Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The *1979* Finals Game 4: Sonics Win "Ali-Frazier Fight"

The Seattle Supersonics are one win away from an NBA championship after winning a wild foulfest at Seattle Center Coliseum last night, 114-112 in overtime.

The Sonics led for much of the game, but never by more than 10 points (and that was at the end of the first quarter). And they were only able to pull away from the Bullets after Washington's three top players fouled out.

"This is like an Ali-Frazier fight," said John Johnson after the game. "There's a lot of contact going on out there. It's a knockdown, drag-out fight."

The teams were called for 59 fouls in Game 4, and four players fouled out. Foul trouble for Sonics forwards Paul Silas and Lonnie Shelton forced Jack Sikma to play 51 minutes.

"I'm tired," Sikma said after the game. "It's a battle all the way."

Gus Williams led the Sonics in scoring--just as he has in all four Finals games--scoring 36 points. Dennis Johnson had 32, and Jack Sikma had 20 to go along with 17 rebounds.

After 53 minutes of seesawing, the game came down to one final shot--and it was the shot the Sonics were expecting. Down two points with six seconds left in overtime, the Bullets inbounded the ball to guard Kevin Grevey, just as the Sonics thought. As they'd talked about in their huddle, Paul Silas flashed out to help.

Grevey, surrounded by three Sonics, forced up a desperation heave. Dennis Johnson partially blocked it, and the ball floated through the air, well short of the basket. While most of the Bullets turned toward the rim for the expected rebound, Sikma perceived the ball's true trajectory, and plucked it from the air.

"When I got the ball, I was just waiting for the buzzer to sound," said Sikma. "I thought it was forever."

The moods of the two coaches couldn't have been different.

"I'm still up there," said Lenny Wilkens. "I think it was one of the great spectator games. It was a super win."

Bullets coach Dick Motta refused interview requests after the game, though he did angrily denounce the officials for calling no fouls on the Sonics in the last 14 minutes of the game. (In fact, the count during that time was 9 against Washington, 2 against the Sonics.)

The series moves back to Washington for Game 5. The Sonics will have three chances to win one game. No team has come back from a 3-1 deficit in NBA Finals history...but the Bullets did it just last week, in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Spurs. Can they do it again?

"We're going to win it now," says John Johnson. "If we don't, we certainly don't deserve it."


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The *1979* Finals Game 4 Preview: What Defense Will Wilkens Deploy?

While America watches the Zombie Sonics in the Finals, I'm following the Sonics of 1979. Follow my "live-tweets" of every game--roughly simultaneous with the "real" game--on @SethKolloen.

Even though they lead this NBA Finals 2-1, at least one Sonic thinks Game 4 at Seattle Center Coliseum is do or die.

"This is a must-win game for us, or the series turns around," says veteran forward Paul Silas. "We can not afford to let them win this one."

For the Bullets to win, they must get better production out of their guards, who were outscored 64-19 by the Sonics in Game 3.

"That comes from us not forcing the game to them," says Bullets guard Larry Wright. "We walked the ball up the court and telegraphed every pass we threw."

Bullets coach Motta launched a tirade at his team during a closed practice on Monday. "A pro team ought to be able to shoot better than we're shooting," Motta told reporters. "I can't explain it. We're searching, I'll admit that."

For the Sonics, the recipe is more of the same--which could mean something different. In their Game 2 win, the Sonics pressed and trapped frequently. In Game 3, they hardly did at all. "You don't want to do the same thing all the time," says Lenny Wilkens. "We'll use the trap again when we're ready for it."

Game 4 is in the Coliseum because the Mariners have the Kingdome booked for a baseball game. Some Sonics prefer the smaller, louder Coliseum to the cavernous Dome. Of course, the Bullets won Game 7 in the Coliseum last year.

"Tonight's" game begins at 6pm with coverage on Twitter, @SethKolloen.

"Bullets try to change 'this thing' in Seattle," The Miami News
"Can the Bullets fight back again?," St. Petersburg Times


Monday, June 18, 2012

The *1979* Finals Game 3: Bullets Firing Blanks

While America watches the Zombie Sonics in the Finals, I'm following the Sonics of 1979. Follow my "live-tweets" of every game--roughly simultaneous with the "real" game--on @SethKolloen.

In the three days between Games 2 and 3, the Washington Bullets were supposed to figure out a way to score against the ferocious Sonics defense that had held them to a season-low 82 points on Thursday.

They didn't. The Sonics took a 2-1 series lead with a decisive 105-95 win.

The Bullets posted more points in Game 3, thanks to a faster pace and a passel of Sonics turnover, but their offensive performance overall was worse. The Bullets took 106 shots in Game 3, and made just 35 of them.

"We are a proud team," said Bullets coach Dick Motta. "This isn't what we're used to."

Washington's guards were especially bad, shooting just 8 for 35. Starters Tom Henderson and Keven Grevey had just 11 points combined. With the guards unable to score, the Sonics turned up the pressure on Washington's frontcourt duo of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.

Speaking of the Sonics' strategy against Hayes, Lenny Wilkens said: "We try to get him the ball where he doesn't want it--and keep a hand in his face."

"I don't know why other teams didn't play us this way during the season," says Bullets forward Bobby Dandridge. "Lenny Wilkens has done his homework."

The Sonics jumped out to an early 23-10 lead, and led 31-25 at the end of the first quarter behind 8 points by Dennis Johnson. They kept the Bullets centered in their rear view mirror for most of the game. The Sonics led 95-81 with 5:02 left in the game, but the Bullets went on a run keyed by two Elvin Hayes baskets. Washington had a chance to cut the lead to 5, but Greg Ballard's corner jumper rimmed out. The Sonics clinched the win with perfect free throw shooting in the final two minutes.

While the Washington guards struggled, the Sonics guards were nothing short of amazing. Gus Williams led the Sonics in scoring, as he has in all three finals games, with 31 points. Dennis Johnson finished with 17, and sixth-man Fred Brown had his best game of the series, scoring 16 points in just 18 minutes.

Jack Sikma, playing most of the game in foul trouble, scored 21 points and pulled down 17 rebounds.

Game 4 is Tuesday at the Seattle Center Coliseum -- the Kingdome is booked for a Mariners game. No YouTube is available.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

The *1979* Finals Game 3 Preview: Can Bullets Beat Sonics' "Zone"?

While America watches the Zombie Sonics in the Finals, I'm following the Sonics of 1979. Follow my "live-tweets" of every game--roughly simultaneous with the "real" game--on @SethKolloen.

The 1979 Finals, tied at 1-1, moves to Seattle's Kingdome for a key Game 3.

After the Sonics' trapping defense held the Bullets to a season-low 82 points in Game 2, Washington is looking for answers.

"Our coaches are going to have to come up with a way for us to beat that zone," says Bullets forward Elvin Hayes.

A "zone" is illegal in the NBA, but the Bullets insist that's just what the Sonics are playing. "All you have to do is look at four people around the ball," says Bullets coach Dick Motta.

Whatever it is, it's been effective.

"They prevented us from running the plays we wanted by trapping so much," says Bullets forward Bobby Dandridge.

"We did it all season," says Lenny Wilkens. "It has become the trademark of what we have to do to win. They're going to try to counter it. But we can use different combinations to cross them up.

With the Kingdome seating more than 40,000 for basketball, the Sonics will be backed by one of the largest crowds in NBA playoff history. But no amount of cheering will help the Sonics if starting center Jack Sikma's elbow flares up.

Sikma has an egg-sized sack of fluid on his elbow--he can't rest his arm without pain. During games, Sikma claims he doesn't feel a thing, thanks to a foam patch designed by trainer Frank Furtado. Still, one unfortunate landing could put the indispensable Sikma in a world of pain.

More trapping defense, a healthy Sikma, and a boisterous crowd could lead to Seattle sweeping the two games here. And if that happens, Paul Silas? "If we win two games in a row, there ain't no way they're coming back."

Eugene Register-Guard, May 26, 1979
The Spokesman-Review, May 26, 1979