SEATTLE – On a night when their starting lineup was mediocre at best, the Seattle SuperSonics needed some help against the high-flying Miami Heat.
Playing at home for the first time in 12 days, the Sonics found the firepower they needed from fellows like Vlade Radmanovic, Danny Fortson, Antonio Daniels and Nick Collison, backup players all. That quartet finished with a whopping 66-17 margin in bench scoring and the result was an impressive 108-98 Seattle victory, the team’s second against Miami in the last week.
Leading the way was Radmanovic, the 6-foot-10 native Serbian. Shrugging off two disappointing games to close a recent East Coast road trip – he was a combined 5-for-24 from the field in losses at Orlando and Washington, including 2-for-12 from the 3-point line – the sharp-shooting forward poured in a season-best 27 points, just two off his career high.
”This is my fourth year in the league and I’ve learned that you can’t lose your confidence because of just two games,” said Radmanovic. ”You have to come back and think about what you’re supposed to do and not about what happened two nights ago. That’s what I did tonight. I came out, I was open, I shot those shots and they were falling in.”
”I’ve told him that he really needs to be a consistent factor coming off the bench,” said Seattle coach Nate McMillan. ”He’s our sixth man and that is really just like a starter, and I’ve got to know what I’m going to get from him each night. You may have one bad night or maybe two, but you really can’t have three bad nights in a row at that position. Consistency is what we need from him, and he’s been pretty consistent this year.”
Equally important for Seattle was the play of Fortson, who shone at both ends of the court. In just 22 minutes of duty, he scored 18 points, snagged a team-high 10 rebounds and helped contain Miami’s super center Shaquille O’Neal. That O’Neal scored 28 points suggests Seattle’s interior defense was lax, but in fact the 11-time NBA All-Star was shooting the ball well. With more attempts, this could have been a game when he scored 40 or more.
”Danny just changed the game, not only by making Shaquille work, but by creating second opportunities for us,” McMillan said.
Daniels contributed 15 points, seven assists and three rebounds, while Collison had six points, six rebounds and shared some of the defensive assignment against O’Neal. Collectively, the four reserves were 23-for-35 from the field, a sizzling .657 percent, and scored 15 of Seattle’s 23 points from the free throw line.
”Our bench really struggled the last two games,” McMillan said, ”but tonight they came back aggressive.”
Sunday’s win was particularly sweet because Miami was clearly primed for payback. The Heat, which had won eight straight games on the road and 16 of its last 17 overall in a five-week stretch, had been stung by Seattle’s 98-96 victory last Monday.
”They’d been talking about this game since the last time we played them,” McMillan acknowledged. ”After they beat Portland (on Friday night), the conversation was immediately about us.”
Early on, it looked like revenge was going to carry Miami to a convincing win. After spotting Seattle an early 2-0 lead, the visitors pulled in front and stayed there through most of the first three quarters, including several double-digit leads.
Late in the third period, though, the Sonics started their comeback. Seattle closed the quarter with an 18-6 scoring burst to go on top by three points, and when forwards Rashard Lewis and Radmanovic swished back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the final period the margin was 93-83.
Calmly and quickly, Miami rattled off 12 unanswered points. The string prompted uneasy murmurs from the 17,072 fans at sold-out KeyArena, though they need not have worried because the Sonics were about to unleash a flurry of their own. Over the game’s final five minutes, Seattle outscored the Heat 13-1 with Miami missing its last seven attempts from the field.
In particular, the starting backcourt of Dwyane Wade and Damon Jones missed 10 of 13 field goal attempts in the second half, including seven of 10 in the fourth quarter.
”I thought the key in the second half defensively was our guards putting pressure on the ball,” McMillan said. ”I thought that changed the game by wearing (Wade and Jones) down and allowing us to get the tempo we wanted. … They didn’t knock down some shots, and we were able to rebound and run in transition, and we really had them scrambling in transition, trying to find our shooters.”
Overall, he added, ”this was just a great effort after coming back off a long road trip. I liked our intensity. The hustle game, I thought we won. And in the second half we came out and played basketball like we have all season long.”