A.I. hasn't been 'The Answer' for Nuggets' playoff woes
DENVER -- Allen Iverson has gone from almost invincible to nearly invisible.
In six trips to the playoffs with the Philadelphia 76ers, Iverson's 30.6 scoring average was second all-time to Michael Jordan's 33.4.
He promptly poured in 31 in his Nuggets playoff debut, but he's gone in a deep funk ever since, making just 25 of 70 shots in the last three games, all Spurs wins.
Just 9-of-25 Monday night, he didn't score at all over the final 5:24 as the Nuggets watched their four-point lead evaporate in a 96-89 loss.
"I just couldn't dig in late," said Iverson, who scored 22. "I'm not trying to take anything away from them. They have been effective and are making me take tough shots. When I drive to the basket, they are shadowing me and making sure that I see more than one defender. It's just something I have to get through."
With their season on the line, the Nuggets are sticking by their superstar who joined them in December.
"I ain't really worrying about him," Carmelo Anthony said. "I already know what kind of player he is and what he is capable of doing any given night. He's going to play hard regardless of how he is shooting."
Iverson also missed 16 of 25 shots in Game 2, when he didn't get to the free throw line, and he misfired on 13 of 20 shots in Game 3.
The Nuggets trust that "The Answer" will find a solution Wednesday night in San Antonio so that Denver doesn't get bounced from the playoffs in five games for the fourth straight season.
"He's an aggressive ballplayer," Marcus Camby said. "He's not doing anything out of the ordinary from what he's been doing his whole career. He's been fantastic. The shots just haven't been falling for him the last couple of ball games. But those are the shots we want and need him to take in order for us to be successful."
If A.I. can suddenly get hot as he has in playoffs past, he might just be the Nuggets' ace in the hole.
"We hope so," Camby said. "The guy has been through it all, and as his teammates, we have the utmost confidence in his game. Even when he's shooting bad he still can be effective out there. He's finding guys, penetrating, getting guys layups, getting Nene dunks. He's doing a lot of other things besides scoring."
For the most part, the Spurs have succeeded in forcing A.I. to settle for jumpers instead of uncontested layups. Even when he breaks down the defense and gets good, open looks, his shots are short.
His 23.3 scoring average in this series is the worst of his career and his 5.3 assists per game is almost half of what he averaged in his last trip to the playoffs in 2005, when he also averaged 31.2 points.
"With him, even when he's making shots, as long as I have my hand up and I'm in front of him, that's a good thing because that means he's working for that shot," Spurs defensive specialist Bruce Bowen said. "Yes, he may make it, but after a while I feel like those shots become tougher."
Coach George Karl is optimistic Iverson will relocate his shooting touch in time to salvage the series.
"Remember, A.I. had his best passing game yesterday. He had his best play-making game, which I think is almost as important as him finding his shooting rhythm," Karl said. "For me, I trust him, I believe in him, he's very dangerous, and I'm excited about what he's going to do in Game 5."
While Karl is sticking with Iverson, he's given up on J.R. Smith, who got a second chance after several mental lapses in a 2½-minute span in Game 3 turned the series in San Antonio's favor.
"He's done," Karl said.
Karl said the final straw was Smith's errant 26-foot jumper with 27 seconds left and the Nuggets down four Monday night.
"I have no idea what planet that came from," said Karl, who had drawn up a play to get the ball to Iverson or Anthony.
"And then of course the one with eight seconds to go from 50 feet," Karl said, shaking his head. "I just love that. I love the dignity of the game being insulted."
Smith, who led the team in 3-pointers in the regular season, has gone 0-for-12 from long range in the playoffs. Karl had stuck with him despite his poor performance in Game 3, which included a flagrant foul and a bad inbounds pass that Robert Horry stole before burying a 3-pointer.
"He's a good-bad player," Karl said. "You evaluate his good, you evaluate his bad. He had good plays in Game 3 and he had good plays in Game 4. But you've just got to be mentally more secure and tougher than he showed in Game 4."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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