Allen Iverson and Vince Carter Cemented Their Statuses as NBA Superstars by Taking Part in an All-Time Great Playoff Duel: ‘It Was One After Another. It Was Like They Were Taking Turns’

Allen Iverson and Vince Carter were two of the best players in the NBA during the 2000s. AI and Vinceanity could score at will, and each thoroughly mesmerized fans in the process. In his prime, Carter could elevate and dunk on anyone. Iverson could shake any defender and knock down shots from anywhere on the floor. And in the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals, Iverson and Carter went head to head in one of the greatest duels in NBA playoff history.

“Allen’s dropping 54, Vince is coming back and dropping 50, it was one after another, one after another. It was like they were taking turns,” Stephen A. Smith said in an NBA interview.

Iverson and Carter traded punches in a series that went the distance

Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors is guarded by Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers during a 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals game.
Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors is guarded by Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers during a 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals game. | Dave Sandford /Getty Images

Iverson carried Philly to a 56-26 record and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers dispatched the Indiana Pacers in four games in the opening round of the playoffs.

Carter and the Raptors were the No. 5 seed in the East and beat the New York Knicks in the first round, setting the stage for one of the most entertaining playoff series in history.

It was the classic, “Whatever you can do, I can do better” plot. The Answer would score 50 points in one game, and then Half-Man/Half-Amazing would match him with 50 of his own in the following contest. Eventually, the Sixers won in seven games and went on to beat Milwaukee to reach the NBA finals. Still, it was the Philadelphia-Toronto series and the Iverson-Carter battle that stood above anything else that postseason.

Allen Iverson and Vince Carter took turns carrying their respective teams to wins

Toronto stole the first game of the series in Philadelphia behind 35 points and 7 assists from Carter. Iverson scored 36 and added 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 7 steals in the loss. It set the tone for the following six games.

AI made sure the Sixers kept home-court advantage as Philly won Game 2 97-92. The 6-foot guard poured in 54 points while going 9-of-9 from the free-throw line and 3-of-5 from three. Carter scored 28 to go along with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks for the Raptors.

The former North Carolina star responded in kind in Game 3 as the series headed back to Toronto. Carter dropped a 50 piece of his own — adding 6 rebounds, 7 assists, a steal, and 4 blocks in the process — in a 102-78 win.

The No. 1 pick in the 1996 draft out of Georgetown scored 30 points and Carter had 25 in a Game 4 that went to Philly. Then Iverson went off again in Game 5, a 121-88 win that gave the Sixers a 3-2 series lead. The Answer scored 52 points — his second 50-plus point game of the series — in the win.

Facing elimination, it was Carter’s turn to shine in Game 6. The 6-7 guard outscored Iverson 39-20 and shot 4-of-8 from deep in a 101-89 win at the Air Canada Centre, sending the series to a do-or-die Game 7. But neither player had much left in the tank, and with the Raptors trailing 88-87, Carter’s 19-footer at the buzzer went off the back iron as Iverson and the Sixers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

Both players’ careers were never the same after that season, but their legendary duel was truly awesome

Iverson continued to carry his team through the playoffs, winning a controversial Game 7 over the Bucks. Philly then faced the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers in the finals and lost in five games.

AI never played in another NBA finals.

Carter continued to star in Toronto, but the organization couldn’t ever seem to find him enough help. The Raptors missed the playoffs the three ensuing seasons before the UNC alum demanded a trade out of Canada and landed in New Jersey. After his battle with Iverson, Carter played 19 more seasons for seven different teams but never won a championship.

Both players had plenty more big moments during their careers. Iverson is already a Hall of Famer, and Carter will undoubtedly join him. But over a two-week span from May 6 to May 20 in 2001, the two superstars went mano-a-mano in one of the most prolific postseason battles in NBA history.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.

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