114 victory for the Philadelphia 76ers over the Washington Wizards.

Iverson, who finished with 28 points, 13 assists and no turnovers, could not contain his elation at game’s end. He raised his hand to his ear as if to let the 17,516 “Black Friday” fans know he couldn’t hear them. He then jumped on the seats in the first row, threw his hands around the shoulders of any fan who would fit and whooped it up with the smiling group as the 76ers (6-6) celebrated a win over the Wizards (6-5), whose three-game winning streak ended.

The scene, involving one of the biggest yet most controversial stars in the league, stood in stark contrast to the incident involving the Indiana Pacers’ Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson and the rogue Detroit Pistons fans, who engaged in one of the ugliest rumbles in the history of American professional sports Nov.19.

“I hope I don’t get fined or suspended for going in the stands, but I think my reason was a good one,” Iverson said. “It was just special. They were right there. Without them I don’t think we would have had the momentum to be able to get over the hump after those guys hit big shot after big shot. Hopefully, fans will remember it and cherish it for the rest of their lives.”

The Wizards will remember it. Cherishing it is something altogether different.

Washington played the game while coach Eddie Jordan mended in a Washington-area hospital following the discovery of blood clot in his left calf Thanksgiving Day.

“I spoke to him before the game,” said assistant coach Mike O’Koren, who filled in for Jordan. “He’s doing a lot better. He’s fine. He’s coming along, but it’s going to take some time.”

Barring complications, Jordan will return to the bench Wednesday when the Wizards play host to New Jersey.

In their failed attempt to win their fourth game in a row for the first time in nearly three years, the Wizards erased Philadelphia’s 91-82 lead in the final six minutes of regulation, then forced overtime when Hayes (18 points, seven rebounds) split two defenders from 26 feet and drilled one of the Wizards’ 10 3-pointers to send the game to overtime tied 103-103.

Antawn Jamison led the Wizards, who packed the box score with his fifth double-double (27 points, season-high 15 rebounds) of the season. Larry Hughes had a spectacular game, scoring 20 points to go with 12 rebounds and nine assists. Gilbert Arenas added 20 points, and Brendan Haywood finished with his second double-double (14 points, season-high 14 boards) in the loss.

“I don’t think we could have played any better,” said Arenas, who was Hayes’ intended target on the final inbound pass and thought he was fouled on Iverson’s steal. “He went through me to get the ball. So they let him get the ball to see if he could make it in two seconds, which he did. So you can’t do anything about it.”

Hayes also thought Arenas might have been fouled on the play. But the Wizards made their share of mistakes along the way including 17 turnovers that led to 23 points, compared with Philadelphia’s eight that led to seven.

“It’s tough,” Hayes said. “God almighty, it’s tough. It’s one of those things that seems almost a backbreaker. But we’ve got practice tomorrow, and then we’ve got to play at Toronto.”

While Iverson starred for the 76ers, he was not a one-man show. Kyle Korver shot 6-for-12 from behind the 3-point arc to finish with career highs in points (26) and rebounds (eight). Center Marc Jackson finished with 21 points and eight rebounds. And reserves John Salmons (16) and Samuel Dalembert (13) combined to give the 76ers bench a 38-22 scoring advantage.

But Iverson’s play and the ensuing victory celebration overshadowed everything else.

“Games that end like that always hurt you the most,” said Hughes, who spent his first two years in the NBA as Iverson’s teammate in Philadelphia. “That’s what he does. I know that he liked the angle he had to the ball. For a guy who likes to steal the ball, that was the perfect pass.”

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