Seattle thrashes Denver 112-99 as trash talk energizes Payton
By RICH MYHRE
SEATTLE — One night after a first quarter that could end up being their worst of the season, the Seattle SuperSonics managed what could turn out to be their best.
Against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night, the Sonics sizzled from the start, running up 42 points in the opening period and cruising to an eventual 112-99 victory. It was a distinct contrast to Tuesday night, when Seattle fell behind 22-4 to the Vancouver Grizzlies and trailed 34-18 at the end of the first quarter.
"I didn’t think we came out with the energy that we needed (against Vancouver)," said new Seattle center Patrick Ewing. "(Against Denver), we definitely did. We came out and got their big people in foul trouble and just took control."
"We did a nice job," agreed Sonics coach Paul Westphal. "This is more of what we wanted. It was a real nice effort."
Leading the way was Seattle guard Gary Payton, who simply had his way with the Nuggets. Payton finished with 35 points — he scored 18 to trigger the team’s first quarter burst — on 13-for-16 shooting from the field. He made his first eight attempts to go with a pair of free throws, and didn’t miss a shot until the waning seconds of the opening quarter, when an off-balance try banged off the rim.
In the locker room, several of the Sonics were chuckling because one Denver player, reportedly Voshon Lenard, tossed a few taunting remarks at Payton early in the game. Most NBA rivals know better, but every so often a cocky foe makes a nice play and unwisely brags about it in Payton’s face.
Usually Payton explodes with a flurry of points, just as he did to the Nuggets.
"Gary is a great player," Ewing said, "and somebody woke him up. They woke up the sleeping giant. I told (Payton), ‘If that’s all we need to do to get nights like this, I’m going to keep talking trash to him every night.’ "
Even Westphal was grateful. "We’d like to send (Lenard) a gift certificate," he joked.
Unlike Tuesday’s season opener in Vancouver, in which the Sonics dozed through the first period, Seattle opened this game with obvious enthusiasm. After spotting the Nuggets a pair of early leads, Seattle used a 13-2 scoring run to move on top to stay. The Sonics shot a torrid .739 from the field in the quarter (17-for-23) and were 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
After trailing by 18 points at halftime, Denver made one last run, trimming Seattle’s lead to 80-73 late in the third quarter. Forward Vin Baker countered with a strong twirling move into the key for a layin and a free throw, guard Shammond Williams followed with a 3-point goal from the right angle, and the Sonics added two more field goals for a 90-73 margin.
The Nuggets came no closer than nine points in the final period.
"Our energy was great," Baker said. "I think we understood that we can’t afford to be 0-2 to start the season. Our energy level was there."
Seattle got a huge boost because star Denver forward Antonio McDyess played just 18 minutes because of foul trouble. He finished with just 10 points and four rebounds.
"He’s our best player," said Nuggets coach Dan Issel, "and when your best player can’t play more than 18 minutes you’re going to struggle."
As a whole, Issel added, "it was awful. On defense, it looked as though our players hadn’t seen each other before. If Nick (Van Exel, who finished with 26 points) hadn’t been playing well, we would have been behind by 40 points at halftime.
"In the second half, we had a lot more effort and played much better, but it was too big a lead to come back. We weren’t ready to play. And how can you not be ready to play the first game of the year?"
The most obvious blemish for Seattle this night was a total of 24 turnovers. No Sonic had more than four turnovers, but every player had at least one (except Pervis Ellison, who entered in the last minute) and nine Sonics had more than one.
"Turnovers are killing us," Westphal said. "We have to fix the turnovers. When the top teams come in here, if we have 24 turnovers we’re not going to win no matter how well we do other things. It’s been a problem through almost every preseason game and it’s been a problem in these first two games. It’s an area that’s probably crying out for improvement more than anything else we’re doing."
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