A packed house, a standing ovation and a blowout victory. It must have reminded Toni Kukoc of the glory days in Chicago.
"It's going to be a little bit of an adjustment for me," said Kukoc, who had 11 points and four assists and electrified his new building with a deft display of passing and shooting. "I mean, seven years in the same place, doing the same things, you get comfortable."
"If he plays like this every night, I think it becomes contagious," Sixers coach Larry Brown said.
The 6-foot-11 swingman, acquired from the Bulls on Wednesday, brought down the house with a windmill finger-roll off a 60-foot bounce pass from Allen Iverson. The sensational basket gave Philadelphia a 30-point lead, 92-62.
As far as Brown was concerned, that wasn't even Kukoc's best play of the night. Brown, a former point guard who's been preaching pass-first, shoot-second for decades, was ecstatic with Kukoc's unselfishness.
"If you pass the ball and move yourself, it's a pretty simple game," Brown said.
Kukoc came off the bench in the first quarter, made 5-of-7 shots from the field and got burned a couple of times on defense though nobody seemed to mind. He got another ovation from the crowd of 20,383 when he went to the bench with 4:39 left.
After the game, his locker was packed with reporters and TV cameras to the delight of Iverson, who had 19 points on 8-for-23 shooting.
"That's the best thing about the whole trade," Iverson said, gesturing toward Kukoc's locker ahe hustled out of the locker room. "I'm loving it already."
Kukoc, who once shared a circus-like locker room with Dennis Rodman, didn't mind, either.
"Actually, I did have a great time there," Kukoc said. "I would just run through the room, get a shower and get out of there. This is a little bit strange for me."
Shawn Kemp led the injury-depleted Cavs with 17 points, but shot 4-for-13. Cleveland, playing without injured starters Brevin Knight, Bob Sura and Cedric Henderson, suffered its second-worst loss of the year. The only worse night was a 48-point loss at Indiana on Dec. 10.
Kemp, whose team is fighting to avoid a last-place finish, said time will tell how much of a playoff threat Kukoc makes the Sixers.
"They'll have to prove it," Kemp said. "But it definitely makes them better, if that's what you're asking."
Kukoc received an ovation when he entered the game with 3:36 left in the first quarter, a rare gesture in a notoriously cynical sports town. He made an immediate impact with two brilliant assists, one to Eric Snow for a jumper and one to Theo Ratliff, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds, for a dunk.
Kukoc's passing became infectious as the Sixers compiled 26 assists to the Cavs' 18.
"If the guys are open, then why not?" Kukoc asked. "If anybody has an easier shot than me, why not?"
It was billed as "The Night They Saved Basketball" in Philadelphia, by virtue of a comic book bearing that title which was given away to the first 5,000 fans. It might go down instead as the night the Sixers became real contenders.
Kukoc will have his first full practice with the Sixers on Saturday before they face the Los Angeles Lakers and Kukoc's former coach, Phil Jackson, on Sunday.
"That's going to be a real challenge for us," Kukoc said. "I do have a couple of days to get ready and maybe learn some more plays."
Danny Ferry hit a jumper to tie it at 29 with 8:48 left in the second quarter. It was the last time the Cavs were close. Philadelphia outscored them 24-6 the rest of the quarter and led 53-35 at halftime.
Iverson had four baskets, and Kukoc had one and set up another during the 22-2 portion of the run. Cleveland's last four points of the quarter came on free throws by Kemp.
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