Sonics go on the defensive

  • RICH MYHRE / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, October 25, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Inspired by Westphal’s talk, Seattle beats Sacramento 113-109


Herald Writer

SEATTLE — Sure, it was only a meaningless exhibition, but Seattle SuperSonics coach Paul Westphal was still simmering a bit with his team down 10 points at halftime to Sacramento.

In the locker room, Westphal’s message was terse.

"I just told them we had to play harder," Westphal said. "We weren’t playing aggressively. We were committing a lot of cheap fouls and we weren’t moving our feet. That was the whole speech. Get your butt down and move your feet. And they really responded."

Inspired by these words, the Sonics erased their deficit in the third quarter and went on to a 113-109 victory over the Kings Wednesday night before a modest KeyArena crowd of 11,477.

It was largely due to defense. Sacramento scored 31 points in the first quarter and 29 in the second, but just 18 points in the third. Seattle’s defensive pressure helped the Kings to commit an astonishing 11 turnovers in the period — nearly one per minute.

"I thought the second half defense was fantastic," Westphal said. "I told them that’s the difference between being a great team and a terrible team. If they’re going to come out and play defense, we can be a great team. If they want to relax and cruise and try to outscore people, it’s not going to work.

"Once we got the defensive intensity up, everything else followed and it was fine," he said.

The Sonics, playing without starting small forward Rashard Lewis (sprained right knee) and rookie guard Desmond Mason (sprained right ankle), used a starting lineup of Gary Payton and Brent Barry in the backcourt, forwards Vin Baker and Ruben Patterson, and Patrick Ewing at center. It was that fivesome that triggered Seattle’s rally in the early minutes of the third quarter.

Steadily, the Sonics whittled away at Sacramento’s lead, finally drawing into a tie with four minutes left on Ewing’s baseline jump shot. The Kings regained a brief lead, but Seattle eased on top to stay in the final moments of the period. Using a run of 10 unanswered points, the Sonics pushed to an 88-78 advantage early in the fourth period.

In fact, Seattle’s final margin could have been more onesided had Westphal left his starters on the court for the fourth quarter. The lead was 14 points midway through the period before Sacramento’s subs outscored Seattle’s reserves in the closing minutes.

Payton had an excellent outing, turning in 29 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and just one turnover in 35 minutes. He was joined by Patterson, who tossed in 24 points to go with six rebounds, five assists and two steals in 40 minutes.

It was Patterson who provided a jaw-dropping highlight midway through the final quarter. After a Seattle turnover, Sacramento’s Nick Anderson had an apparent breakaway, but Patterson hustled the length of the court and blocked the shot with two hands, then gathered the ball before his feet hit the floor.

It was a moment of remarkable effort and athleticism, and the Seattle coaches and bench players sprang to their feet with approval.

"It was a great block," Patterson said with a grin. "I timed it very well. I caught him on an angle, and he went up and I went up and got it. It was fun."

Seattle has one last preseason game, Friday night in Los Angeles against the Clippers, before turning its preparations to the regular-season opener Tuesday night in Vancouver.

  • Smith fallout: A major topic of conversation before Wednesday’s game was the harsh penalty levied against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Joe Smith case. No one from the Sonics would comment officially, though the general reaction seemed one of surprise at the punishment’s severity.

    Do the Sonics have interest in Smith? Yes, said team president Wally Walker, though Seattle’s only available salary slot under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement is the $2.25 mid-level exception. "It would be a steal for somebody if they could get him at that level," Walker said.

    The Sonics will inquire with Smith’s agent, Walker said, but based on Seattle’s depth and salary restrictions, "I think probably other situations will look better to him," Walker said.

  • Cuts coming: The Sonics did not make any cuts after the game. Instead, Walker said, the ax will likely fall sometime this morning. Seattle has 16 players under contract and at least two players are expected to be trimmed. Free agent guard Tyson Wheeler is expected to be one, and the second will likely come from free agents Eddie Elisma, Pervis Ellison, Dickey Simpkins and David Wingate.
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