By Rich Myhre
SEATTLE – For the Seattle SuperSonics, it may have been their best game of the season.
For guard Brent Barry, it was the best game of his career.
Two nights after a disappointing effort against the Indiana Pacers – “I was abysmal,” he recalled ruefully – Barry scorched the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves with a career-best 31 points, dropping in one dazzling shot after another from the perimeter. Backed by the 24 points of Vin Baker and the 20 points of Gary Payton, it was enough to lift the Sonics to an impressive 112-102 win over the T-wolves, who had arrived with a dandy 10-2 record.
“I thought it was a fantastic job by this team, competing on both ends of the floor,” said Seattle coach Nate McMillan, adding, “If we continue to play like that, we’ve got a good shot at winning (a lot of games).”
The Sonics don’t give out game balls after victories, but if they did the prize would certainly have been awarded to Barry. He dropped in 10 of 15 field goals, including five of eight from the 3-point stripe. In addition, he converted all six of his free throw tries, distributed 10 assists (one off his career high), snagged six rebounds and tacked on two steals in 42 minutes.
In the second half, when the Sonics pushed a three-point halftime margin into double digits, Barry made his first seven shots. Each one was outside of 18 feet, including four from the 3-point stripe. He did not miss until his final attempt of the game with just under three minutes to play, and by then the game was essentially out of reach.
“I’ve been shooting the ball pretty poorly the last couple of weeks, and I just felt like I was due to have some type of night where I put the ball in the hole,” said Barry, who was 5-for-16 against Indiana, including 1-for-8 from the 3-point stripe. “I wouldn’t say that I was feeling it or in a zone or anything. I just made the shots that I’ve missed the last couple of games.”
Barry’s most remarkable shot came midway through the fourth quarter. With the 24-second clock winding down, Seattle’s Calvin Booth flipped a desperation pass to Barry. He caught the pass with one second on the shot clock and released an arching 3-pointer in the same motion, with the ball touching only twine.
The T-wolves had closed within five points before Barry’s shot, and it was as close as they would come. Seattle nudged the lead back into double figures and kept it there for all but a few of the remaining seconds.
“Barry was the difference tonight,” said Minnesota coach Flip Saunders. “He did everything for them.”
While Barry was having a decisive performance on the outside, Baker was winning his matchup with Minnesota superstar Kevin Garnett on the inside. Though his numbers tapered in the second half after a brilliant first half, Baker finished with a season-high in scoring while clearly outplaying Garnett through most of the game. Garnett managed to score nine of his 22 points in the final three minutes, but by then Seattle’s lead was too large to overcome.
“He’s a great player,” said Seattle’s Calvin Booth, who shared some of the defensive assignment on Garnett. “We just tried to do the best we could against him and I thought we did a decent job. He got hot a little bit at the end of the game, but I think for the most part we did a good job containing him.”
Though the Sonics finished with a lopsided deficit in rebounds, 53-34, there were enough other highlights to compensate. Seattle outshot the T-wolves from the field, 3-point line and free throw line, and forced the visitors into 16 turnovers while committing just eight themselves.
Said McMillan, “I told the team, ‘Minnesota is a very good team. They’ve been together for a few years and they know what to expect from each other, night in and night out.’ I challenged our guys, ‘Do we know what to expect from each other? Do we know Vin Baker will get into the post? Do we know Brent Barry is going to be aggressive? Will Gary Payton pass the ball if there’s a double-team and take advantage if there’s single coverage? Will Desmond Mason bring energy? Do we know that about each other?’ I thought tonight, all those little things, the guys did well.”
The decision raised Seattle’s winning streak to three and gives the Sonics a needed boost of encouragement and momentum heading into tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz at the always-tough Delta Center in Salt Lake City.
“I’m just excited about the potential this team has,” Barry said. “Getting healthy and having some of the weapons that we have, we have the potential to be good. Whether or not we reach that potential is up to us, and that’s really where it lies right now.”