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Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Decade In Philadelphia Sports Part 3: 2001

Carrying over from a thrilling Wild Card playoff game win over Tampa Bay at the Vet, the Eagles set their sights on the Meadowlands to face the powerhouse Giants, a team that had their number for a number of meetings prior to the upcoming one. Well, on the opening play of the game, Ron Dixon returned a kickoff 97-yards for a touchdown, which set up the inevitable, an Eagles 20-10 loss.

FLYERS: Unable To Rebound After Heartbreaking 2000

Roger Neilson was not asked to come back and retain his head coaching duties after his treatment was finished, leaving Craig Ramsay still at the helm. However, he was replaced mid-season by former Flyer great Bill Barber, who was previously coaching the minor league team Philadelphia Phantoms. This was a season where Eric Lindros sat out waiting for a trade and where Brian Boucher, who was stellar the year before, lost his starting job to Roman Cechmanek after sub-par play.

The Flyers finished with a record of 45-25-11-3, good for 100 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division and 4th in the Eastern Conference. However, the Orange and Black were upset in the opening round by the Buffalo Sabres 4-2. Keith Primeau led the team in goals with 34 and Mark Recchi led in assists with 50 and points with 77.

76ERS: Scrappy Bunch that Never, Ever Quit

The 2000-01 76ers seasons is without question the most memorable one of the decade for this particular franchise. After much speculation in the previous off-season as to whether or not Allen Iverson would say a 76er, all of the rumors and one extremely near-trade sparked a message into "The Answer's" head that he has to get along with his coach, Larry Brown, and do whatever it takes to win.

The team, in the 2000 part of the season, started out an incredible 10-0 and made the fans believe this team could be for real. Like the previous years' squads, Iverson was complimented by steady role players. Guys by the likes of Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Theo Ratliff, George Lynch, Tyrone Hill, Jumaine Jones and others anchored this team with Iverson's dominance for the first half of the season.

At the All-Star break, they had the best record in the Eastern Conference, thus allowing Brown to coach the East All-Stars, which by the way had Iverson on the team starting.

Iverson sparkled in a game the East was not favored to win. With the game being in Washington, D.C., near Iverson's home town of Hampton, the East fought off a deficit (down 95-74 with nine minutes to play) and won 111-110. Iverson received the MVP honors for scoring 15 of his 25 points in that stretch and when he was handed the award, he fittingly said:

"Where's my coach? Where's my coach? Coach Brown? Is he around?"

He wanted to personally thank Brown for the job he did in turning his career and attitude in the right direction.

This game would also be a precursor of things to come. Theo Ratliff, who was selected to be an All-Star, couldn't play due to a broken wrist and was slated to be sidelined for a while. Dikembe Mutombo, who was on the Atlanta Hawks when he played in that year's All-Star game, was dealt to the 76ers for Ratliff not too long after the game happened so the team could compete with the powerhouses of the West.

The Sixers finished with an incredible record of 56-26, good for the No. 1 seed in the East along with first place in the Atlantic Division. Not to mention, Iverson was eventually named the league's MVP for 2001, with Mutombo getting the Defensive Player of the Year Award, Brown Coach of the Year Award and McKie the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Iverson finished the season leading the league in scoring by averaging 31.1 points per game and steals with 2.5 steals per game. He also averaged 42 minutes a night.

In the playoffs, the Sixers would once again face the Indiana Pacers, this time in the first round and favorites. In Game 1 at home, they took a big league purely off of emotion, but lost it and the Pacers on a Reggie Miller last second three-pointer took Game 1 79-78. This left the Sixers angry and realing. It forced Brown to make adjustments and that is exactly what they did.

Game 2, with Miller scoring an astonishing 33 points in the first half alone, the 76ers fought and clawed their way to a 116-98 win. Iverson led the way.

"This is one of my most rememberable...did I say that right," Iverson asked the media. "How do you say it? Memorable. Whatever man. Y'all know what I'm talking about. I'm going to remember this game (laugh from the media)."

The Sixers won Games 3 and 4 in Indiana to slay the dragon that knocked them out the previous two seasons. In a sense, people might of thought the toughest challenge was met. That however, was clearly not the case.

In the second round, the Sixers faced the Toronto Raptors, led by superstar Vince Carter. This would be an epic series of two perennial All-Stars dueling against each other-Iverson vs. Carter. The Raptors took Game 1 in Philly 96-93, but the Sixers rebounded in Game 2 behind 54 points from Iverson in a 97-92 win.

With the series tied at one and headed to Toronto, the Raptors annhilated the Sixers in Game 3, winning 102-78. Carter had 50 in the contest. In Game 4 with Sixers against the ropes and potentially facing a 3-1 series deficit, Iverson hit a key three-pointer with 2:21 left in the game to give the Sixers the lead for good. They won 84-79.

Prior to Game 5, Iverson got word that he won the MVP award. I'll let the video below describe the excitement Game 5 brought to the Philly faithful.

The 52-point performance by Iverson without question added to his already tremendous young career. But the Sixers still had one more game to win to get over that hump of advancing to the Conference Finals. In Game 6 back north, Carter went off by hitting a slew of three-pointers for 39-points to win 101-89. This set up the historic Game 7 back in the then First Union Center.

Constant double-teaming on Iverson and an injured back forced Iverson to play a different game-a passing game. To go along with his 21 points (not even the team high-McKie with 22) he dished out a phenomenal 16 assists. The Sixers had the lead 88-87 with seconds remaining and Carter took a desperation fade-away shot from the left corner. It rimmed off the basket and the Sixers came out victorious.

In the Conference Finals, the Sixers, believe it or not, had to endure another seven-game series. Against the No. 2 seed Milwaukee Bucks with their big three of Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell, the Sixers won Game 1 93-85, but lost Game 2 92-78. At this point, Iverson's left hip joint that he injured in the Toronto series was really bothering him. He was forced to sit out Game 3 in Milwaukee and NO ONE gave the Sixers a chance. The Sixers battled without A.I., but ended up losing Game 3 80-74. This type of resiliency, albeit in a losing result, fueled Iverson to come back even more and the Sixers won 89-83 with him scoring 11 of the team's final 13 points.

Game 5 was the key contest in the series. The Bucks took a big lead early and it looked like they were going to cruise along for the win. But the Sixers, even with all of their injuries, battled back. Iverson had his ailments. Snow found out before the game his sprained ankle was more severe than orginally though and there were several other knicks and crannies the Sixers players were dealing with.

The score was 87-86 with less than a minute to go and Snow had the ball. Iverson was having an off shooting night and Snow was doing well up to that point, with 16 from the floor on 6-8 shooting. Guarded by Cassell, Snow made a move and took a 20-foot jump shot that went in to put the Sixers up 89-86.

Moments later, the Bucks put the score at 89-88 and then McKie was fouled and sent to the line. Usually, he was solid, but he missed both free throws giving the Bucks one final chance. With less than 10 seconds to go, Robinson got the ball and fired up a good look from the short corner. However, he missed it and the Sixers won! That was key because now the series was 3-2 going to Milwaukee. In that Game 6, the Sixers got behind early and battled back once again. However, this time their efforts werent' enough, losing 110-100.

A key moment came early in the game when former Sixer Scott Williams fouled Iverson hard, elbowing him in the shoulder when he was driving. This would lead to Williams, who had a good Game 6, being suspened for Game 7.

June 3, 2001 was a magical night in South Philadelphia. The video below explains the whole story.

The Sixers won 108-91 and advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1983.

The NBA Finals was a match of storied franchises-76ers vs. Lakers-David vs. Goliath. The Lakers up to that point in the playoffs were 7-0 and had not lost a game. No one expected the Sixers to even compete. Well in Game 1, they did just that.

After getting down early, the Sixers fought back and commanded the tempo for the most of the game.

But the Lakers, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant forced the game into overtime where the Lakers once again pounced on the 76ers early. It looked like L.A. was going to come out victorious after the Sixers played so well. But the 2001 76ers was a team that never quit, ever. Iverson, along with his scrappy cast of role players, led the comeback.

Unfortunately, the Sixers would lose the next four games, as the injuries piled up and started to tire the 76ers, and the Lakers were just too good.

At the end of Game 5, every fan in the First Union Center chanted "Let's Go Sixers! Let's Go Sixers! Let's Go Sixers!" thanking the team for a most incredible run.

PHILLIES: Stepping in the Right Direction

After another season in the dumps with Terry Francona as manager, the Phillies hired Larry Bowa in the off-season prior to the 2001 campaign to hopefully put the team in the right direction. Bowa brought a new attitude to the team, one of a fiery, no nonsense skipper.

Not only was there a new manager, but there was also a new shortstop. Jimmy Rollins made the team in spring training and he quickly sparked a lot of poeples' eyes with his ability and talent. Rollins was an All-Star in his rookie season.

Along with Rollins, the team had Scott Rolen at third, Mike Lieberthal and Johnny Estrada behind the plate, Bobby Abreu in right field, Doug Glanville in center and Pat Burrell in left. Not to mention, Robert Person was proving to be a solid guy in the rotation, having a very good season. The Phils got off to a great start and led the way in the NL East for a good chunk of the season. But, the Atlanta Braves crawled back and the Phillies inexperience showed down the stretch. The team finished second in the NL East with an 86-76 record, much improved from the year before. Thus, Bowa received Manager of the Year honors.

This year also had many other occurrences in the it. At the start, Jim Bunning's No. 14 was retired, along with the jersey's of Chuck Klein and Grover Cleveland Alexander. This also marked the final season in Andy Musser's fabulous broadcasting career, which began back in the '70s.

And of course, the tragic happenings of the attacks on September 11, 2001, postponed the baseball season for about a week. The Phillies were in the first game being played after the tragic attacks and it was held at Veterans Stadium, in front of a very emotional crowd.

EAGLES: Almost There

Following a very promising 2000 season that saw the team make the playoffs, the Eagles were roaring back and ready to do even better. Behind the play of quarterback Donovan McNabb, the Eagles finished 11-5 again, this time however for first in the NFC East.

This season also ended the Giants nine-game winning streak against the Eagles. On Monday Night Football early in the year, the Birds won a defensive struggle at the Meadowlands, the Eagles came back in the 4th quarter to win 10-9. Later in the season in the second to last game, the Eagles once again played the Giants, this time at the Vet. Like the previous meeting, the Eagles had to come from behind in the 4th quarter and did so to take a 24-21 lead with only a tackle on a kickoff needed to win the game. Well, Dixon returned David Akers kick deep into Eagles territory and was brought down by Damon Moore inside the five-yard line to prevent the Giants from winning. That clinched the division.

What happened in the playoffs occurred on the flip side of the calender.

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