Twenty minutes after Sunday's Game 7 had ended, Toronto point
guard Chris Childs made his way through the congestion in the
Philadelphia 76ers' locker room. His Raptors had fallen in an
88-87 classic, and now he was proffering congratulations. Childs
approached Allen Iverson, whom he had struggled to guard for
much of the series. "Great playing, Al," he said warmly. "Call
me this summer." But when Childs spotted swingman Aaron McKie,
his smile vanished. "You killed us," he said to McKie. "You just
killed us, man."
With both teams in final jeopardy, most of the questions about
Game 7 were phrased in the form of the Answer. That is, could
Toronto defuse Iverson, who had twice exploded for more than 50
points in the Eastern Conference semifinal series? "If we don't
stop him..." said Raptors center Antonio Davis before the game,
letting the thought linger in the air like an Iverson runner,
"we're in serious trouble."
Toronto did contain Iverson, double-teaming him and pressuring
him far out on the perimeter to limit him to 8-for-27 shooting.
But the Iversonaires, the team's unsung supporting cast--players
like forward Jumaine Jones (16 points), who started for the
injured George Lynch, and guard Eric Snow (13 points)--filled the
scoring void. "We didn't want to go home," says Jones. "So we all
did a little something."
None more than the 6'5" McKie. The 2000-2001 Sixth Man Award
winner, McKie joined the starting lineup in the postseason
because of Snow's bum right ankle. On Sunday, McKie played 45
minutes of efficient, blue-collar basketball and scored a
team-high 22 points. He made Toronto pay dearly for doubling
Iverson--who had a career-high 16 assists--by positioning himself
on the weak side and burying cold-blooded jump shots, including
the Sixers' final two baskets. "It seemed like every time we
started making a push, he'd hit a jumper," Toronto forward Jerome
Befitting a player who was regarded largely as a defensive
stopper when he broke into the league with the Portland Trail
Blazers in 1994, McKie also grabbed seven rebounds and hectored
Vince Carter into 6-for-18 shooting. "Aaron is so clutch on both
ends of the floor," says Sixers center Dikembe Mutombo. "People
are finally recognizing what he's been doing for us all year."
McKie's contributions go beyond the court. Teammates say that his
calming influence has played no small role in Iverson's
transformation from the NBA's prodigal son to its most celebrated
player. When Iverson accepted the MVP award last week, he said he
has tried to imitate McKie and "become a professional like he is,
day in and day out."
McKie must shoulder a heavy load in the conference finals against
Milwaukee, for his defensive assignments will include small
forward Glenn Robinson and point guard Sam Cassell. After
averaging 16.1 points against Toronto, he also is likely to draw
more attention from the Bucks than he did during the regular
season. "Maybe they've taken note," McKie said with
characteristic modesty. "But if they want to forget about me and
leave me open, I'm O.K. with that too."
--L. Jon Wertheim