Sonics improve to 2-0 under McMillan, rout Lakers 121-88
By RICH MYHRE
SEATTLE — New Seattle SuperSonics coach Nate McMillan might not be capable of walking on water or other miraculous deeds.
But he sure can bring life back to a fading basketball team.
Seattle was visited by the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night, and for one grand evening there was once again great basketball in KeyArena. The Sonics rolled to 74 first-half points — one of the best two quarters ever in the 6-year-old arena — on their way to a stirring 121-88 victory over the defending NBA champion Lakers.
The outcome gave McMillan a memorable win in his home coaching debut, and prompted cries of "Nate, Nate, Nate …" from grateful fans as the final seconds ticked down on Seattle’s second straight thrashing of a top Western Conference rival.
"It was great," McMillan said of the cheers. "The fans are having fun again. … It felt great, to see the fans with their smiles, and these guys enjoying their team and enjoying their effort."
"That was cool," added Seattle’s Brent Barry. "I’d never heard anything like that before at any level. What a great personal moment for Nate, and I’m sure he embraced it. But he’ll tell you he was just worried about the game. But Nate’s got a big heart and I’m sure he appreciated that from the fans."
McMillan replaced Paul Westphal on Monday, and on Tuesday the Sonics opened the McMillan era with an impressive 105-93 road decision over the Portland Trail Blazers. In both of this week’s games, the Sonics vaulted to large first-half leads and breezed to lopsided victories.
It is hard to imagine the Sonics playing much better than they did in the first half Thursday, both in quality of play and in quantity of points. Seattle shot a remarkable .630 percent from the field (29-for-46), including 6-for-8 from the 3-point arc, while turning the ball over just three times.
By the time the teams departed to the halftime locker rooms, the Sonics sat atop a 74-43 cushion and Seattle’s Rashard Lewis was waving a towel in triumph.
Los Angeles rallied some in the second half, but could come no closer than 21 points in the early moments.
"The guys just responded the way we felt they could play," McMillan said. "They came out against the world champions and just played their hearts out from start to finish. We knew it would take a lot of effort to beat (the Lakers), but no one imagined we would play as well as we did.
"We’ve got a ways to go," he added. "I think we surprised Portland and LA, but we’re going in the right direction."
Seattle was given another typically superb game from Gary Payton, who finished with 27 points, six assists and three rebounds in just 34 minutes. Another big contributor was Vin Baker, who played 34 minutes from the bench and delivered 20 points, nine rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
Seattle’s subs combined for 60 points, 20 rebounds and 17 assists. Of course, the bench includes Baker, Barry, Ruben Patterson and Desmond Mason, who have all started in several of Seattle’s games this season. Meanwhile, Jelani McCoy and Emanual Davis are in the starting lineup, and Payton has seen his playing time shrink somewhat.
"Everybody has accepted their roles, and that’s the only way you win here," McMillan said. "You play team ball and you play together and you work toward one common goal, which is to win the game. We’re not interested in who has the (best) numbers and who didn’t get their shots. … I think they want to play this way. It seems like they’re having fun. But we can’t think that two games is anything. It’s a start, and we have a long ways to go."
Said Baker, "coach McMillan has come in after our two wins and said, ‘This is what we expect.’ I mean, we haven’t been pouring Gatorade over his head or started cheering. He just said, ‘This is what we expect and we’re going to continue to play like this.’ And we believe it in this locker room."
All in all, it was a perfect evening for McMillan, save for one pregame gaffe. Alone in his dressing room before the game, McMillan took a lint roller and cleaned his suit, then pulled the roller through his hair like a brush.
"I told coach (Bob) Weiss, ‘I’ve finally gotten nervous here.’ But it did get the lint out."