PHILADELPHIA -- More than 20,000 fans showed up for a Monday matinee in Philadelphia that was supposed to be a showdown between Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury. They got the Aaron McKie show instead.
McKie, a gritty defensive specialist, stole the ball from Marbury with a minute to go and foiled New Jersey's confused attempt to tie the game in the final seconds as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Nets 101-96.
"What you have to understand about this league is, you're not going to get $70 million to play defense," McKie said.
Iverson and Marbury both have $70.9 million contracts. Both topped 30 points but played little defense in an anticlimactic duel. The sensational guards spent most of the game nowhere near each other.
"Everybody makes a big deal out of that, but I never make a big deal out of individual matchups," said Iverson, who had 34 points and hit 30 for the 11th time in 12 games. "The guy that people don't talk about can be the guy that comes up and bites you."
Marbury scored 31, but had only five in the fourth quarter and was upset about the officiating.
"No comment," Marbury said. "I don't want to get fined."
Nets coach Don Casey thought Marbury was fouled when he had the ball stolen by McKie while driving to the basket with 54 seconds left and Philadelphia leading 96-93.
"I think the league should protect the marquee players," Casey said.
But officiating was the least of the worries for the Nets, who couldn't agree on what they were supposed to do with their final possession trailing 99-96 with nine seconds left.
Though quiet for a long time, Marbury raced down the court for a 3-pointer that cut Philadelphia's lead to 97-96 with 10.5 seconds left. McKie hit two free throws to make it 99-96.
Assistant coach Jim Lynam diagrammed a play, but Van Horn drove to the basket on Theo Ratliff with New Jersey needing a 3-pointer to tie. McKie stayed with Kerry Kittles on the wing, and Van Horn lost the ball to George Lynch. He led Iverson for a breakaway dunk to seal the Sixers' third straight victory.
"It was for me to get a quick 2 or a kickout," said Van Horn, who had 20 points. "I made a decision to drive. You can't be indecisive at that point of the game. I think I tried to do too much."
Casey thought the play was designed to get a 3-pointer, not a drive to the hoop. Whatever the case, the Nets lost their second straight and are 13-7 since a 2-15 start. The Sixers won their third straight and improved to 14-5 when Iverson, the NBA's leading scorer, hits for 30 or more.
Ratliff had 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. McKie scored 14 points and was one of several Sixers to exploit Marbury's defense.
Finally playing each other consistently in the fourth, Iverson and Marbury began their abbreviated duel. With Philadelphia leading 94-90, Marbury missed a jumper over Iverson, who then drove on Marbury and missed a wild shot.
So eager was McKie to have Marbury on him that he screamed, "Get out! Get out!" at teammate Matt Geiger so he could back Marbury down. McKie got to the foul line and made two, giving the Sixers an 82-70 lead. Geiger laughed and Marbury didn't seem to notice.
"You get that kind of money, you're putting people in the seats," McKie said. "You think defense really matters to the people in the stands?"
Marbury wasn't the only one who played shaky defense. Iverson, who scored only eight points in the fourth, got burned for four straight baskets by Lucious Harris midway through the quarter.
"I haven't heard a lot of comments about the fact that they're winning and it might be because of his play," Sixers coach Larry Brown said of Marbury. "But I heard a lot of things when they were struggling."