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Battle for I-95 Credit: Alex Fleischman , Alex Fleischman

As the exhilarating exhibition wound down, Team Philly guard Tyreke Evans stared down his defender, Gary Forbes, and went to work. His crowd-pleasing crossover sent Forbes shuffling backwards and the Denver Nuggets forward could do nothing but claim he slipped on the wet floor in the sauna-like conditions of the Cathedral.

He may have had a point if he had not been broken down off the dribble again by Evans on the very next possession.

It was the seminal moment of “The Battle for I-95,” as it encapsulated the main takeaway of the game — Philly natives like Evans and Kyle Lowry were the entertainers this night, not the superstar trio of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul.

“I know the type of competitors that LeBron and Melo are,” Team Philly captain Hakim Warrick explained. “I knew it wasn’t going to be no love affair, so I had to make sure I had some soldiers.”

Indeed, Team Philly had a city to represent and a homecourt to defend, and they played like it, ultimately emerging with the well-deserved 131-122 win.

“I always knew we had a chance,” Warrick said. “We have too much heart in this locker room.”

The City of Brotherly Love’s finest jumped out to a 35-16 lead to start the game, thanks to effective penetration by the likes of Evans and Lowry. Meanwhile, Team Melo’s superstar-laden squad — which was missing two-time NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant — settled for walk-up three after walk-up three, resulting in empty possessions and a fan base rooting for the home team.

GALLERY: Check out more photos from The Battle for I-95.

“I came in thinking a lot of the Philly fans were going to be a little star-struck and cheering for [Team Melo] … but they actually did a great job coming out and cheering, showing support for the Philly players,” said Mardy Collins, a Temple hoops graduate.

The tide of the game would change toward the end of the first half, however, as both James and Anthony made a concerted effort to abandon the three-ball and punish the undersized Philly squad inside — the duo combined for 37 points and 19 rebounds in the first half. James punctuated the opening half by slamming down a one-handed alley-oop from Paul as the buzzer sounded to cut the deficit to 66-58.

The third quarter saw Team Melo build upon that momentum, as James gave his team a lead with a follow-up slam on Gary Neal’s missed layup.

But Team Philly would not relent. Philadelphia 76ers guard Lou Williams, a Georgia native whom team captain Hakim Warrick calls an “adopted son” of Philly, heated up, knocking down a barrage of step-back jumpers. He would finish with 31 points on an efficient 10-for-17 shooting.

“It was kind of hot, but that’s the kind of basketball we play,” Williams said. “It was just another night in the gym for us.”

With about three minutes left and the game’s outcome no longer in question, the respective squads showed their true colors. Team Melo eased up on defense and hoisted up threes, while Evans and Lowry fearlessly attacked the rim. Before Evans’ ankle-breaking highlight of the night, Lowry, a former Villanova Wildcat, bulldozed his way to the cup and finished a three-point play to put Philly up, 126-119. Lowry finished with a team-high 34 points and eight boards to counter James’ gaudy line of 43 points and 23 rebounds.

It may not have been the game the crowd initially expected, but the Palestra hordes witnessed a slice of Philadelphia hoops history.

And what a fitting way to end it — seeing the home-grown, blue-collar Philly squad outwork and outplay the superstars from Team Melo.

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