Orlando Magic coach Chuck Daly sounded helpless moments after his team was eliminated in Round 1 of the 1999 NBA playoffs.
Magical all series, Iverson saved his best trick for the finale, scoring 37 points on 14-of-27 shooting and foreshadowing the type of night that would become all too routine in the decade to follow.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no guard playing in his first playoff series had ever scored more points in a clinching game, a fact that remained true up until two weeks ago, when Donovan Mitchell one-upped Iverson by pouring in 38 on 14-of-26 shooting to dispatch the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But beyond one big moment, how far do the similarities extend, and what might that mean for the Utah Jazz moving forward?
Just as Mitchell showed in that Game 6 vs. OKC that he's unfazed by the moment, he also proved unafraid to fail. Both characteristics are intertwined in his basketball DNA, part of what makes Mitchell uniquely Iverson-esque.
His stubborn refusal to back down was evident in Sunday's Game 4 loss to the Houston Rockets in which he shot 8-of-24, the majority of those looks coming in the vicinity of Rockets rim protector Clint Capela. In fact, 15 of his 21 half-court attempts came with Capela as the nearest defender, the most that Mitchell has taken in the vicinity of any player in any game the entire season, via player-tracking data from Second Spectrum. It's likely no coincidence given the back-and-forth war of words (and finger wagging) between them the entire night.
Capela wags finger after block on Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell tries to get a layup to go in, but Clint Capela swats the attempt away and wags his finger in the air.
That Mitchell made only three of those 15 attempts while attacking Houston's impressive center culls memories of Iverson's relentless game.
Mitchell's season will be remembered for the high-volume scoring, persistent pursuit of the paint and fourth-quarter heroics -- all hallmarks of Iverson's rookie campaign. When Mitchell dropped 40 for the second time back in February, he became the first rookie guard to do that since A.I. Overall, 42 percent of Mitchell's points have come in the paint, nearly identical to the 41 percent dropped amid the trees by a rookie Iverson.
As for those fourth-quarter heroics? Remember the 17-point outburst in a six-point win over the Pelicans in December ... and the 11-point scoring spree in a three-point win over the Cavaliers that same month ... and the 13-point binge in a two-point win over the Spurs back in February. Mitchell routinely carried the Jazz late in games, sporting a fourth-quarter usage rate of 37.9 that ranked fourth in the league and first among all rookies over the past 20 years. This resulted in a team-high 5.1 attempts per game on 45.6 shooting, the exact same as a 21-year old Iverson. The only other rookie spanning from Iverson to Mitchell who had as many double-digit fourth quarters is Ben Gordon, who represents a floor for Mitchell even though he was nevertheless brilliant as a late-game assassin early on with the Bulls.
The degree to which Mitchell's copycat act has carried over to the entire postseason is remarkable. Sure, the per-game averages aren't there, but that's more a reflection of an era long gone (Iverson played a shade under 45 MPG throughout the 1999 playoffs, which simply doesn't happen anymore) than of actual obligations in between the lines. When comparing their first forays into the playoffs on a per-minute basis, Mitchell has basically been Iverson 2.0.
It's remarkable. By the time Iverson finally reached the playoffs in his third season, he already was a scoring champion and the highest-usage star in the league -- and would have been an All-Star had it not been for the lockout-shortened season.
Playing the part of high-usage lead guard is a tough role, and rarely are players at Mitchell's age given the opportunity. Since individual turnovers became official in 1977-78, only five other guards age 22 or younger averaged at least 30 MPG in the playoffs while also posting a usage rate of at least 30. All five became All-Stars, with four of them eventually winning an MVP award. None of them did it as a rookie while also winning at least one series, as Mitchell has.
The Jazz aren't simply tossing him the keys to Dad's Buick for a trip around the block; they're asking him to take the cool uncle's Beamer on the autobahn. After posting a solid effective field goal percentage (eFG, which factors in the true value of 3s) of 51.7 against OKC, that number has tanked to 41.1 against Houston. Mitchell is still learning how to score effectively at this volume against tough competition, but so were the others guards on that list. Their average postseason eFG was 45.8; Mitchell is at 46.2. As ESPN's Mike Schmitz has pointed out, shot creation was a major weakness for Mitchell in high school. His progress from then to now is rare, and it indicates that his ceiling allows for way more efficient scoring in time.
When Utah acquired Mitchell last June, this wasn't the plan. Even when Gordon Hayward bolted for Boston, the Jazz figured to bring Mitchell along slowly behind Ricky Rubio and Rodney Hood, slotting him into the rotation as an impact defensive piece with little to no offensive pressure, even on a scoring-starved team. Less than two years removed from serving as Louisville's fifth-leading scorer, nobody foresaw returns on par with the No. 1 overall pick from 1996.
But here we are, which raises the question of what this means for the Jazz after this season. Although Iverson didn't lead the 76ers to a title, the blueprint laid out in 2000-01 is already somewhat in place in Utah. Iverson may have been the face, but defense was the 76ers' identity as that team finished in the top five in defensive efficiency for the third straight season. Rudy Gobert is unquestionably superior to either Theo Ratliff or midseason acquisition Dikembe Mutombo. Rubio (under contract through next season) is a rich man's Eric Snow, defensively stout and challenged from the outside but also better served alongside a Mitchell type. And in an admittedly much different league today, Joe Ingles is leaps and bounds a superior spacer than anyone else on that roster. Plus, Iverson never showed Mitchell's defensive potential.
With key cogs set and time to attract another piece, who knows what shakes out in the West in the years to come. Golden State is 12 months from tough, expensive decisions about its core; Houston is the second-oldest team in the league; San Antonio and Oklahoma City are in flux. Although there's promise elsewhere in the West, there's no surefire up-and-coming power.
Iverson eventually got his shot in the Finals, and unluckily for the Sixers, they ran into a juggernaut from the opposite conference in the midst of a dynasty. Perhaps the same fate awaits Utah. Or maybe not. All you ask for is a puncher's chance. With Donovan Mitchell leading the way, it appears Utah may have found its answer.