Wednesday, March 30, 2005
The Sonics are going to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
It was yet another down-to-the-wire game, and the Sonics seem to be playing lots of these games lately. To make matters tougher, Rashard Lewis was sitting out to rest the tendinitis in his knee.
It's many hours later as I'm typing this, and I'm still trying to piece together how the Sonics won this game. They shot SO badly in the first half, and Memphis was shooting the leather off the ball (not sure if the cliche works like it does in baseball). The one thing that kept the Sonics from falling behind even more than they did (and they did fall far behind at points in this game) was their offensive rebounding. Amazingly, the Grizzlies finished shooting 54.8%, but the Sonics somehow managed to pull this one out of the hat. Of course, it helped a lot that the Sonics nailed half their threes they took and grabbed half their rebounds on the offensive glass.
For some reason, I was sitting there in the first quarter thinking that it seemed like a high-scoring quarter until it ended with the Grizzlies up only 21-19. Reggie Evans set the tone for the Sonics' big guys early, scoring seven points and grabbing nine rebounds in the opening frame, which is purely nuts. Jerome James also had five points and two boards. He would warm up later. The last half of the quarter featured runs by both teams, with the Grizzlies going on a 7-1 run, which was partially offset by the Sonics' 5-0 run to end the quarter, spurred by a couple of Nick Collison free throws and a Damien Wilkins three.
Then Memphis opened the second quarter by scoring the first three buckets. That later turned into a 8-2 Grizzly run, good for a 29-21 lead early in the quarter. The Sonics were able to use the last half of the quarter to whittle a 13-point Memphis lead to 6 before halftime. A slow run, if you will. The Grizzlies led 50-44 at halftime.
The proof, however, was in the numbers. The Sonics shot 16-for-50 (31%) in the half while Memphis shot a torrid 59% (22-for-37). Oddly, the Grizzlies missed all six of their three-point attempts. The Sonics were a less-than-stellar 6-for-13 from the line, but that's what'll happen when Reggie Evans and Jerome James are getting to the line a bunch of times. The backbreaking shooting numbers, however, belonged to Ray Allen (2-for-10) and Ron Murray (1-for-7). The Sonics were beat 30-24 in the paint, but their saving grace was that they were blistering the Grizzlies 17-6 on the offensive glass.
The third quarter saw the teams score 28 points apiece. Seattle began the quarter down six points, and they ended it still down six points. That definitely leaves out a bunch of the story, though, as the Sonics sank to the depths of the basketball doldrums by falling behind by as much as 14. That happened after Shane Battier nailed a three with 7:18 to go to give Memphis a 66-52 lead. If you want to put that on the run counter, that was a 16-8 run for Memphis. What came after that? Well, I'll have to dissect the Sonics' 20-12 run to end the quarter. In short, Ray Allen nailed two threes and had another layup, Antonio Daniels hit a three, and Nick Collison finished off a beautiful 94-foot, four-second fastbreak with a layup after he ran the floor with Luke Ridnour; he was fouled for a three-point play. By the way, that was 11 points for Ray Allen, if you didn't do the adding back there. The Sonics surely found going into the fourth quarter down six points (78-72) was a lot better than going in down by thirteen.
On came the fourth. How did it start? With a Damien Wilkins three-ball. Other than Gerald Wilkins, I'm not sure exactly where Damien Wilkins came from, but I hope he stays awhile. On the next Sonic possession, Wilkins made a nice feed low to Collison, leading to a three-point play. After only two trips down the floor to start the quarter, the Sonics had already whittled away the Memphis lead to two points (80-78). Bonzi Wells hit a free throw and a jumper to pile on to the Memphis lead, but Wells was negated when Wilkins hit yet another three. Nick Collison then picked off a pass and Luke Ridnour stuck a midrange jumpshot to tie the game (!!!) at 83 with 9:17 left in the game. Surely the Sonics had the momentum here, right? They'd maybe trade baskets a bit before finally taking the lead for good, right? Memphis went on a 7-0 run thanks to two Bonzi Wells buckets and an Earl Watson three.
Things looked quite bleak. The Grizzlies had a 90-83 lead thanks to their 7-0 run and Coach McMillan called a timeout with 7:18 to go. What happened next? Give yourself a pat on the back if you guessed "12-2 Sonic run." Ray Allen scored the first five points of the run on a layup and a three-ball. The run was finished off with James nailing a couple of free throws. Sandwiched, however, were a runner and a banking three-pointer by Luke Ridnour. Could it be, Luke Ridnour, the fourth-quarter hot hand? That banking three gave the Sonics their first lead since the first quarter. Ridnour would score 11 points and notch two assists in the quarter.
The Sonics had a 95-92 lead with 2:05 left. Ridnour was guarding Earl Watson and got called for a foul. Ridnour couldn't believe it, and he showed a little more frustration than usual in expressing his displeasure toward the call. He calmed down, and the coaching staff took over in the complaint department. Still, in such a close game, it's a good thing they didn't get called for technicals. It might also be a good thing that the refs weren't going to let techs decide the game, too. Who knows. Watson made his free throws, and Ridnour atoned on the other end with a midrange pop. Jerome James overplayed Pau Gasol a little too much around the post, it backfired, and Collison gave Gasol a hard foul, making him earn his two at the line, which he got. Then James hit a short jumper to put the Sonics' lead back to three at 99-96 with 1:01 left.
As the Sonics were sitting there with a three-point lead and a minute left, I was sitting there fearing only two things as the Sonics were playing defense. One was Ridnour fouling a shooter beyond the three-point line. Two was a three-point play. As I was watching Pau Gasol get really deep into the post with Jerome James and Nick Collison flying over to try and front him, I yelled "dammit" even before Gasol put up the shot. He hit it, he was fouled, and he hit the free-throw. The game was tied at 99. On the Sonics' next possession, Luke Ridnour was able to find James down low, and Gasol hacked him, sending him to the line. Unfortunately, James only hit one of two. Though the Sonics had the lead of one (100-99), one Grizzly basket could make the lead change hands.
The Sonics were going to defend a one-point lead with 27.6 seconds left. How did the Grizzlies fare on their end of the court? Shane Battier was near the sideline on the left side of the court, and Damien Wilkins was on him. Battier tried to put a pass down low to Gasol, but Wilkins got a hand on it and somehow put it off of Battier and out of bounds. Yes, the ball went off the Dookie and out of bounds. Battier immediately hacked Ridnour on the inbound. Ridnour calmly sank his only two free throws of the night, accounting for the final score of 102-99.
PEEK AT THE BOXSCORE
Ray Allen 22 pts/6 reb/2 ast (8-20 FG, 5-7 3pt, 1-1 free throws, 38 min), Luke Ridnour 15 pts/2 reb/9 ast (6-12 FG, 1-4 3pt, 2-2 free throws, 39 min), Reggie Evans 12 pts/13 reb/3 ast (2-5 FG, 8-14 free throws, 30 min), Ron Murray 4 pts (2-10 FG, 0-3 3pt, 29 min)
Damien Wilkins 13 pts/4 reb (5-11 FG, 3-4 3pt, 25 min), Nick Collison 11 pts/6 reb (3-5 FG, 5-5 free throws), Antonio Daniels 3 pts/2 ast (1-4 FG, 1-1 3pt, 17 min), Vitaly Potapenko 0 pts/0 reb (0-1 FG, 6 min)
Jerome James Watch
22 pts (career high)/6 reb/1 ast/2 stl/2 blk (9-11 FG, 4-7 free throws, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls, 32 min)
shot 36-for-79 (45.6%) from the field, shot 10-for-20 (50%) from downtown, shot 20-for-29 (69%) from the line, were beat 56-40 in the paint, outrebounded Memphis 38-35 (NINETEEN Sonic offensive rebounds), turned ball over 13 times, bench was outscored 48-27 (was outrebounded 15-11)
The line that Luke Ridnour put up tonight is definitely the best that we can see out of Ridnour this year, at least. He shot a good percentage from the field, didn't miss a ton of threes, and his assist numbers were through the roof. I think usually we could expect more from the free-throw line from Ridnour, but hey, his perimeter game was more than working in this one. What don't I like about Ridnour, though I don't think he did it tonight? Fouling guys on their way to the basket for easy layups that are going to go in for sure. I wish Luke would either foul a bit harder or not at all, but I shouldn't pick on Luke tonight after the fourth quarter he had, so I'll move on.
I can't say I went into this game thinking Reggie Evans and Jerome James were going to combine for 34 points, 19 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. No sir. They were a big part of the early offensive boards that kept the Sonics in this game when the shots weren't falling. Also vital was that these two guys were the main scoring options when the shooters weren't hitting the shots they usually hit. What a nice night for these two to step up.
How about Nick Collison and Damien Wilkins? Now what Collison is doing is almost seeming like old hat, but he's running off the pick-and-rolls real nice, and he's really gritty on the boards. Tonight, Collison hit all five of his free throws, which was good to see. As for Wilkins, the guy's almost been like instant results this last week or two. In this one, he nailed three 3-pointers and had arguably the game-winning defensive play.
The Sonics are now 6-1 without Vladimir Radmanovic. They also won tonight without Rashard Lewis as well. How the hell does this team win a game against a solid Memphis team without Lewis and Radmanovic? This shouldn't happen, but in the eyes of Sonic fans throughout the reason, thank goodness it's happened.
I would have asked Jinkies if he'd ever seen a grizzly bear anywhere near Memphis.