Posted: Tuesday May 17, 2005 11:07AM; Updated: Tuesday May 17, 2005 11:54AM
Let Rid Run
After handing out just five assists in the first two games, Luke Ridnour had 11 in the two games in Seattle.
It's no secret to those who know me that Luke Ridnour is one of the players I appreciate most in the league. At Oregon, his headstrong play and smooth passes caught my attention. It was entertaining to watch Luke and Luke (Jackson) turn the Ducks into a Pac-10 force, and not just because they looked like tall hobbits, with their curly locks flying. The Ducks played an up-tempo game and Ridnour was the catalyst.
When he wants to, Rid can have the same inspiring impact on the Sonics, and it showed in Game 4. After Sunday's performance, in which he scored a playoff career-high 20 points and had several lookaway passes (my favorite was the lefthanded bounce pass through two defenders to a cutting Damien Wilkins), Nate McMillan called him the "future of the franchise at the point guard position." After being completely dominated in Games 1 and 2, in which Tony Parker blitzed him for 29 and 22 points, respectively, Ridnour bounced back.
His teammates weren't surprised by his Game 4 breakout, but he may have caught the Spurs off guard. Ridnour's scoring gives San Antonio one more weapon it has to defend, and Seattle one more weapon it can go to in a pinch. Another big performance or two from Ridnour and the Sonics will be strolling into the conference finals.
Hustle, Hustle, Hustle
If there's one area the Sonics have an advantage over the Spurs, it's that they have plenty of guys who can run. In Game 4, McMillan went with a small lineup and it paid off.
They'll need more of the same if they hope to take this series. Jerome James was big in the middle with three of the team's postseason-high nine blocks. Wilkins (five steals), Antonio Daniels (starting in place of Rashard Lewis) and Ridnour were active on defense and helped the Sonics tally 11 steals and frustrate the Spurs into 23 turnovers, the most committed all season by San Antonio. And forward Nick Collison, who in my book has been the biggest difference maker for the Sonics, has helped set the tone for Seattle by crashing the boards and being active on defense.
It will take a team effort to win two of the next three, but if the Sonics play with energy, they've got a chance.
Control the tempo
McMillan, who finished third in coach of the year voting behind Mike D'Antoni and Rick Carlisle, made a fine adjustment for Game 4 with Lewis in street clothes. Using a small lineup, the game became an up-tempo affair, which is exactly what Seattle wants.
In the regular season, the Sonics averaged 102 points in their 52 wins, while they averaged just 93.4 in their 30 losses. Clearly, it behooves the Sonics to run, run and run some more. The Spurs will try to slow things and work the half-court offense, so it's imperative for Seattle to push the ball whenever possible.