Game Review: Iverson returns as sixth man

Allen Iverson danced awkwardly in the center of his teammates’ huddle before Detroit’s 101-97 win over the 76ers yesterday.

The Pistons were fortunate that was the most uncomfortable moment of Iverson’s return from the back injury that kept him out more than a month.

Iverson, who came off the bench for just the seventh time of his career today, had been quite the distraction. His injury popped up right when Pistons coach Michael Curry decided to start Richard Hamilton. At times, it didn’t seem like Iverson would play for Detroit again.

Iverson didn’t have best game today — eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, two assists, two rebounds, two turnovers, two fouls and -2 plus-minus rating in 21 minutes. But he played hard and didn’t show any resentment about coming off the bench.

And, most importantly, he helped Detroit win a game it seemed they were destined to lose.

  • The Pistons had lost six of eight.
  • They hadn’t won consecutive games in more than three weeks.
  • They had lost seven straight in the second game of back-to-backs.
  • They were 2-12 on Sundays.
  • And they were 24-30 with Iverson.

Iverson wasn’t the main reason the Pistons won. Tayshaun Prince scored 21 points on 11 shots, most of them coming when Detroit’s offense was sputtering. And Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum combined for 28 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and three steals.

But Iverson fit right in, and that’s a far cry from the other times he came off the bench. One was his first game with the Nuggets, and the other five were punishments for missing practice or meetings.

The six other times Iverson came off the bench

Nov. 28, 2009: Detroit 107, Milwaukee 97

Iverson was benched by Pistons coach Michael Curry to begin the game, punishment for missing a mandatory team practice on Thanksgiving. He apologized Friday morning, then sat on the bench for almost 10 minutes as Rodney Stuckey started instead.

Dec. 22, 2006: Sacramento 101, Denver 96

He played 39 minutes after a whirlwind of a day in which he arrived in Denver in the late afternoon, was whisked to the Pepsi Center, passed his physical, took a few jumpers on the practice court then suited up to be on the floor for tipoff.

He spent the first 8:35 on the bench. When he finally came in, he received a standing ovation, and never left the floor.

Feb. 17, 2004: Denver 106, Philadelphia 85

Allen Iverson didn’t take his removal from Philadelphia’s starting lineup lightly, and he let everyone know how he felt about 76ers interim coach Chris Ford.

“I was angry all day from the shootaround on,” Iverson said. “Going in there and having a meeting and being with some guy that I don’t really know, telling me that I wasn’t going to start and what I have to do for us to be successful …

“I was just upset about being here eight years and somebody being here for one game and benching me.”

The star guard expressed his displeasure with Ford after Philadelphia lost to the Denver Nuggets 106-85 Tuesday night behind 28 points from Carmelo Anthony.

Iverson, who missed Monday’s practice and was held out of the starting lineup by Ford, led the 76ers with 27 points and a season-high 14 assists. He entered the game with 4:39 left in the first quarter and played 36 minutes overall.

“The relationship between us goes out the window,” said Iverson, the NBA’s leading scorer. “I told him why I couldn’t make it, and it wasn’t enough.”

Iverson said his plane was delayed after he played in the All-Star game in Los Angeles.

“The most frustrating thing was hearing him say he felt like I didn’t have respect for my teammates and that they don’t have respect for me, and that they feel like I don’t bring it every day,” Iverson said. “A coach has never, ever questioned whether I brung it every day.

“I sat there and cheered the guys on, and when I got my opportunity I came in and played the way I always play, and that is hard.

“I don’t have to be his friend, I don’t have to speak to him. I can play for him, though. I can play hard for him and I can do exactly what he wants me to do, night in and night out. I definitely will do that. But as far as having a relationship with him outside of basketball, that’s done from Day One.”

Ford, named head coach on Feb. 10, coached his second game with the Sixers on Tuesday.

Ford didn’t respond to Iverson’s remarks, saying before the game he was benching Iverson for an unexcused absence from practice.

March 1, 2002: Philadelphia 110, New Jersey 102

Allen Iverson didn’t pout after being punished for arriving late to the morning shootaround. He simply went out and made life miserable for the New Jersey Nets.

Allen Iverson hit 15 of 30 shots, and added five rebounds and five assists for Philly.

Iverson, who did not start, also shook off a leg injury to score 43 points and lead thePhiladelphia 76ers to a 110-102 victory over New Jersey on Friday night.

“It’s different. I’m not used to it,” Iverson said of beginning the game on the bench. “You break a rule and you have to pay for it and I accept that. I guess I was fighting for the sixth man award.”

Feb. 15, 1997: Miami 125, Philadelphia 99

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

They also were without Allen Iverson for the first quarter. Iverson had been benched for missing practice on Friday and wouldn’t talk to reporters last night.

The leftovers weren’t enough to make the game competitive.

Jan. 8, 1997: Dallas 111, Philadelphia 93

From The Press of Atlantic City:

Rookie guard Iverson arrived at the arena 30 minutes before gametime, missing a team meeting. Davis removed him from the starting lineup and said he would be fined.

When asked why he was late, Iverson stammered and groped for an answer before a helpful media member offered an excuse.

“Yeah, I got stuck in traffic,” Iverson said with a smile, sounding like John Lovitz’ “Tommy Flanagan” character from “Saturday Night Live.” “It’s no big deal. I wish I didn’t, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

In those games, Iverson averaged 24 points, eight assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals. But his teams went just 2-4.

I’ll take the win with a less impressive stat line and no distractions any day. And at this point, I think Iverson would, too.

Maybe we were too quick to judge him.

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