Suns set on Sonics

SEATTLE – It was billed as a showdown of the NBA’s two best teams, and Friday’s clash at KeyArena easily lived up to the hype.

The outcome was the only disappointment for the Seattle SuperSonics.

Playing before a noisy sellout gathering of 17,072, the Sonics and Phoenix Suns waged a back-and-forth thriller for an entire 48 minutes, with the outcome literally in the balance until the final second. Unfortunately for the Sonics, they let a late lead slip away and allowed Phoenix, which scored on eight of its last nine offensive possessions, to escape with a 112-110 victory.

A Seattle win would have moved the Sonics to 19-4, matching the Suns for the best record in the league. Instead, Phoenix headed home at 20-3 and the Sonics dropped to 18-5. With San Antonio winning, Seattle fell to the third-best record in the Western Conference and the entire NBA.

“We had this game under control,” sighed Sonics coach Nate McMillan. But at the end, he went on, “they made the plays, we didn’t. … When you get opportunities, you have to make buckets and that’s what they did. They also came up with (defensive) stops. So they made plays and they won the game.”

“Some shots didn’t fall for us down the stretch,” Daniels said, “but I’m extremely proud of our team. Guys played hard and we left it all on the floor, which is all you can ask for.”

The loss was just Seattle’s second in 12 home games this season. The Suns, meanwhile, improved to a remarkable 9-1 mark on the road.

It was also the first time in 14 games the Sonics have lost this season when scoring 100 or more points.

With just over three minutes to play in the game, Seattle seemed on the verge of taking the game in hand when forward Vlade Radmanovic dropped in a 3-pointer from left of the key. That shot put the Sonics on top 102-95 and prompted a Phoenix timeout.

Undaunted, the Suns countered with a 3-pointer from Shawn Marion. Then, after Daniels missed from left of the key, Marion scored with a fast-break dunk and suddenly Phoenix was within two points, 102-100 with 2:32 remaining.

In the next minute, the Sonics made just two of four free throws and the visitors took advantage to go on top to stay. A key play was Quentin Richardson’s three-point play – he made a layin and was fouled by Radmanovic – and when teammate Joe Johnson scored with another layin moments later the Suns were ahead 107-104.

Then came Seattle’s most disappointing possession of the game. The Sonics had four tries at the basket, aided by three offensive rebounds, but failed to score. Forward Rashard Lewis missed two attempts, then Radmanovic missed a 3-point cast from left of the key, and finally guard Luke Ridnour missed with another potential game-tying 3-pointer.

Marion snagged the rebound and was fouled, dropping in two free throws for a 109-104 margin with eight seconds to play.

Not giving up, the Sonics converted two 3-pointers in the final four seconds, first by Ray Allen and then by Lewis. The latter pulled the Sonics within one point, 111-110, but just 0.5 seconds remained in the game.

Seattle committed a foul on the in-bounds play, and by NBA rules the Suns received one free throw and possession. Marion made the free throw and Phoenix got the ball in-bounds as time expired.

“That was a great game,” said Suns coach Mike D’Antoni. “There was a lot of scoring and a lot of plays … and we were able to make some stops at the end. It was a great, great game.”

The Sonics, he added, “are a great team also. They have a lot of heart. I’m happy for their success and they are happy for our success. Hopefully both teams will go on and prove to people that we’re for real.”

Added Marion: “Seattle is up there. They are a great team. You have to give them credit. I give them thumbs up because coach McMillan has them out there doing his thing.”

Early on, the Sonics seemed ready to blow Phoenix out, seizing a 37-21 lead after one quarter. Instead, the Suns rallied to drawn within two points 57-55 at halftime.

“We just don’t lose heart,” D’Antoni said. “Our guys kept their heads in and kept plugging away.”

The Sonics have just one game in the next nine days – Wednesday, at home against Denver – giving them plenty of time to enjoy their Christmas activities. They travel to Utah on the Monday after Christmas, return home the next night to face Philadelphia, then head to the East Coast for a five-game trip that carries into the new year.

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