PHILADELPHIA — A.I. vs. Kobe delivered the throwback duel fans paid to see. Just like in the 2001 NBA finals, Bryant's Lakers came out on top.
Bryant roused the 20,000 fans who came to jeer him as much as they did to root on the 76ers, scoring 24 points to lead Los Angeles to a 99-91 win over Philadelphia on Friday night.
Bryant always packs the Wachovia Center when the he makes his yearly visit to his old stomping grounds. He rarely disappoints in putting on a show for the fans who boo his every touch, yet line the court to snap countless photos.
While Bryant is still in his prime, Allen Iverson is in a steady decline. Lakers coach Phil Jackson said the All-Star showdown misses some of the buzz of years past when both could make the argument they were tops at their position.
Don't tell Iverson. He crossed-over and crashed his way toward a season-high 23 points.
Iverson and Bryant are responsible for Philadelphia's only two sellouts this season. Iverson's first game back in Philadelphia drew 20,664, and Bryant helped draw 20,809 on Friday.
For a half, each let their teammates do all the scoring. Both Bryant and Iverson scored only two points in the first half, and the Lakers led 51-42 at the break.
Then it got fun.
As if to show the first 24 minutes didn't matter, Bryant caught the first pass of the second half, spun and buried a 14-footer.
He gave the Lakers a brief scare moments later. Elton Brand dove for the ball and tripped up Bryant, who instantly grabbed his left knee and hobbled toward the sideline. The Lakers called time out, allowing Bryant some extra time to lightly jog and test out the knee.
Spoiler alert: Bryant can play like an MVP even when he's banged up. He promptly stole the ball and buried a fadeway that gave the Lakers a 15-point lead.
Iverson, one of the greatest small men in league history, showed he's still got something left in those 34-year-old arthritic legs. He nailed one 3-pointer and two possessions later hit another that sliced the deficit to eight.
Iverson showed a glimpse of his former MVP self when he crossed-over Derek Fisher and tossed up a running bank shot as his 6-foot frame slammed onto the unforgiving court. He sank the free throw to complete the three-point play that was vintage Iverson and make it 68-63.
That was about all Iverson and the Sixers could muster to make this one a truly close one.
Bryant stepped to the line late in the third to chants of "MVP! MVP!" only to hear it quickly drowned out by boos. He finished the quarter with a little step-back jumper to offset an invigorated Iverson.
Iverson scored 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the third to top Bryant's 5-of-7, 14-point quarter. Iverson and Bryant each made 10 baskets in the game from the floor.
The damage was done. The Lakers built a 16-point lead and played the fourth in cruise control.
Pau Gasol had 19 points and 10 rebounds, Ron Artest scored 18 points and Lamar Odom had 13 for the Lakers.
Brand scored 19 points, and Sam Dalembert had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
The Sixers outrebounded the Lakers 44-36. … The Sixers are only 7-16 at home.
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