Sonics Ignored Kings Fans’ Taunts And Own History
The second NBA playoff game in the Kings’ 10 years in Sacramento was everything one might expect - tractors fully tuned, freshly inked tattoos, unharmonized cow bells and general noisemaking worthy of a garbage truck filling with bowling balls.
Understandably, Kings fans were quite unsophisticated - in the first quarter they screamed uproariously at missed Sonics free throws.
Like it was the first time anybody had seen that from Seattle players in big games. Sheesh.
Still, they were aware enough to know Sonics history was their friend. During pregame warmups, a local tradition allows fans to gather along the sidelines. Tuesday night, 10 deep, they jeered the Sonics relentlessly, making various neck gestures and screaming “choke!”
It certainly seemed an appropriate concept. In fact, it held for 3-1/2 quarters. The Sonics were staggering around just as they had in third games of the opening series for the past two seasons against the Denver Nuggets and the L.A. Lakers.
Again, the Sonics had made supermen of ordinary players. By playing so passively Sunday in Game 2 at Key Arena, the Sonics allowed the Kings and their fans to think that the best team in the Western Conference was again whimpering under pressure.
ARCO Arena was atremble. So were the Sonics.
“I don’t care what anybody says in this locker room,” said Vince Askew later. “We had to be thinking about our history.”
Suddenly, history ended.
Almost inexplicably, inside the final 5 minutes, the game reversed so fast the gears could be heard stripping above the din.
The Sonics, at the cliff with front wheels hanging over the abyss, found traction and backed up to safety and a 96-89 win that was nearly as preposterous as the recent playoff games they lost.
The Kings failed to score a field goal in the game’s final 5 minutes. They just up and died under pressure, Sonic-like. Meanwhile, the aforementioned dead men came alive in complete contradiction to their Game 2 debacle and the failures of the past two Aprils, which left them with a 2-1 series lead and a chance to close out the first-round nightmares Thursday night.
One who has not been part of the previous nonsense is Frank Brickowski, the 36-year-old backup center who became the Sonic to step up while others stepped back. He hit 5 of 6 shots, the last a 3-pointer that ignited Seattle’s 21-6 run to the wire. The run was remarkable because the Sonics scored on 10 of their final 11 possessions, and just two of the points came from their star tandem of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton.
But those two were part of a cohesive defensive effort that suffocated the Kings.
“We’ve been cognizant all season that there are teams who have trouble in the last 2 minutes, and we’re not one of them,” Brickowski said. “We knew we had come back on them before (a nine-point rally in the final two minutes of a game in March). We have a lot of guys who want to take the big shot and want to play tough defense.”
Even though the Sonics established themselves as late-game studs during the regular season, all of that seemed lost in the Game 2 disaster. But that contest was lost early when the Sonics, slowed by a virus-weakened Payton, never took it hard to the Kings.
“I said before that our first two games weren’t really playoff games, because we didn’t play physically,” Brickowski said. “Tonight was a playoff game.” It was a playoff game because the usual standards didn’t count.
“We held them to 42 percent shooting, we won the rebounds (45-42) and we had only eight turnovers,” said a slightly baffled Kings coach Garry St. Jean. “That ought to give you a chance. But at the end, they played strong and we played stationary.”
Stationary was the word for the Sonics’ big three early in the game, when Payton, Kemp and Detlef Schrempf did not score a point for nearly the final 16 minutes of the first half.
The game was left in the hands of Brickowski, Sam Perkins and Hersey Hawkins, who all had flawed games except at the end, when it counted. It was a collection of improbable heroes for an improbable finish to an improbable predicament.
“If we had lost this, it would have been … tragic, just tragic,” Askew said. “My heart is still pounding.”
It was almost astonishing to see that he and his teammates still had hearts to pound.