Ray Allen's off-the-cuff remarks about Kobe Bryant caused the buildup to last night's much-anticipated matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. But in the game's biggest moments...
Ray Allen’s off-the-cuff remarks about Kobe Bryant caused the buildup to last night’s much-anticipated matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. But in the game’s biggest moments, Allen let someone else control the team’s fate.
With the Lakers’ star in his face and dying to make him eat his words, Allen deferred to Rashard Lewis, who outplayed both All-Stars.
“People came to see the Ray and Kobe show, but it turned out to be the Sweet Lew special,” said Lewis, the quiet, unsung sidekick who scored a season-high 37 points in the Sonics’ 108-93 victory in front of 17,072 fans at KeyArena.
“I think too much focus was on Ray Allen tonight,” Lewis said. “I got a lot of wide-open shots and took advantage of it. … They thought Ray was going to shoot it every time he got it, and we just played our style of game.”
The Sonics didn’t allow themselves to get drawn into the one-on-one matchup, instead dishing out a season-high 28 assists.
The sharing started with guard Luke Ridnour, who matched his season best with 11 assists. Antonio Daniels (seven assists) and Allen (five) continued the giving theme.
“I think it shows maturity. We don’t get caught up in any of that other stuff that’s going on out on the floor,” Lewis said.
Bryant had taken offense to comments Allen made in October in which he questioned Bryant’s ability to put aside his ego to lead the Lakers.
“He (Allen) knows we had his back all the way coming into this game,” said Lewis, who also had seven rebounds. “… We’re not going to let anybody take our All-Star out because that’s the guy that we’re riding this season to help us get back into the playoffs.”
Allen played impressively, but he wasn’t the reason the Sonics (18-4) improved to 10-1 at home. He scored 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting, but he was best when he was on the delivering end of an assist.
The guard’s megawatt smile beamed brightest after passing to Jerome James in the second quarter on a fast break that resulted in the big center flushing in a thunderous dunk.
“Ray is what you would call a three-dimensional player,” James said. “He can kill you with his shot, kill you with his passing and kill you with his mind. … He doesn’t have to just score and score and score.
“Normally I’m not a guy to get a lot of points,” added James, who scored a season-high 12. “But he can throw the ball around, distribute, and we got other guys on this team that will put the ball in the basket.”
And therein lies the difference between the Sonics and the Lakers (12-9).
Los Angeles relies heavily on Bryant, who finished with 35 points on 12-for-23 shooting in 45 minutes. He pulled down nine rebounds and dished out five assists, but he also had a game-high four turnovers.
Caron Butler (16 points) was the only other Laker to provide meaningful offense.
The individual battle between Allen and Bryant provided the crowd with many memorable moments. Bryant defied gravity more than once on acrobatic layups and dunks, and Allen displayed uncanny marksmanship.
However, the supporting cast decided the outcome.
“Tonight, I just had more help,” he said. “I had Rashard. Jerome came up big, and I didn’t have to do as much.”
The rebuilt Lakers were noticeably missing Shaquille O’Neal, who had maintained law and order for the Los Angeles team for years before being traded to Miami last summer.
Chris Mihm, the new Lakers center, was no match for James, who scored on spin moves that resulted in slam dunks, mid-range jumpers, putback jams and fast-break flushes.
“The old Lakers team was easier to prepare for but more difficult to stop because of Shaq,” Sonics coach Nate McMillan said. “This team is more difficult to prepare for because you don’t know where they are going to be.”
McMillan stopped short of saying that the new-look Lakers are easier to defend and allowed the numbers to speak for him.
Los Angeles converted just 39.5 percent of its field goals and managed just 12 assists while committing 13 turnovers. The Sonics sank half of their 84 shots and 12 of 27 three-pointers.
“The way that they play is so unorthodox,” Bryant said. “I haven’t seen too many teams that can solve that. They set picks and they got shooters all over the floor. …
“I haven’t seen someone solve that yet. We weren’t able to do it tonight. Hopefully someone will do it before we play them again and we can use that formula.”
Seattle led 53-43 at halftime and extended its lead to 80-66 after the third quarter.
The Sonics had a 16-1 record when leading going into the fourth quarter and the Lakers were 0-6 when trailing before the final period, so there seemed little chance of a comeback.
Bryant left the game with just under two minutes remaining, and coach Rudy Tomjanovich walked off before the final seconds ticked away.
Meanwhile, the Sonics were celebrating on the other end of the court.
“This most definitely gives us a lot of confidence because we beat a team in a playoff type of game,” Lewis said. “We played our game, and again it was good enough to get a win.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org