Sonics start out with stinker

  • RICH MYHRE / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, October 31, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By RICH MYHRE

Herald Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Poised with a new look for the new season, the Seattle SuperSonics instead found themselves trapped in a hideous Halloween nightmare.

Staggered by an early flood of missed shots and errant passes, the Sonics fell into a 25-point first-half hole Tuesday night and never managed to recover in a dismal 94-88 loss to the Vancouver Grizzlies. Seattle rallied from 20 points back at halftime to pull even in the early moments of the fourth period, but Vancouver eased away in the closing minutes to seal the victory.

The decision came before 15,779 giddy customers at General Motors Place, who saw the Grizzlies win just the third game against the Sonics in 20 all-time attempts.

“We saw a little of how good we could be and how bad we can be,” Sonics coach Paul Westphal said. “It seemed like we came back in the third quarter. That’s the kind of basketball we think we’re capable of, but we have to put together more than 12 minutes of that. … It was just too big of a hole that we dug.”

Seattle faced an uphill task after falling behind 13-0 and 22-4 in the game’s early minutes. The Sonics were down 56-36 at halftime, but rallied impressively in the third quarter behind eight points apiece from guards Gary Payton and Shammond Williams. Seattle trailed 65-64 heading in the fourth quarter and managed to draw even in the initial moments of the final period, 67-67, but they never led.

The Grizzlies won despite – or perhaps because of – a curious bit of coaching by Vancouver’s Sidney Lowe. He kept top reserves Ike Austin and Stromile Swift on the bench until the fourth quarter, and backup Damon Jones had played just one minute before the final period. With his starters wilting badly heading into the fourth quarter, Lowe finally went to the bench and that trio ignited the home team down the stretch.

Austin, in particular, scorched the Sonics by burying his first four shots, including a 3-pointer, in less than four minutes. Seattle drew once more within two points, 78-76, but the Grizzlies responded with nine unanswered points to take the game in hand.

“It was anybody’s game (early in the fourth quarter), but it was a thing where we didn’t have any margin for error,” Westphal said. “We needed them to miss some of their shots and we needed to come up with some of the loose balls after good defensive plays. It was their quarter. They won the quarter that mattered after we fought back.”

“We came back like we expected to, but we weren’t able to pull it out at the end,” said Seattle’s Vin Baker.

Seattle’s two new starters both had disappointing outings. Center Patrick Ewing, the centerpiece of a major four-team trade during the offseason, managed just two points on 1-for-6 shooting, though he did collect 12 rebounds. And guard Desmond Mason, Seattle’s No. 1 pick in the June draft, had just seven points, all but one in the first half. He played sparingly in the second half.

“It seemed like things just weren’t going (Mason’s) way,” Westphal said.

Among the Seattle highlights, and there weren’t many, was the spirited play of Baker. Trying to shed the memory of two disappointing seasons, Baker was the steadiest of the Sonics with 19 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

Payton had a woeful shooting night, finishing just 10-for-26 from the field, but he ended with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. It was the 11th triple-double of his 11-year NBA career.

The opening quarter was a dismal performance by the Sonics as Vancouver bolted to a 9-0 lead before the Sonics called a momentum-stemming timeout. It mattered little, as nothing went right for Seattle. The Sonics made just 6 of 21 field goals in the period while committing six turnovers. Vancouver, meanwhile, shot a blistering 16-for-30, aided by a number of fastbreaks from Seattle turnovers.

No Sonic seemed more befuddled than forward Rashard Lewis. His shot wouldn’t fall – he was 3-for-10 from the field for the game – and he added to his shooting woes with off-target passes and defensive lapses. At one point in the first half, Lewis inexplicably tossed a pass to Vancouver’s Mike Bibby, leading to a breakaway.

“They capitalized on our turnovers (in the first quarter) and that was the biggest problem,” Westphal said. “Their transition was what killed us, and it was because we were giving them the ball.”

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