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Nuggets spoil AI's return to Philly with 93-83 win

DAN GELSTON | 12/8/2009, 9:09 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Chauncey Billups and Denver ruined Allen Iverson's homecoming. Billups scored 31 points and Carmelo Anthony had 14 to help the Nuggets spoil Iverson's return to Philadelphia with a 93-83 win over the 76ers on Monday night Dec. 7.

The Nuggets went on a 22-3 run over the third and fourth quarters to rally for their fourth straight win. Iverson's rousing return did little to mask the fact that the Sixers are a lousy team. They've lost 10 straight, and only one-win New Jersey has a worse record in the Eastern Conference.

Iverson received a standing ovation when he left in the fourth quarter. He scored 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting and had six assists in 37 minutes.
Iverson bowed and kissed the logo at midcourt when he was introduced as the sellout crowd of 20,664 stood and roared in approval. Andre Iguodala led the Sixers with 31 points, Thaddeus Young had 21 and Samuel Dalembert grabbed 15 rebounds.

But this night for the Sixers was all about Iverson in his first game with the team since he was traded in 2006. Iverson missed his first shot, a makable layup early in the first quarter. His first points came off a 4-footer he tossed up off a Dalembert miss.

Energized by the emotional pregame show, the 76ers played one of their strongest quarters of the season. Iguodala, who bristled at the end of Iverson's first tenure at being labeled "AI2," scored 14 points to show this was still his team.

It's still Iverson's crowd. The building hummed every time Iverson touched the ball, and each basket was cheered as if it were a playoff winner.

Iverson played sparingly in his three-game stint with Memphis and feared he'd be out of game shape for his debut. He played all but 1 second of the first quarter and sat out in the second half mostly because of three fouls by the middle of the third quarter.

Backed by 18 points from Iguodala and 10 from Thaddeus Young, the Sixers led 44-41 at the break.

They stretched that lead to nine when Iverson tossed a floater toward the basket that Dalembert slammed in for the alley-oop and had the Sixers feeling like their losing streak would be history. Instead, only their lead evaporated.

Billups, traded from Detroit in last year's Iverson deal, showed why Denver was so eager to make the move. He sank a pair of 3s and worked his way to the free-throw line to score 13 points in the quarter and whittle the deficit to three.

Iverson was helpless in the fourth. Smith sank a pair of free throws to give Denver its first lead of the game, 67-65. Billups and Smith each hit a 3 during a staggering 22-3 run that let the Nuggets take control of the game.

Billups nailed a late 3 for an 89-77 lead that sent the fans heading toward the exits. The pregame show was worth the price of admission.

Iverson pulled in to the player's parking lot at 5:55 p.m., waving to fans who waited in the cold for a glimpse of one of the most polarizing athletes in Philadelphia's deep sports history.

He hit the court for warmups to the sound of fans screaming his name and holding "Welcome Home" signs. He took passes from his former 76ers backcourt teammate Aaron McKie, now an assistant coach.

He hit shot after shot to the delight of the crowd and broke out in a wide smile as they erupted in cheers. Iverson always considered Philly home and dreamed of a return to the team he led to the 2001 NBA finals.

He just pictured a different outcome.

NOTES: Iguodala buried a 90-footer just after the buzzer to end the first half. It didn't count. ... The Sixers have lost 14 of 16. ... The Sixers had not sold out a game this season. ... Anthony was whistled for a technical in the third.