May 19, 1996 in Sports

Sonics Show No Mercy Rip Utah 102-72 In Series Opener

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Two unrequited springs have given SuperSonics coach George Karl way too much time to reflect on promise unfulfilled. On Saturday, he was obliged to confront an altogether different notion.

Could these Sonics be even better than he thought?

Self-deprecation is hardly Karl’s style, and yet the recent sweep of two-time champion Houston and the 102-72 blasting of Utah in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals at KeyArena may have sent him spinning toward a re-evaluation.

“This was a shocking game to me,” Karl said. “I didn’t think we could beat a team like Utah by so many points.”

Or by so many means.

The worst loss in Utah’s playoff history - only four times in 111 previous games have the Jazz lost by as many as 20 points - rivaled the beating Seattle handed Houston to open the conference semifinals. But that turned into a series of cliffhangers, and the Sonics expect no less now.

“Utah is different than other teams,” said guard Nate McMillan, one of the few Sonics who didn’t score in double figures.

“A game like this won’t affect them - or if anything it will motivate them. They’re very confident in themselves, they’re experienced, they believe in their system and they’ll come back. We had problems with them all season - there was never a blowout game.”

Nor did this have the makings of one - until midway through the second quarter.

The Jazz had actually built a modest four-point lead while resting the soul of their offense, Karl Malone. But with 7:32 left before halftime, guard Hersey Hawkins swished a jumper - the first of 10 straight Sonics shots from the field to find the mark. Hawkins had nine points in a 27-8 Seattle run that broke the game open.

From a 54-39 halftime lead, the Sonics bumped the margin into the 20s on back-to-back 3-pointers by Detlef Schrempf a couple minutes into the second half. In time, Utah’s collapse became complete.

Some of it appeared to be fatigue, but the fact that the Sonics had a week off to prepare while the Jazz had but a day off after eliminating San Antonio didn’t carry any weight with Malone.

“Nobody start talking about being tired and all that crap,” he warned. “I don’t want to hear it. (The Sonics) put themselves in a position to have their series over with - that’s why they got four or five days off. Ain’t nobody tired this time of year.”

You’ll have to take his word for it. Certainly, there were scads of other factors.

First and foremost, Seattle’s point-to-post combination of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp outplayed Utah’s veteran duo of John Stockton and Malone. The two power forwards each had 21 points, but Kemp got his on 10-of-11 shooting - 9-of-9 in the first half, including a wicked dunk over Malone in Seattle’s big surge.

“We have such faith in Karl down there guarding (Kemp) that we sold him out,” Stockton said. “We didn’t give him any help. That’s too much to ask of anybody and Shawn had his way. I don’t care how good a player is, if he doesn’t get help from his teammates, you can’t guard guys in this league.”

Speaking of help, Payton got plenty in badgering Stockton, who after some early success was unable to ignite Utah’s offense. Payton outscored his man 21-4, with each having seven assists.

“He’s going to come back and have a good game,” Payton said. “Maybe every game. I don’t really want to think about that right now.”

Seattle’s defense didn’t just stifle Stockton. After shooting 50 percent for a half, Utah’s accuracy plummeted to 39.5 by game’s end. Jeff Hornacek was Malone’s only teammate in double figures with 13, but only three of those came after intermission. The Jazz bench - which scored 51 points in the clincher over the Spurs - managed just 21.

“It looked like there were 10 guys guarding us,” said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

And once Kemp got off inside, there weren’t enough Utah bodies to guard the Sonics. They banged in 10 3-pointers - five straight in the fourth quarter - and shot 54.7 percent for the game.

But Seattle’s real dominance was felt on the boards - a 24-8 edge in the first half, including back-to-back putbacks off missed free throws by Kemp and Ervin Johnson. Seattle actually had more offensive boards in the first half than Utah had at either end.

“I told our guys they looked like robins in the nest with their mouths open, waiting for balls to drop in them,” Sloan said.

It was just the second time in 12 playoff games that a Utah opponent topped 100 points. It may not be the last, but the points figure to come harder.

“It’s never good to get a butt kicking like this,” said Malone, “but if anything, it’s going to wake you up.”

SuperSonics 102, Jazz 72

FG FT Reb UTAH Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts Malone 33 10-19 1-6 1-8 5 1 21 Morris 18 3-7 1-2 1-2 1 2 7 Spencer 17 2-5 2-2 2-3 0 3 6 Hornacek 29 5-12 3-3 3-3 0 0 13 Stockton 32 2-10 0-1 1-2 7 2 4 Eisley 16 1-4 0-0 0-2 5 3 3 Carr 19 1-3 1-2 1-3 2 3 3 Keefe 14 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0 Russell 28 2-5 2-2 2-4 0 2 6 Ostertag 19 3-7 0-0 1-7 0 3 6 Benoit 12 1-4 0-0 0-0 0 0 3 Foster 3 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0 Totals 240 30-76 10-18 12-34 20 21 72 Percentages: FG .395, FT .556.

3-Point Goals: 2-14, .143 (Benoit 1-3, Eisley 1-3, Morris 0-1, Hornacek 0-1, Russell 0-2, Stockton 0-4).

Team Rebounds: 15.

Blocked shots: 4 (Ostertag 2, Morris, Spencer).

Turnovers: 17 (Malone 4, Eisley 3, Spencer 2, Hornacek 2, Keefe 2, Benoit, Ostertag, Morris, team).

Steals: 8 (Malone 2, Morris 2, Russell 2, Carr, Stockton).

Technical fouls: None.

Illegal defense: 1.

FG FT Reb SEATTLE Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts Kemp 33 10-11 1-3 3-11 0 2 21 Schrempf 28 4-8 4-6 0-2 5 1 14 Johnson 20 5-8 0-1 3-7 0 5 10 Hawkins 29 6-8 0-0 0-0 1 1 13 Payton 35 8-16 3-6 1-4 7 3 21 McMillan 27 1-3 0-0 1-4 5 3 3 Perkins 23 4-10 2-2 2-4 3 2 13 Brickowski 15 1-3 0-0 0-1 1 3 3 Askew 15 1-2 0-0 0-2 3 1 2 Scheffler 5 0-2 0-2 1-3 1 0 0 Snow 5 1-2 0-0 0-1 1 1 2 Wingate 5 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Totals 240 41-75 10-20 11-39 27 22 102 Percentages: FG .547, FT .500.

3-Point Goals: 10-20, .500 (Perkins 3-5, Schrempf 2-4, Payton 2-4, Hawkins 1-1, McMillan 1-2, Brickowski 1-3, Snow 0-1).

Team Rebounds: 10.

Blocked shots: 6 (Johnson 2, Kemp, McMillan, Perkins, Askew).

Turnovers: 14 (Askew 3, Kemp 2, Payton 2, McMillan 2, Schrempf, Johnson, Perkins, Brickowski, Snow).

Steals: 11 (Payton 3, McMillan 2, Hawkins 2, Kemp, Schrempf, Perkins, Brickowski).

Technical fouls: Illegal defense, :51.5 third; illegal defense, 11:45 fourth.

Illegal defense: 1.

Utah 23 16 21 12 - 72

Seattle 24 30 23 25 - 102

A-17,072 (17,072). T-2:12.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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