Allen Iverson played the series of his life in the 2001 NBA Finals against Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers. AI dropped a 48-point masterpiece in Game 1 to stun the overwhelming favorites and defending champs.
Iverson’s jaw-dropping first game was all the impetus Shaq needed to prove he was still the best and most dominant player in the NBA. “The Answer” recalled that series with a post on Instagram:
“We had a chance until we woke up the sleeping giant. @Shaq Finals MVP 33.0/15.8/4.8”
Shaquille O’Neal captured the second of his three straight NBA Finals MVP trophies that year after averaging 33 PPG, 15.8 RPG, 4.8 APG and 3.4 BPG. The fact that he did it against Dikembe Mutombo, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, was even more staggering.
Shaq didn’t have a bad Game 1 against Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers. He still finished with 44 points, 20 rebounds and five assists. But it was “The Answer” who smoked the Lakers in overtime.
The diminutive Allen Iverson only managed three points in the fourth quarter behind the leech-like defense of current LA Clippers head coach Ty Lue. AI, however, exploded for seven points in OT, to rally the 76ers from a five-point deficit to stun the Lakers.
Before the loss to Allen Iverson’s 76ers, O’Neal and the Lakers had an immaculate postseason. Their biggest rival, the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs, quickly went down in four games in the Western Conference Finals.
The shocking Game 1 upset against Philly lit the fire under Shaq and the Lakers. Behind O’Neal’s overpowering dominance in the paint, the Lakers rattled off four straight wins to secure back-to-back titles.
There was no doubt that the big man would win the NBA Finals MVP after drubbing every defensive scheme Philly threw at him.
Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers had no answer for Shaquille O’Neal in the 2001 NBA Finals
The biggest subplot entering the 2001 NBA Finals was the mouthwatering matchup between Shaquille O’Neal and Dikembe Mutombo. “Deke” was already a four-time DPOY of the year winner and had built a reputation as one of the best defenders the league had ever seen.
Mutombo was Philly’s big trade acquisition in 2001 as they finally had the defensive lynchpin they were all waiting for. The 76ers knew that if they got to the Finals, the road to the championship would see them pass through Shaq and the Lakers.
In the end, Mutombo, Matt Geiger, Tyrone Hill, Todd MacCulloch and the kitchen sink couldn’t stop the “Black Superman.” It seemed like only the free-throw line could prevent Shaquille O’Neal from getting buckets.
Shaq was horrible from the 4.5-meter line, hitting only 51.3% of his attempts. O’Neal’s averages would have been even more jaw-dropping had he hit at least 75% of his freebies. It didn’t matter, though, as the Lakers won the championship and he lifted the Finals MVP award.