Allen Iverson, like every other die-hard 76ers fan, didn’t expect to be here.
Not after Philadelphia overpowered and dominated Toronto for the first two games of their first-round playoff series. Not after Joel Embiid hit an insane overtime game-winner to take a 3-0 series lead.
Iverson didn’t expect his team — the one he watches so often from a courtside seat at the Wells Fargo Center — to be facing down a Game 6 in Toronto Thursday night, and maybe a Game 7 Saturday at home.
“We got to go in there and get a W because if we go back home for a Game 7, man, anything can happen and it’s going to be tough for us, so we got to get them out of here….” Iverson said in an interview he did as an ambassador for PointsBet (a partner of NBC Sports).
“Because if you go up 3-0 and don’t get it done, you have to do a lot of soul searching, man, and that’s when all the BS starts. That’s when guys start pointing fingers and playing the blame game.”
That blame game has already started around Philadelphia, and a loss Thursday will have fans reaching for the panic button. Well, some fans, but not Iverson.
“Not really a concern, but a little bit of frustration,” Iverson said. “I wasn’t surprised [the Raptors] got a game, but I was surprised with the last one [Game 5], for them getting us at home. We needed to close out.”
The 76ers were sluggish and looked worn down in those two losses; then Joel Embiid’s torn ligament in his thumb adds to the concern and frustration. Iverson led the 76ers the last time they went to the NBA Finals 22 years ago, and he didn’t want to hear the team talk about being tired.
“I’m pretty sure at this point of the season everybody’s beat up,” Iverson said. “I remember getting to the playoffs and everybody had nagging injuries from throughout the year, the whole roster is beat up, even the trainers might be beat up right now.”
The blame game has already started in some corners of Philly fandom, with James Harden — who has been solid but not the second superstar the 76ers thought they traded for — taking a lot of the heat. Iverson still has Harden’s back.
“He’s going to answer the bell. I just believe in him. I trust him,” Iverson said. “I think we’re going to be all right.”
The other person taking heat is coach Doc Rivers, but Iverson wasn’t going to throw Rivers under the bus.
“It’s always the guys that out there playing; you don’t put the blame on nobody else,” Iverson said. “You always got to look in the mirror, and figure out what you could have did better, how you could have elevated your squad. Especially being the No. 1 guy on the squad, but everybody should have that feeling.
“The coaching staff, the thing that they do is put you in position to succeed. Know the personnel, know what guys can do, what guys are great in certain situations and what guys can do.”
Iverson has a soft spot for Tyrese Maxey, which isn’t a surprise, undersized guards need to stick together.
The Answer had nothing but support for Maxey and wants him to get back to playing like himself, like the guy from the first couple of games this season.
“I think it’s very important for him to keep playing aggressive, like he has been, can’t be tentative out there,” Iverson said. “Obviously we need big games from Joel and we need big games from James, but it’s always great when the third and fourth guy step and have big games and take the pressure off the superstar.”
This series has gone on longer than Iverson — or the entire 76ers fan base — is comfortable with, and they know that getting a win in Toronto will be difficult.
What Iverson — and, again, the entire Philadelphia fan base — wants to see tonight is the Sixers that showed up in the first two games. The 76ers team that played harder and physically overwhelmed the smaller Raptors. But doing that means adjusting in a way Philly has not so far.
“I think [the 76ers] got to get back to doing what they were doing in the first couple of games, but they have to adjust to what [the Raptors] are doing to them,” Iverson said. “They’re not going to let the things that went on in the first couple of games go on. They’re going to take those things away. The things that made you successful in those games, they’re going to try and take those things away. So you find out another way to get things done, understanding that your comfort zone is taken away from you, from what you were doing in the first game.
“Now [the Raptors] adjusted like they were supposed to do, like professionals do, like a great coaching staff will do, and great players will do. Now it’s up to you to be great and counter all of those things and figure out another way to be successful. If you don’t, it’s going to be a long, long summer, man.”
Iverson has seen that, too, and doesn’t want to see it again this season with his 76ers.