Sonics rally, make Blazers duel nail-biter

  • RICH MYHRE / Herald Writer
  • Saturday, November 4, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports


Herald Writer

SEATTLE – It was a stirring comeback, as good as any the Seattle SuperSonics have managed in recent seasons.

Trailing by 21 points early in the fourth quarter to the powerful Portland Trail Blazers, the Sonics might well have shrugged and surrendered. Instead, Seattle rallied in gallant fashion, twice drawing within a single point in the final 11/2 minutes.

Alas, Seattle could never pull in front and the Blazers went on to claim a 97-90 victory that was padded with a series of free throws in the closing seconds.

The bigger baskets came moments before, courtesy of former Sonic forward Shawn Kemp, who was making his first visit to KeyArena since being delivered from Cleveland to Portland in an offseason trade. Kemp, known more for inside power than outside touch, dropped in a long baseline jumper with one minute to play, then followed with an 18-footer from right of the key a half-minute later.

The two baskets broke the momentum of Seattle’s late charge and disappointed a KeyArena sellout crowd of 17,072 – save for the usual smattering of Blazers fans.

“That was almost a lot of fun,” said Sonics coach Paul Westphal, whose team fell to 1-2 in the young NBA season. “We rode the roller coaster. We were horrible at times and we were great at times. I think we made some strides, but we really don’t care for moral victories because you have to get wins in this league.”

Still, it was remarkable that Westphal would have anything nice to say about this game, based on the first three-plus quarters. Seattle started slowly, spotting the Blazers eight of the game’s first 10 points. The Sonics rallied later in the opening period, four times drawing within one point, but the lead was five points at the end of the quarter and it grew to 52-42 at halftime.

The Sonics had a chance to trim the deficit in the third quarter as Portland started slowly, missing 12 of its first 18 shots in the frame, but Seattle merely traded baskets. The Blazers closed the quarter with six unanswered points to lead by 15, then continued the string with the first six points of the final period.

Gary Payton, who shot poorly (5-for-15) through three quarters, finally got untracked in the final frame and the other Sonics also came to life. Seattle’s defense contributed, forcing six turnovers in the last quarter and helping the Sonics to steadily close the margin. Seattle used a run of 15 straight points – two of them technical free throws when volatile Portland forward Rasheed Wallace got thrown out for arguing – to pull within 85-83 with 2:21 remaining.

The final minutes were highlighted by Kemp’s two field goals and Seattle’s inability to counter with baskets or free throws. It was ironic, really. Of the Blazers on the court, Kemp was certainly the player the Sonics wanted to see shoot from outside with the game on the line.

“When you dig a hole like we did, and a guy comes back and makes shots like that, shots that you expect to go off the rim, it means somebody’s probably not living right,” said Seattle’s Vin Baker, managing a weak smile.

Kemp, meanwhile, was concise in his remarks about the outcome. “It was good to get a win, and that’s pretty much all I’ve got to say,” he said before walking through a crowd of reporters to reach the locker room door.

Statistically, the Sonics played Portland evenly in most ways but one – rebounds. The Blazers, long one of the NBA’s top rebounding teams, finished with a decisive 54-34 edge. That figure included 23 offensive rebounds, which matched Seattle’s total of rebounds at the defensive end.

“We didn’t do the job on the boards, which we expect to do every game,” Westphal said. “When we get beat on the boards as badly as we did, it would have to be a miracle to pull out a win. … (The Blazers) have good offensive rebounders and we didn’t do the job keeping them off the boards, it’s as simple as that.

“But at times we were clicking out there,” he added. “The place was rocking, and we’re going to make that happen a lot more as the season goes on. … Portland’s a great team, we all know that. And we’re looking forward to playing them some more this year.”

Payton finished with 25 points to lead the Sonics, and also added 11 assists, six steals and four rebounds. Baker continued to show that he has improved from a year ago, scoring 19 points and nabbing a Seattle-best nine rebounds, though he had a disappointing six turnovers.

Damon Stoudamire led Portland with 21 points, while Kemp added 18 points and 14 rebounds.

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