Posted on by Dal
DENVER - The 76ers' Allen Iverson entered last night's NBA All-Star Game averaging a league-high 29.8 points per game. And while he was interested in running against the game's brightest stars, gunning wasn't necessarily his first priority. That doesn't mean that he was shy about filling it up, but his scoring was outdone by his passing.
Still as fast up and down the court as any of the league's talented young guns, Iverson scored 15 points and added 10 assists as the Eastern Conference defeated the West, 125-115, at the Pepsi Center. For his efforts, Iverson was named the game's most valuable player. He also had earned that honor in 2001.
"It feels great," he said. "I'd like to thank God for making this possible. Also my teammates and my coaching staff in Philly."
Iverson, who shot 4 for 14 from the field and 7 for 7 from the free-throw line, also grabbed four rebounds in a team-high 32 minutes.
"More than anything, he was the guy who just kept pushing guys verbally and with his energy," East coach Stan Van Gundy of the Miami Heat said. "He really wanted to win. He's a competitive guy. His intensity got everybody else going. Our intensity picked up. I attribute a lot of that to Allen."
West coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs said Iverson had done a nice job spreading the ball among his team's high-priced superstars.
It seemed like his main purpose was getting everybody involved," Popovich said. "He played defense. I thought he did a great job. It was good for him to get the MVP."
Iverson was asked if he had brought a pass-first mentality to the game.
"It's the All-Star Game," he said. "I'm not playing on a team I usually play with. The [Sixers] need me to do a lot more things than I have to do out here. I'm playing with the greatest players in the world and four other all-stars. In a game like this, you let it come to you."
Also scoring in double figures for the East were Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal (15 points), Miami's Dwyane Wade (14), Cleveland's LeBron James (13), Miami's Shaquille O'Neal (12), Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas (12), and New Jersey's Vince Carter (11).
Seattle's Ray Allen scored 17 points to lead the West. The Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant added 16.
Iverson dedicated the victory to Andre Steele, a friend whose mother, Faye, recently passed away.
"He is my best friend," Iverson said. "We've been friends since I was 14 years old. He is the guy who always has considered me Allen Iverson the friend instead of Allen Iverson the basketball player. I knew how much he loved his mom."
Through three quarters, Iverson, a 6-foot 165-pounder, had played a game-high 24 minutes. But after being taken out with 4 minutes, 35 seconds left in the third quarter and the East leading by 82-79, he didn't reappear until 8:27 remained in the fourth quarter, with the East leading by 106-97. He quickly picked up an assist on a jumper by Ilgauskas.
Last night's was Iverson's sixth straight All-Star Game, and he has started all of them. He initially played shooting guard while James ran the point.
In an interesting matchup, he and Bryant guarded each other. They are the top two scorers in the NBA this season.
Bryant was the only all-star not to receive a warm pregame reception. A mixture of cheers and boos greeted him.
After two minutes, Iverson moved to the point. Less than a minute later, he picked up his first assist, feeding Orlando's Grant Hill for a jumper.
Iverson and James got the crowd going when they connected on an alley-oop pass that resulted in a high-wire jam by the 20-year-old Cavs superstar. James returned the favor by feeding Iverson on a backdoor play.
Iverson also was paired against Phoenix's Steve Nash and San Antonio's Manu Ginobili in the first half.
It had been an introspective weekend for Iverson, who suddenly finds himself, at age 29, as something of an elder statesman. He has nine years of service in the NBA and plenty of bruises to show for it.
Through all those years - and the ups and downs that have accompanied them - Iverson has been most comfortable on the basketball court.
"I've been through so many negative things in my life, and the court has always been the place I didn't have to think what was going on in my life for two hours," he said over the weekend. "I need basketball in my life, and basketball has always been there for me."
Iverson seemed proud to pass the torch and the ball to the younger generation of players. And where maybe earlier in his career he might have taken his accomplishments for granted, he seemed much more appreciative of what basketball had meant in his life.
"It has enabled me to take care of my family and become a household name, and basketball will always be in my heart after playing," he said. "I will be involved with both of my sons. Without basketball, there would be no Allen Iverson."
There were the usual highlight-film plays last night. Carter passed the ball to himself off the backboard and then sent home a thunderous jam that brought the house down.
Iverson captivated the crowd with his quickness and passing ability. In the first half, he collected nine points, eight assists and two rebounds. He needed just that half to surpass his assist average for the season of 7.6. He impressed another Philadelphia athlete of some stature - Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens, who was a spectator.
"He's playing great," Owens said. "He's certainly a candidate to be MVP."