Streaking Sonics beat Utah for sixth straight victory

  • Rich Myhre / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, March 24, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – With their playoff hopes still hanging by a thread, the Seattle SuperSonics won again on Wednesday, besting the Utah Jazz in a hard-earned 84-77 decision at KeyArena.

That’s six in a row for a team that probably needs to take its winning streak to double digits and beyond to keep that thread intact. And even that might not be enough.

Still, for another day the Sonics can call themselves a playoff contender.

“We’re still there,” said Seattle coach Nate McMillan. “We haven’t given up.”

“I would like to think we’re going to put pressure on people,” added guard Ray Allen, who led Seattle’s effort with 26 points. “There’s two or three teams we’re kind of arguing with about that last playoff spot and we can control it a little bit right here (by continuing to win). But we’ve got some quality teams coming up and it’s not going to be easy.”

Seattle has to pass three teams to snag the eighth and final playoff position from the Western Conference. Utah lost to Seattle, but Portland won at home against the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver did the same against Minnesota.

As of this morning, then, the Sonics trail Denver by four games, Utah by 3 1/2 games and Portland by three games. The Sonics and Portland have 11 games remaining, Utah has 10 and Denver has nine.

“I just hope some of these teams are ready to go on vacation,” Allen said. “I don’t think we are. We have a lot to prove to ourselves. If we don’t make the playoffs, we still want to know in the summertime that at least late in the season we gave it our best shot.”

Against Utah, the Sonics jumped on top to stay late in the first quarter and, with the Jazz struggling through two dreadful shooting periods (the visitors were 9-for-37 from the field at the break, .243 percent), built their lead to 41-28 at halftime. Seattle’s margin reached a high of 22 points midway through the third quarter and was still 21 with under three minutes to play when the visitors finally mounted their rally.

In the remaining moments of the period, a 12-2 scoring run allowed Utah to draw within 63-52. The comeback continued into the fourth quarter, with a fastbreak layin by guard Mo Williams slicing the deficit to 66-61 with just under nine minutes remaining. From there the teams traded points until the final minute, when the Jazz scored five unanswered points to trail 80-77 with 24 seconds to go.

The last three points in that string came courtesy of one of the more absurd calls of the season. With the shot clock about to expire, Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko threw his elbow into Brent Barry’s face on a desperation 3-point try and official Bob Delaney whistled Barry for a foul, much to the consternation of Barry and all the other Seattle coaches and players.

Kirilenko made all three chances at the line to pull the Jazz within three, but in the closing moments the Sonics protected their lead at the free throw line with two points apiece from Allen and Daniels.

“I thought our guys scrapped,” McMillan said. “They played hard. Defensively, I thought we were really good the first half and we built a pretty good lead. Then we relaxed for a few minutes and had to fight our way to the end.

“We made a game out of it,” he added with a wry smile. “We had to find a way to win late, but we did. So it was a good effort by the guys.”

The six-game winning streak is Seattle’s first since a similar stretch from Dec. 16-29 of 2001. It is the third six-game string of McMillan’s head coaching career. He has yet to coach a team to seven straight victories.

Wednesday’s outcome also kept Seattle from being swept by the Jazz this season, with Utah winning the first three meetings between the teams.

Seattle found a decisive edge at the free throw line, where it was 26-for-28 (.929), led by Antonio Daniels who was 11-for-11. Utah was 15-for-20.

The Jazz got a nice boost from Mikki Moore, who was in training camp with the Sonics and was one of the team’s final cuts (Seattle instead opted to keep guard Richie Frahm). Moore, a 7-foot center who played briefly with New Jersey before signing with Utah in late January, played 12 minutes in the second half and scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting from around the key.

“We liked Mikki,” McMillan said. “We thought he was a good player. We just didn’t have the room (to keep him).”

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