During last season's NBA Finals, Doc Rivers slid a note to his broadcast partner, Al Michaels, during a timeout. "It just said Gary (Payton) can still play," the Boston coach recalled...

Share story

During last season’s NBA Finals, Doc Rivers slid a note to his broadcast partner, Al Michaels, during a timeout.

“It just said Gary (Payton) can still play,” the Boston coach recalled the other day. “And when we got Gary, he called and said, ‘Were you telling me something then?’ I said no. I had no idea that we were talking to him.

“But I just noticed as I watched him, how he moved, that he could still play. I could see in the offense that the (Los Angeles) Lakers were using, he was a spot up shooter and that’s not who Gary is. He likes to be in control.”

Payton, in the house he likes to say he built, was in his element last night at KeyArena against his former team.

He was his old demonstrative self while leading Boston to a 98-84 victory and helping snap the Sonics’ perfect 9-0 home record.

The 36-year-old Celtics guard received a rousing ovation during pregame introductions from the sellout crowd of 17,072.


L.A. Lakers at Seattle, 7 p.m., FSN

Over the next two hours, he reminded everyone of his glory days with the Sonics as he seemingly made it his mission to torch Luke Ridnour, his predecessor who grew up idolizing Payton.

“Nate talked to me before the last game about giving him too much respect and tonight I don’t think I did that,” said Ridnour, who tied his season low of two points on 1-for-11 shooting. “He’s a great player. You’ve got to give him a lot of respect. He’s a tough matchup just how he posts up a lot of time.”

Early on, Payton provided a glimpse of how this game would end when he threaded passes through the Sonics’ defense on three consecutive possessions, providing open shots for the Celtics, who took an 18-10 lead.

Payton finished with a season-high 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting, five assists and four rebounds.

“We are just trying to win,” he said. “It was no different. We are trying to get our team better. It’s no big deal to win in Seattle or anything like that.

“That’s over with. … My life goes on. I’m thinking about Boston and getting Boston wins.”

The Celtics (8-11) were reeling after losing their past three games. Their tonic appears to be the Sonics (17-4), who have the NBA’s second-best record.

If anyone knows how to slow down the high-scoring Sonics, it’s Rivers, who also fashioned a game plan that beat Seattle 102-83 on Nov. 21 in Boston.

The Celtics coach will say that his blueprint is simple.

Last night, he mirrored the Sonics at every turn. When Seattle pressed, Boston pressed. When Seattle ran, Boston ran. When the Sonics substituted and went with a smaller lineup, the Celtics did the same.

“I thought Doc did a nice job of matching our rotation,” Sonics coach Nate McMillan said. “Keeping smalls (small players) in there to defend what we’ve been doing all season long. … They tried to keep Gary on Luke and (Tony) Allen on (Vladimir) Radmanovic. Boston earned this win.”

The Celtics defense knocked Seattle out of rhythm, especially Ray Allen, who drained his first four shots and then was just one of his next 19. He missed all 10 of his three-pointers and finished with 16 points.

Rashard Lewis led Seattle with 19 points, Radmanovic had 12 and Antonio Daniels scored 11.

The Celtics were supported by a game-high 22 points from Paul Pierce, but he wasn’t around when Boston made its decisive surge.

He collected his fourth foul with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter, which sent the Celtics star to the bench with the score tied at 65.

While Pierce sat, Boston went on a 10-3 run to take a 75-68 lead.

For the second time this season, the Sonics trailed going into the fourth quarter. Unlike that previous game against Memphis, when they used a 34-point barrage in the final quarter to salvage a 118-113 victory, the Sonics managed just 15 points in the final quarter.

Seattle missed a series of open three-pointers and layups, but Danny Fortson didn’t allow them to give up as he outmuscled the smaller Celtics for rebounds.

The Sonics forward finished with 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for his third double-double this season.

Fortson made a free throw to narrow Seattle’s deficit to three points (83-80) with less than six minutes remaining and his putback of an Allen miss allowed Seattle to stay within striking distance at 87-84.

However, he collected his sixth foul with 1:58 remaining and went to the bench with Seattle trailing 90-84.

The Sonics, who converted a season-low 32.6 percent of their field goals, continued to miss shots as Boston melted away the final seconds.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com