April 30, 1995 in Sports

Don’t Take Us For Dimwits, Professor Karl

By The Spokesman-Review
 

We take you now to the Seattle SuperSonic School of Rationalization, George Karl, professor:

“Home-court advantage isn’t that important,” he says.

Well, no. Unless you can conjure up a power surge that douses the lights when your guests have you by the short hairs in the fourth quarter, the advantage to playing in your own building - even temporary shelter such as the Tacoma Dome - is negligible, surely.

“Playoff series are won by winning on the road,” he adds.

Only if you’re the underdog, professor.

Hey! Now the Sonics qualify.

By losing to the Los Angeles Lakers 84-82 on Saturday, the Sonics not only validated parking for coach Del Harris and his young upstarts for the rest of this best-of-five National Basketball Association series, but also legitimized L.A.’s four regular-season wins over Seattle as more-thancircumstantial evidence.

If the notion was that the Lakers - who slumped badly at season’s end - couldn’t handle Seattle when it really counted, well, are there any more bright ideas?

“This is who we are,” Harris insisted. “I think our guys played hard enough over a long period of time this winter to deserve the respect that maybe we can win the series.”

Or you can look at it this way: Each team has had one game in this series in which it couldn’t hit the Pacific with a snowpea. The Sonics lost theirs by a mere two points, the Lakers by 25.

Of course, this one might have been closer to 25 if not for the trusty folks at Puget Power.

The scoreboard showed the Lakers up 81-73 and 4:11 to play when a lightning strike caused a power surge in a five-block grid. Naturally, the arena advertising signs remained on and the sound system could pump out “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” - and who says Team Ackerley has no sense of humor? - but the game had to be halted for 22 minutes so the lights could cool and then be turned on again.

“It used to happen back in Indiana a lot,” said Harris, who used to coach at a small college there. “That’s a good old trick. Things wouldn’t be going so well, so you’d turn the lights out.”

The Sonics certainly didn’t shoot them out.

At that point, they’d made just 26 of 82 from the field and it got worse - 31.8 percent for the game - though the momentum-killing outage let Seattle run off six straight points. A steal by Nate McMillan with 15 seconds left gave the Sonics a try at the tying/winning shot - which, naturally, McMillan missed.

McMillan? Why?

Because he was open. Because Seattle’s three best shooters - Gary Payton, Sam Perkins and Kendall Gill - were an aggregate 12 of 41. Because Harris has no intention of letting the Sonics’ creator, Payton, or Shawn Kemp or Detlef Schrempf have an uncontested anything.

“We defend those guys the same way,” said Laker guard Nick Van Exel. “They get the ball down low, they got to have men in their faces. You’ve got to make them give it up and make the other players beat you.”

Like McMillan?

“You got that right.”

This is no bulletin to Karl, who picked up on L.A.’s strategy in Game 1. But he found no answers for it before Game 2, and now the clock is ticking.

“I don’t think they’re giving Gary a lot of chances,” said Karl. “When he’s within 15 feet of the basket, there’s a lot of people coming to him, and Shawn the same thing.

“We’ll make adjustments, but I think making our layups would be the best adjustment.”

His most veteran guard would beg to disagree.

“It wasn’t so much what they did on the defensive end, but what we did on the defensive end,” McMillan said. “They spread us out and went through the low post for their offense.”

Indeed, a Laker team that had Van Exel and a bunch of unloaded guns on Thursday had weapons hidden everywhere Saturday. Cedric Ceballos went from a two-point night in Game One to 25 (18 on 3-pointers), Vlade Divac and Elden Campbell combined for 30 inside and even Anthony Peeler had 10.

“Whenever Campbell and Divac have good games, it causes us problems,” McMillan said. “And Ceballos - that’s the best I’ve ever seen him shoot the ball. He’s known to be a penetrator, but I don’t know if he even went to the hole.

“They knew where we were coming with our traps, they spread us out and got the ball to the shooters - and those guys knocked them down.”

But it was Campbell and Divac who scored 10 of L.A.’s first 12 points and put the game in its true, uh, light.

“The two common things with this game and our losses to them in the regular season,” said Karl, “were their inside-game presence and the fact that our bench didn’t play well.”

And now the Sonics are looking at another common denominator: history. The Lakers this year, the Nuggets last.

“I’m sure they’re thinking about last year,” said Van Exel, “and everybody’s going to keep talking about last year. We don’t have anything about last year that people can bring up about us.”

But don’t turn out the lights. The party’s not over yet.


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