A.I. vs. Kobe delivered the throwback duel fans paid to see. Just like in the 2001 NBA Finals, Bryant’s Lakers topped Allen Iverson’s 76ers.
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 in Philadelphia last night.
“It was a like a trip down memory lane for me,’’ Bryant said. “It was exciting.’’
Bryant always packs the Wachovia Center when 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, 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 to 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.
Bryant led Lower Merion High School to a state championship in 1996 and visited his old school on Thursday. He said this year’s homecoming was the first time he ever felt goosebumps when he was introduced from Lower Merion High.
“I think because when you get older, you get more and more nostalgic,’’ the 31-year-old Bryant said. “You start reminiscing on where everything started. It kind of creeps in on you.’’
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 3-point play that was vintage Iverson and make it 68-63.
Cavaliers 94, Pacers 73 - LeBron James finished one rebound short of a triple-double, and Cleveland rolled to an easy victory in Indianapolis.
James finished with 22 points, a season-high 13 assists, and 9 rebounds. It was the third time in five games that he missed a triple-double by a single rebound.
Shaquille O’Neal tied a season high with 22 points for the Cavaliers, who won their seventh straight and maintained the league’s best record (37-11).
Bulls 108, Hornets 106 - Luol Deng scored 26 points, including a tying putback with 0.2 seconds left in regulation, and visiting Chicago outlasted New Orleans.
Derrick Rose added 18 points for the Bulls, and his two free throws put Chicago ahead for good in overtime. The Bulls finished a season-long, seven-game road trip with their fifth consecutive victory.
Thunder 101, Nuggets 84 - Kevin Durant scored 30 points and host Oklahoma City snapped Denver’s nine-game winning streak.
Playing without NBA scoring leader Carmelo Anthony for the third straight game, the Nuggets scored the first 5 points after halftime to cut their deficit to 1, but then got outscored, 28-10, the rest of the quarter.
Spurs 104, Grizzlies 97 - Tim Duncan scored 19 points, and Manu Ginobili and Roger Mason led a strong effort by the Spurs’ reserves as San Antonio held off visiting Memphis.
Playing without injured guard Tony Parker, the Spurs’ depth was a huge factor. San Antonio had a 42-21 edge in points off the bench. Mason scored 12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and Ginobili finished with 14 points and seven assists.
Jazz 101, Kings 94 - Paul Millsap tied his career high with 32 points in his first start of the season and added 14 rebounds and seven assists as host Utah won its fifth straight.
It’s the longest winning streak of the season for the Jazz, who were without All-Star guard Deron Williams and forward Carlos Boozer.
Bobcats 121, Warriors 110 - Stephen Jackson scored 30 points in his return to Oracle Arena, Gerald Wallace had 30 points and 13 rebounds, and Charlotte won in Oakland, Calif.
Heat 92, Pistons 65 - Dwyane Wade scored 22 points and Jermaine O’Neal added 10 points and 11 rebounds as Miami routed Detroit in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Rockets 104, Trail Blazers 100 - Aaron Brooks scored 33 points, Carl Landry added 21, and Houston defeated Portland to snap a three-game losing streak at home.
Timberwolves 111, Clippers 97 - Two nights after losing to New Jersey, the worst team in the East, Los Angeles lost to the team with the West’s worst record, Minnesota. Al Jefferson had 14 points and 16 boards for the host Timberwolves.
Wizards 81, Nets 79 - Earl Boykins hit a jumper with 0.4 seconds to play and Washington defeated host New Jersey to snap a four-game skid, denying the Nets their first win streak of the season.