PORTLAND - Allen Iverson is back and he brought with him a victory.
Tonight, inside a sold out Rose Garden, against the very-tough Portland Trail Blazers, Iverson started at shooting guard for the 76ers after missing the previous four games with arthritis in his left knee.
Quite unlike many recent games, the Sixers played well in the fourth quarter tonight and defeated the Trail Blazers, 104-93.
Sixers reserve power forward Elton Brand finished with 25 points and 9 rebounds.
"We need a lot of toughness out there," Brand said afterward. "We fell short a few games, that's what the whole problem has been: defense, rebounding, things like that. We need that toughness out there, we need to get those rebounds, need to go to the basket, need the post catches. . . [and] having Allen back late in the game really helped a lot."
The Sixers, who have won three in a row over the Blazers, improved to 8-22. Portland dropped to 20-13.
Before tonight's victory, the Sixers had lost 16 of 18 games.
"It's tough because I [couldn't] do anything to help," Iverson said after the morning shootaround. "That was the roughest part: watching my teammates struggle and seeing things on the basketball court that I could have helped them with."
Iverson added, "Just the attention that I get out there on the basketball court will help other guys. You can't help off of me as much; you have to pay attention to where I am on the basketball court."
That's exactly what happened.
Per doctor's orders, Iverson's minutes were supposed to be limited to 28 to 30. He played 31, finishing with 19 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds, shooting 7 for 11 from the floor.
"It's a big boost," Sixers coach Eddie Jordan said of Iverson's return. "He gives us so many other intangibles: leadership, communication. Everything the best player is supposed to give you."
With about 10 minutes remaining in the game, Iverson waited by the scorer's table. While there, he was literally rolling with excitement as the Sixers built an 8-point lead. Iverson finally checked into the game when Portland, trailing 83-75, called a timeout with 9:29 remaining.
A few minutes later, Iverson had hit a baseline jumper and two free throws, helping boost the team's lead to 91-78.
"I've been working, especially on my jumper as far as having my legs back up under me, getting my legs stronger so I can get the lift I need," Iverson said after last night's game. "I honestly felt good as far as my knee; it didn't bother me at any point. A couple of times when I came out of the game it stiffened up and I had to loosen it back up."
With 3:40 remaining, the Sixers' increased their lead to 97-83.
In the second half, the Sixers scored 61 points. For much of this season, the Sixers have struggled in the game's fourth quarter, losing numerous leads down the stretch.
Tonight, it was Portland collapsing: missing bucket after bucket, getting outrebounded, outhustled and outdone.
During a dead ball timeout with 1:50 remaining, the Rose Garden went from packed to nearly empty.
Before the game, Jordan said he wanted his guys to get some easy buckets in transition. After the first quarter, the Sixers had zero fast-break points and trailed. At halftime, the Sixers had six fast-break points and still trailed.
By the end of the game they had numerous open-floor buckets: 16 points in all.
They also had one of their most impressive victories of the season.
"It was a story of everyone playing well," Jordan said. "Obviously, Allen was very good for us."