By FRANK HUGHES
Scripps Howard News Service
Scripps Howard News Service
DALLAS – The Seattle SuperSonics’ first two-game win streak of the season was marred by a stunning confrontation between coach Paul Westphal and point guard Gary Payton during the Sonics’ hard-fought 116-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.
During a timeout with 8 minutes, 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a game at Reunion Arena, Westphal said something to Payton that set off Payton’s volatile personality.
Payton started going off on Westphal, and eventually had to be restrained by teammate Pervis Ellison and others.
According to sources, Payton was overheard saying to Westphal, ”I don’t give a (expletive) about this game anymore. You all can suspend me for the rest of my career.”
As teammates pushed Payton away from Westphal, he continued screaming at the coach, threatening to slap him and telling him to ”shut up.”
After the game, Payton – who usually did not speak to the media after similar incidents in the past – said that Westphal disrespected him by what Westphal said, and that if he does it again, Payton no longer will play for him.
”He is going to respect me or I am not going to play for him,” Payton said. “That’s just (it) period. If he is going to say something bad to me and I think it is bad, he is going to respect me before that. Or he won’t have me playing for him. I am not going to say anything else about it, I am going to be a professional about it, but that’s the way it is going to be on the bench. It is going to be respect. If I respect him, he is going to respect me.”
Westphal declined to discuss the blowup, saying only, ”It’s a blip on the radar screen.”
Payton would not disclose what Westphal said to him, but said, ”It don’t matter what he said to me, but it was a disrespectful thing that he did. If I disrespect you, you can disrespect me back. But don’t disrespect me when I’m trying to help. If he (does) that again, there is going to be a problem.”
After the blowup in the huddle, there was some confusion. Payton wanted to remain on the court, but Westphal wanted to replace him with Desmond Mason.
The officials didn’t know what to do for about 30 seconds. They wanted to begin play as the Mavericks’ players stood on the court, but Payton was still on the court while Westphal motioned for Mason to enter the game.
Eventually, Ellison got Payton to the bench, where he stayed until Westphal put him in for Brent Barry with 5:45 remaining. He scored four points down the stretch and helped the Sonics (5-7) to the victory.
“As long as I stay cool and we do what we had to do, we won,” Payton said. ”Guys had to calm me down, and I thought about it and I thought, ‘I am not playing for him, I am playing for these guys.’ So once I calmed down and got through it, it is over with. I don’t care. … We don’t have to talk no more, we don’t have to see each other no more. … I’m coming out here playing for these 12 guys, and I don’t give a (expletive) about him.”
Before the season, Payton said that because of last season’s tumult, he was going to keep open lines of communication between he and Westphal.
”And the communication was (messed) up today,” Payton said. ”Like I said, if he don’t respect me, then he won’t have me playing for him.
”I ain’t worried about it. I ain’t even worried about him. I’m worried about these guys in here, these 12 guys on my basketball team. I don’t give a (expletive) about him. I am going to look out for them. So that’s it. I ain’t going to make no trouble. I’m just going to let you all know, if he (does) it again, he won’t have me playing for him.”
The confrontation overshadowed what otherwise was an extremely exciting game.
When the Sonics blew a 10-point lead to Dallas on Thursday and eventually lost, it was because Dallas coach Don Nelson went with a small lineup that outran Seattle’s bigger lineup that included Vin Baker and Patrick Ewing.
After practice Monday, Westphal said he no longer is going to make decisions based on minutes, but on matchups.
And he stuck to that Tuesday against Dallas. When Nelson again went small with a lineup that did not have anybody over 6 foot 7, Westphal countered with a lineup that included Payton, Rashard Lewis, Ruben Patterson, Emanual Davis and Mason, who grew up in Dallas.
Meanwhile, Ewing played a season-low 20 minutes and Baker played 25 minutes, one shy of his season low.
”It was a game where (Nelson) tried to go small to find matchups so they could penetrate,” Westphal said. ”Finally, we just kept adding one small to another small and we both had all our smalls out there.”
As they did last week, the Mavericks were able to erase a 16-point Sonics lead that was built in the second quarter, when Seattle somehow made 16 of 17 shots.
But after Michael Finely tied the game at 110 with a 3-pointer with 2:17 left, Payton made a layup to put Seattle ahead by two.
Then Mason made two huge plays. As Dallas’ 7-6 Shawn Bradley was about to lay in a game-tying basket, Mason rose up and swatted his shot.
A few possessions later, Mason missed an open 3-pointer from the corner, but chased down his own rebound with 16.8 seconds left and forced the Mavericks to foul him. He hit both as Seattle kept the lead for good.
“I thought we kept out composure real well,” Westphal said.
Well, except for that minor sideline incident in the fourth quarter.