PHILADELPHIA -- The time has finally come for an end to all the talk and backtalk about respect, officiating, injuries, conspiracies and whatever else the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers have grown to dislike about one another.
One more game is left to be played, with the winner going to Los Angeles to face the Lakers in the finals and the loser going home.
"Tomorrow's the big one," Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl said Saturday. "It will be a war, as it should be."
Tipoff for Game 7 at the First Union Center is 7:30 p.m. EDT.
Milwaukee evened the series at three games apiece by defeating Philadelphia 110-100 Friday night behind 41 points and an NBA playoff record-tying nine 3-pointers by Ray Allen.
As impressive as Allen's performance was, Allen Iverson came up something special, too. The regular-season MVP scored 26 of his 46 points in the fourth quarter, finally finding his stroke after being without it through the first five games plus the first three quarters of Game 6.
Iverson's outburst allowed the 76ers to cut a 33-point deficit to 11 with 7´ minutes left, but they didn't have enough to get within single digits.
"Did they scare me? Hell, yeah," Bucks coach George Karl said. "But in general, winning a basketball game against a very good team and controlling the scoreboard is something I'm very happy with."
This will be the second Game 7 of this year's playoffs for both teams.
Two Sundays ago, the Bucks defeated the Hornets in Game 7 of the conference semifinals and the 76ers edged the Raptors in Game 7 of their series when Vince Carter missed a 20-footer at the final buzzer.
The Bucks and the 76ers have been playing every other night since, gradually developing a mutual distaste.
Allen has gone on record as saying he has lost his respect for Iverson, and Iverson wouldn't touch the issue when it was brought up after Game 6. Allen still has teeth marks on his left elbow, a reminder of his collision with Iverson in Game 4.
"There's distaste, but there's respect too. We're tired of playing each other, there's anger, there's things you remember," Karl said. "We think we're better than they are and they think they're better than we are, but there's also a healthy amount of respect."
Karl and Brown, both North Carolina graduates, have taken minor swipes at each other as the series has unfolded -- Brown griping about Karl's comments on the officiating; Karl belittling the way the 76ers have lamented their injuries.
One moment that might have exemplified the feelings in this series came late in Game 6 when Iverson and Sam Cassell got tangled up, Cassell playfully holding Iverson in a headlock as the two rolled around near midcourt half-wrestling and half-playing.
If the game had been a little closer, it might have been a much more tense encounter.
"That's how it is when you're playing playoff basketball," Bucks forward Glenn Robinson said. "By Game 7 you don't want to see their players, you don't want to see their coaches, you don't want to see their colors."
The loser of each game has walked away defiant, and the 76ers were no different in their comments before leaving the Bradley Center for the final time.
Yes, they had fallen behind by 33 and let the Bucks dictate the tempo of the game. But they also threw a scare at Milwaukee by turning a blowout into a competitive game.
"I feel good about those guys not feeling comfortable having a 30-point lead," Iverson said. "I bet you they know if they get us down Sunday by 30, we're not going to give up. It's just important for us not to get down 30 points."
The 76ers have been at their best in this series when they have slowed the game down and kept the final score in the 80s. The Bucks have tried to push the pace, but it has only worked when Allen has had his shooting stroke working early.
After committing two flagrant fouls in Game 5, Milwaukee was the more physical team in Game 6. Iverson was hit in the shoulder and throat by an elbow from Scott Williams in the opening minutes.
Williams' foul was reclassified as a "flagrant 2" on Saturday by NBA Senior VP Stu Jackson, resulting in a one-game suspension that Williams will serve Sunday.
Iverson also got poked in the mouth by Lindsey Hunter and went down hard on several other occasions.
Iverson is playing with a sore left hip joint, a loose tooth and several other bumps and bruises, but some of the Bucks don't believe he is as injured as he says.
Allen, when not comparing Iverson's flopping to that of Reggie Miller, has been the most vocal in dumping on him.
Karl has also taken some thinly veiled shots at Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo, while Mutombo couldn't help himself from issuing another guarantee -- just like he did before Game 7 of the Sixers' last series.
"We are going to win this series Sunday. We won't let them win in our building," Mutombo said.
Kohl, the U.S. senator who bought the Bucks 16 years ago, spoke with reporters after practice Saturday and responded with a jab of his own.
"The last game of the season everybody guarantees a win," Kohl said. "You've got nothing to lose by guaranteeing a win in the last game of the season."
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