Ever since Miami won the Eastern Conference title on Saturday, I’ve been almost unable to control my excitement for Miami-Oklahoma City. Specifically, the matchups within. Russell Westbrook taking on Dwyane Wade. Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James. When I looked back to find a comparable matchup of unstoppable offensive forces in an NBA Finals’ first game, though, I found something that tops it all.
Let’s go back to 2001. Philadelphia goes to Los Angeles for Game 1. Allen Iverson is coming off an MVP season and playing a career-high 43.7 minutes per game. All season he put in more work than a Costco gas station’s lone attendant on a summer weekend, sprinting from one thing to the next, keeping everything together when with no one there to back him up. He willed Philly to the Finals and it continued once he got there. Staples Center’s going to turn down the lights like a stage? All the better for AI to drop 48 points in Philly’s stunning win (of course, it would be their only win of the series). He shot 18-of-41 in 52 minutes, and if there’s one play that should stick with you from it, it’s his shake of Tyronn Lue in the corner before stepping over him.
Numerous Finals games have high scorers. This one had two. Shaquille O’Neal went for 44 of his own that night, shooting 17-of-28 with 20 boards. His rebounding total by itself set a record for most in a Game 1, later tied by Tim Duncan from 2003. Seeing the numbers from a distance of 11 years is crazy enough, but watch the tape and see the styles. The contrast of AI’s slices countered by Shaq’s manners of an 18-wheeler once he got in the paint.
Iverson would go on to lead 11 statistical categories en route to being the top scorer of the playoffs. Shaq would get Finals MVP after averaging 33 points, 15.8 boards and 4.8 blocks.
Was this the best Finals Game 1 of all time?
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