Work in Sports
SEATTLE (Ticker) -- With an inspired defensive performance, the SuperSonics made sure the Utah Jazz went sweepless in Seattle.
Gary Payton overcame poor shooting with a solid all-around game as the SuperSonics avoided their first playoff series sweep in 11 years with an 89-78 victory over the Jazz in Game Three of their Western Conference first-round series.
"I just played the way I always play during the season," Payton said. "If I miss shots, I did other things. I just kept playing and my numbers were there, and that's just the way I want to play."
The Jazz won the first two games at home in convincing fashion, averaging 102.5 points and winning by a combined 25 points. But with four days since the last game, Utah seemed to lose its edge while Seattle regrouped on its home court.
"You need a lot of things to be successful against the Jazz," Seattle coach Paul Westphal said. "We got a lot better play from just about everybody and the Jazz weren't quite as sharp as they were, and that was the difference in the game."
"We never made any hard cuts to the basket," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "You don't deserve to win when you play that way. You're going to have to have your work clothes on to come and play against this team, and we didn't respond. They deserve all the credit because they did those things all day long."
Payton made only 8-of-24 shots but had 23 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. The top defensive guard in the NBA, he limited Jazz All-Star guard John Stockton to 1-of-8 shooting, with the basket coming in the final seconds.
"We just stayed in front of him," Payton said. "We made the plays, we trapped him, made him play other options instead of making it so easy for him. We had pressure on him, we made him pick up the ball and we did a good job."
The Sonics also got a big boost from forwards Vin Baker and Ruben Patterson. Baker, thoroughly outplayed by Karl Malone in the first two games, collected 15 points and 11 rebounds.
"Today, we had our fans behind us and a lot of adrenaline flowing," Baker said. "I think the four days we had to study the tapes of Utah really helped us. We were rotating faster, we had our rotations down and guys got to their spots faster, and that was the big difference."
Patterson, who started most of the season but did not play in the first half of Game Two, added 13 points off the bench.
"I'm a hustling guy," he said. "I'm going to rebound and get the second shot. That was my main thing. ... I'm going to come off the bench and do the things I know I can do. When he (Westphal) calls my number, I'm out there ready to go."
"Them guys have to come in and do their job," Payton added. "Vin Baker did a great job. He let the game come to him."
Seattle avoided its first sweep since the conference semifinals in 1989 and hosts Game Four on Wednesday.
Malone scored 30 points but battled early foul trouble and was the only Jazz starter to make better than half his shots. Utah never led, shot 40.5 percent (30-of-74) and was called for three technical fouls.
"They came out and wanted to win this ballgame," Malone said.
"They did all the things needed to win. I can't look at it any other way than that. As a team, we had a plan and we didn't execute it at all at either end of the court. We want to try to find something positive about it, but there was nothing."
Seattle scored eight of the first 10 points as Baker buried a jumper and Rashard Lewis sank two 3-pointers. Utah closed to 20-16 after one quarter but that was as close as it would get the rest of the game.
Baker opened the second quarter with a jumper to trigger a 9-0 burst. Shammond Williams made a 3-pointer and Patterson added a pair of layups for a 29-16 advantage with 9:20 remaining.
Malone drew his third foul midway through the period and was hit with a technical on his way to the bench. He scored just eight points in the first half, which ended with Seattle holding a 40-34 lead despite 3-of-12 shooting by Payton.
"It was big. Getting him (Malone) out early in the game really benefited us," Baker said.
Two free throws by Malone pulled the Jazz within 50-46 midway through the third quarter before the Sonics came alive again.
After a free throw by Lewis, Patterson had a three-point play for a 54-46 lead with 4:27 left.
Utah's Bryon Russell had a layup, but Baker made a free throw and Payton drove for a hoop. Malone made a layup, but Patterson dunked and Payton made a runner for a 61-50 lead with 1:27 to go.
The Jazz trailed 64-52 entering the final period and got within 66-59 on two free throws by Malone with 8:50 to play. Lewis, Baker and Payton each scored three points in an 11-2 spurt that gave Seattle a 77-61 lead with 5:21 left. Utah committed six of its 16 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Horace Grant had 10 points and eight rebounds for Seattle, which shot 41 percent (29-of-70) and held a 46-38 rebounding edge. The Sonics shot 36 free throws to 18 for the Jazz.
Jeff Hornacek scored 15 points and Russell added 10 for Utah, which trailed by as many as 21 points.
The Jazz kept the referees busy. Sloan was whistled for a technical in the first quarter. Forward Armen Gilliam scuffled with Sonics center Greg Foster in the second period and Olden Polynice committed a flagrant foul in the third quarter.