17-3 Sonics Fall to Celts


SEATTLE - The sun shined brightly in Seattle yesterday, making it the only non-rainy, non-overcast day so far on the Celtics' West Coast trip. And no one seemed the least bit surprised. The Sonics, who went into last night tied for the best record in the NBA at 17-3, have reminded people here to expect the unexpected.

The Sonics have succeeded primarily by relying on outside shooting and playing a relatively small lineup in the oversized West.   "I'm really happy with the way we're playing the game," said Nate McMillan, the Western Conference Coach of the Month for November. "We have a team that's playing well together and they're playing hard. Defensively, we've gotten a little better. All the things that we've talked about in training camp, we're trying to do. We're seeing that we can win if we do it."

The Sonics' ability to take and make good shots sets them apart. Seattle was leading the league in 3-point field goal percentage (40 percent) and ranked sixth in scoring (100.7 points per game). The Sonics had won those 17 games by an average of 10.8 points per game. They scored 100 or more points in 12 of their first 20 contests.   Critics charge that Seattle is not a team built to stay on top, that defense - not 3-point shooting - wins when it matters. McMillan acknowledges that and recognizes that Seattle must work to make itself a better all-around squad.

"It's a legitimate criticism, so to speak, that perimeter shooting doesn't win a lot of games," said McMillan. "That is a strength of our game and we try to play to the strength of our game. But we also are aware that we have to get something going to the basket. We try to attack the basket. We are aware that we have to find a way to attack you other than perimeter ball."

But it's hard not to rely on 3-pointers when four of your top five scorers are shooting 40 percent or better from the arc. Entering last night's contest against the Celtics at Key Arena, former University of Connecticut standout Ray Allen led the Sonics with 24.2 points per game while shooting 44 percent from 3-point range. Rashard Lewis, who poured in 13 fourth-quarter points in a recent win over Dallas, owns a 21.2-point average.

The biggest difference-maker, however, may be a player who hasn't taken a single 3-pointer this season. With his physical play and tenacious rebounding, one-time Celtic Danny Fortson has brought toughness and energy to the Sonics' second unit. Celtics coach Doc Rivers called Fortson a "lightning rod" and thought the acquisition of the power forward represented the Sonics' best offseason move.

"I appreciate that," said Fortson. "I think they just needed the extra body to go along with their style of play."

After struggling to fit in during various stays in his NBA career with Boston, Golden State, and Dallas, Fortson feels at home in Seattle.

"[Moving around] is part of basketball, especially in this business," said Fortson. "I'm a survivor anyway. I like to play this game. I'd play pickup games if I had to.

"But it's easy when you're around guys like these guys. They're young. Nobody on the roster is over 30. They're hungry. They've been at the bottom for a long time and they want to come up.

"But we can't get ahead of ourselves. We've just got to keep working, take one game at a time. This is the NBA, and you know, next week could be a difficult week. The main thing is I'm playing hard. The guys are playing hard and we're believing in each other."

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