Sonics fall late against champs
Everywhere at American Airlines Arena there's reminders of Miami's NBA title run last season. A gigantic poster of championship celebration...
Seattle Times staff reporter
MIAMI — Everywhere at American Airlines Arena there's reminders of Miami's NBA title run last season.
A gigantic poster of championship celebration hangs outside the building, the locker room is refurbished with mementos and nearly every inch of the arena is covered with pictures of champagne-drenched Heat players and coaches clutching the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Everywhere, except on the court where it has gotten off to a rocky start, the Heat has the look of a champion.
And yet no matter how far the Heat may have fallen from last year's dizzying heights, it still has Dwyane Wade, who dashed and dodged around the Sonics and carried Miami to an improbable 90-87 victory.
But as good as Wade was — and he was awfully good — the Sonics were their worst enemies. They committed 23 turnovers, including a miscue by Damien Wilkins on the next-to-last possession, and two missed free throws from Ray Allen in the final two minutes that might have sealed the game.
"We have been playing Santa Claus all year long," coach Bob Hill said. "That is the third game we gave away this year. It's almost like we're afraid to win."
How easily the Sonics could be 4-0 or 3-1 or 2-2. Instead, they're 1-3 and wallowing in what-ifs and what-might-have-beens after three defeats in which they've led in the final five minutes.
Sonics @ Orlando, 4 p.m., FSN
Without Shaquille O'Neal, who missed a second straight game because of a left-knee contusion, the Heat (2-2) appeared vulnerable after Seattle held it to a franchise-low 11 points in the first quarter.
Considering Seattle entered the game 29th in the NBA in points allowed and last in opponents' field-goal percentage, it was a remarkable achievement. However, ultimately the Sonics played right into the Heat's hand.
Miami, which has four core players with 10 or more years of experience, relishes low-scoring games. The veterans carefully choose their spots to exert maximum energy and effort.
"We've got some guys who still have a championship hangover," center Alonzo Mourning admitted. "So we've got to try to extend games, make it close in the fourth quarter and see what happens."
That's when Wade takes over. For three quarters, he was sporadic as he needed 20 shots to score 18 points. None of that mattered, however.
Neither did the balanced scoring Miami received from Mourning (13 points), Antoine Walker (12) and Udonis Haslem (11).
In a game reminiscent of his NBA Finals MVP performance, Wade either dribbled to get the shot he wanted or drew a foul on nearly every fourth-quarter possession.
With Wilkins shadowing his every move, the Miami star scored 13 points in the final quarter and finished with a game-high 31 on 8-for-23 shooting. He offset seven turnovers with seven rebounds and six assists.
"Dwyane took advantage of what the officials were giving him," said Allen, who finished with 18 points.
Allen, a 91.7-percent free-throw shooter, had chances to be the hero. However, he uncharacteristically missed two foul shots in the final two minutes. His second miss with 34.9 seconds left resulted in Seattle having an 87-85 lead that quickly disappeared.
Again, Wade was responsible as he drove hard to the left and drew the defense before passing to James Posey on the perimeter. The Heat forward launched a three-pointer over Rashard Lewis (23 points) that gave Miami an 88-87 lead with 19 seconds left.
On the next possession, Wilkins slipped in the corner and Haslem forced a jump ball. Miami won the tip, and with chants of "MVP" from the soldout crowd of 19,600 echoing around the building, Wade sank two free throws.
The game, however, wasn't decided until Wilkins launched a potential game-tying three-pointer as time expired. Much like the game, it misfired.
In the past two games, the Sonics made sure to get the ball into Allen's hands in these situations even though he's twice failed in late-game heroics this season. Gary Payton, however, didn't allow the Sonics guard breathing room, which forced Wilkins to take the final shot.
"I put this one on me," Wilkins said.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.