By RICH MYHRE
SEATTLE – It was a game the Seattle SuperSonics desperately needed to win. And at halftime Friday night, a win against the lowly Los Angeles Clippers was still very much in doubt.
Gary Payton was struggling with his shot, Vin Baker and Patrick Ewing were bothered by sore knees, and Rashard Lewis was in street clothes on Seattle’s bench because of a leg injury.
The badly needed spark would have to come from some of the unsung Sonics – and it did, as Seattle used a handsome second half to put down the pesky Clippers, 98-81, before a modest KeyArena gathering of 13,282.
Ruben Patterson, Brent Barry, Desmond Mason, Jelani McCoy and Emanual Davis – all of them were instrumental in this victory. Patterson had 16 points, including 10 in the decisive third quarter, and helped hold LA star forward Lamar Odom to just 14 points (four in the second half). Barry delivered 13 points and seven assists. Mason and McCoy combined for 17 points and five blocked shots. And Davis banged in three of four field goal tries and managed three steals.
All were welcome contributions, according to Payton. For the Sonics to succeed this season, he said, ” (we need) all those guys. If those guys can keep continuing to be good and have performances like this, it will take a lot (of pressure) off me and Pat and Vin. We’ll have a more balanced team.”
After trading leads with the Clippers in the first quarter, Seattle eased on top in the second quarter. Still, the Sonics could never put any space between themselves and the visitors, and the margin was a mere 52-48 at the break.
In the third quarter, though, Seattle swung the game with a renewed defensive effort. Odom, the team’s top scorer, scored just one field goal in the period, and the Clippers shot a collective .304 percent (7-for-23) from the field.
“I thought the key to the game was our defense in the third quarter,” Sonics coach Paul Westphal said, “and we kept it up the whole second half.”
Patterson, meanwhile, had two dunks, two layins, two free throws and a dandy block of an Odom layin try in the quarter as Seattle finally stretched its lead into double digits. One of Patterson’s dunks was worthy of a highlight-film reel – a soaring lob from Barry that Patterson leaped to nab with two hands, then jammed in the same motion.
“That was such a treat,” Barry grinned. “I get more satisfaction out of (a pass like that) than anything else I do on the court. And it’s nice when you have guys who can put their elbows on the rim, and he can do that.”
Payton, meanwhile, overcame another sub-par shooting night (he is 43-for-114 in his last five games, just .378 percent) to finish with a team-best 23 points. He also added 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals.
“Gary was fantastic,” said Westphal, who had a well-publicized verbal clash with Payton on the team’s recent road trip. “He really made good things happen at both ends. He seemed to be able to do whatever needed to be done whenever we needed it.”
The outcome gave Seattle its third win in the last four games. The downside is that two of those wins came against the meager Clippers, and the schedule becomes decidedly tougher in the coming week as the Sonics face three of the top four teams in the Pacific Division. That stretch starts tonight in Sacramento and continues with a Tuesday game in Portland before Seattle returns home to face the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Westphal said. “We’ve had an unbelievable month. We’ve played 11 road games, and now we finish it off with Sacramento, Portland and the Lakers. (The schedule makers) haven’t done us any favors. But if we come through here with two or three wins, we’ll still be standing at the end of this month.”
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