The team bus that carried the Boston Celtics to their downtown hotel quietly revved outside of Seattle Pacific University's Royal Brougham Pavilion waiting for its last passenger...

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The team bus that carried the Boston Celtics to their downtown hotel quietly revved outside of Seattle Pacific University’s Royal Brougham Pavilion waiting for its last passenger to board.

As he stepped into the drizzling afternoon rain, Gary Payton turned and looked at the throng of media, which had detained him with questions about his third homecoming against his former team.

“All of this, for me?” he asked. “It’s cool and all, but y’all must not have had anything else better to do.”

That so much attention is still being given to Payton, nicknamed the Glove, speaks to his indelible imprint on the city.

His new team, the Celtics, is floundering below .500 (7-11) as it tries to capture the winning formula that one of his old teams, the Sonics, currently possesses.

At this stage of his 15-year career, Payton has become a supporting figure in a game in which Ray Allen, who came to Seattle in the trade that sent Payton to Milwaukee in February 2003, is expected to dominate.

Still, much of the advertisement and pregame talk before today’s 7 p.m. contest at KeyArena surrounded old No. 20.

The Sonics — as they are prone to do with most things these days — downplayed Payton’s arrival. They have let few distractions divert their attention while compiling a 17-3 record, tied with Phoenix for best in the league.

Payton, however, has allowed himself, at least for the past few days, to revel in the moment.

“It’s going to be really nice to still come back,” he said. “I’m glad I haven’t played them eight or nine or 10 times because then it would be getting old. But right now, it’s still new. These people, they still love me and I love them. And it’s good to come back and see them.

Boston @ Seattle, 7 p.m., FSN

“It’s going to be still like the same when I got here the first time when I played with the Lakers. (I’m) going to still feel the same way going back into the arena where I accomplished a lot of things and had a lot of good times in. It’s going to be me being a little choked up for a minute and then getting into the basketball game.”

As far as the X’s and O’s of the game, the Celtics are among the few teams that have proven to possess the secrets to defeating the Sonics, who are 9-0 at home this season.

“We do have the ability that a lot of teams don’t have, which is to match up small with them,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “That’s the one thing with our team is you don’t want to go small because, most games, that’s our advantage.”

In their previous meeting, a 102-83 Boston victory at the FleetCenter last month, the Celtics beat the Sonics in every facet of the game.

They had more rebounds (43-29) and more assists (24-20) as six players scored in double figures. Ricky Davis led all scorers with 25 points, and Payton finished with 12 and seven assists.

“They didn’t shoot the ball well,” Payton said. “We pressed. We went back at them. We shot the ball well.

“This team (Sonics), they are in a flow right now, and once they shoot the ball well, it’s hard. Especially it’s going to be hard here because they haven’t lost here and they have their home crowd behind them.”

During his first visit to Seattle in an opposing uniform, the KeyArena crowd greeted Payton with a seven-minute standing ovation.

Celtics guard Gary Payton, right, who played 12-plus seasons with the Sonics, is averaging 11.4 points for Boston.
He finished with 24 points, five assists and five rebounds in the Sonics’ 111-109 victory over the Lakers.

The reception was considerably muted in his second return, in which the Lakers captured the win and Payton walked away with 17 points.

He will say that the games here are still special while repeating his desire to retire in the place where his NBA career began.

During his time here, Payton was never interested in scaling Mount Rainier or trekking through the Olympic Peninsula.

The transplant from the tough streets of Oakland gravitated toward the city’s urban attractions, although he did purchase a 69-foot, $1.1 million yacht and cruised the waters of Elliott Bay.

Yesterday, he talked about revisiting his old haunts such of El Gaucho, a trendy Belltown restaurant, and Jillian’s, a sports bar along Lake Union.

But then he amended those plans and said he intends to spend most of the weekend inside his hotel suite with his wife, Monique, and their three children, who flew into town from their home in Las Vegas.

“It’s good to be back home again,” Payton said. “Having them here kinda makes it just like it used to be.”


• The Sonics are likely to announce a roster change today. G Ronald Murray (left strained quadriceps) and C Vitaly Potapenko (broken bone in right hand) have been on the injured list along with G Ibrahim Kutluay (left patellar tendinitis) since the beginning of the season. Murray and Potapenko recently returned to practice and one or both could be activated.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or