Mcmillan Boosts Fatigued Sonics -- Seattle Sweeps Series With Rockets In Japan
YOKOHAMA, Japan - For the Sonics so far this season, the fourth period is McMillan time.
Nate McMillan scored 12 of his 24 points in the final 12 minutes as the Sonics beat Houston for the second straight day, 89-85 at the Yokohama Arena.
In the first half, McMillan played only 12 minutes and took just one shot. But when both teams appeared to be dragging in the final few minutes, McMillan had fresh legs and a sharp eye.
"Nate McMillan was the man for us offensively," Seattle Coach George Karl said. "In the eyes of the NBA, he's not so good, but Nate's a big-time player. He's our captain."
The lead seesawed for much of the second half, until McMillan's three-point shot with 2:24 left gave the Sonics an 82-81 lead they never relinquished.
After the teams traded free throws, McMillan made a jumper from just inside the three-point line with 55 seconds left and two free throws with 22.3 seconds left to put the Sonics up by five.
"I felt like i got off to a slow start in the first half," McMillan said. "That's my role, to come off the bench and spark the team when we need a lift.
"Things just opened up. I got into a rhythm where I felt everything I threw up would fall for me."
Said Rockets Coach Rudy Tomjanovich: "I thought Nate McMillan was outstanding. It was probably the best game I've seen him play. He was the difference in the game."
Maybe it was fatigue, or perhaps the directions to the basket were written in Japanese, but both teams had difficulty putting the ball in the hoop. The Sonics shot only 35.4 percent, compared to 40.0 percent for Houston.
"Today's game was a tired game - a game that had fatigue in it," Karl said.
Tomjanovich said his team's lack of depth made its fatigue problem more pronounced.
"The fatigue was probably more for us than them, because we're so thin," Tomjanovich said.
"I felt we played good enough to win, but it came down to a break here and there,"
The Rockets were much more successful under the boards, outrebounding Seattle 47-41. The difference was largely Seattle's, as the Sonics were not as successful at outmanning Hakeem Olajuwon. Benoit Benjamin played only six minutes, all in the first half, and grabbed just one rebound. Michael Cage, who replaced Benjamin in the starting lineup, managed only four rebounds.
New Japanese fan favorite Shawn Kemp had difficulty shooting, making only five of 15 shots from the field. Kemp still finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
He was often double-teamed under the basket by Olajuwon and Houston rookie Robert Horry, a much bigger factor in his second NBA game after a quiet six-point pro debut. Horry blocked five shots and Olajuwon blocked eight, compared to only three blocked shots for Seattle.
Olajuwon led Houston with 18 points and 16 rebounds.
Kemp said he was not as concerned with scoring in this game.
"My job today was to come out and control Hakeem, to try to control him on the boards," Kemp said.
With the Sonics' inside game faltering, Houston was able to build a 46-40 halftime lead. But poor shooting by the Rockets, as well as McMillan's heroics, kept Seattle close throughout the third quarter.
Kemp fouled out with 7.4 seconds left, leaving to loud applause from the crowd.
The crowd was much livelier for this game than the first of the series.
Both the Sonics and the Rockets had their own rooting sections. The Sonics' was almost twice as large as Houston's.
After his dynamite performance in the first game, Kemp received the loudest cheers when his name was announced. There were at least 20 cards with his name in the stands.
More than 75 percent of the fans appeared to have something - a hat, a megaphone, a jacket - in the colors of one team or the other. And all the fans joyfully clapped and performed "The Wave" during timeouts.
The crowd's spontaneous reactions were markedly different than Japanese baseball crowds, who usually follow orders to clap on the scoreboard or directions to sing from cheerleaders. There were no directions to follow at these games. All the public-address announcements were in English.
The league set an all-time record for merchandise sold per capita at one game - more than $12 per person.
This doesn't count all the NBA shirts, shoes and hats sold during the accompanying promotion at Yokohama's Sogo department store.
With figures like that, it's quite likely the NBA will be back again in two years.
----------------------------------- SONIC REPORT ----------------------------------- NOTES
-- Two years ago, Utah's Karl Malone complained about having to open the season in Japan, mainly because of the jet lag the Jazz suffered when they returned.
Nobody on either the Sonics or the Rockets has openly complained about this trip. But the coaches' attitude toward the trip differed along predictable lines after the first game.
Houston's Coach Rudy Tomjanovich said after the Rockets' first-game loss, "There are things in the routine that are not typical of what happens in the U.S. It is a concern of every coach coming here."
Sonics coach George Karl, in contrast, said making the trip is good for his team.
"Personally, I think it's great," Karl said. "It challenges us to stay focused and conquer the difficulties of the trip. We've been treated special here, and I always like going places where I'm treated special." -- Here's a quick Japanese pronunciation guide to selected members of the Sonics' roster, courtesy of the official game program in Japanese.
Shone (rhymes with "bone") Kaym-poo
Nay-toe (like your big toe) Mak-me-ran
Stebe (sic) Shay-foo-ra
First names are not particularly important in Japan, so Shawn Kemp may never hear himself called "Shone." Japanese newspapers never list first names in sports stories, and many Japanese baseball writers who cover the same team all year don't even know the first names of the starting lineup. -- The official program also included a helpful guide to basketball lingo. Currently, all Japanese students study English grammar for six years in school, but conversational slang is usually mystifying to them.
Some of the definitions were more extensive than others. "The Parquet" had a bit of Boston Garden's history with its definition, while "The Worm" was defined only as, "Something about Detroit Pistons' Dennis Rodman."
- W. BLAKE GRAY
Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.