SEATTLE -- If you're in search of a Seattle SuperSonics player who still has a pulse through three disappointing games of the NBA Finals, Gary Payton is your guy. On the court he's a trash-talking chatterbox, confident against anyone. Why, he even had the audacity to go word for word with Michael Jordan during the first two games.
So, Gary, tell us how the Sonics are going to become the first team in the history of the league to come back from an 0-3 deficit and win the NBA Finals.
"They've been [to the Finals] three times, and won it three times; it's just our first time being here," a low-key Payton said. "This is like a learning experience for me. They're teaching us a lesson. They are good."
If there were such a thing as a concession speech in the NBA, the surprisingly subdued Payton gave just that after the 108-86 loss to the Bulls in Game 3 on Sunday night. The Sonics, whose 64 wins during the regular season was the 10th-best record in NBA history, are coming to a realization many people had even before the series began: that Chicago is by far the superior team.
"They're a great team," Payton said. "They're teaching us a lesson. We can't make mistakes and do a lot of the other things against this team, because they're just too good."
So good that the Bulls handed the Sonics their third straight loss, something that had not happened to Seattle this season. So good that the Bulls accomplished that by 22 points in Key Arena, a place where Seattle had lost only five times this season.
By advancing to the Finals for the first time since 1979, the Sonics have scared away the demons that haunted them during two straight seasons of being bounced from the playoffs in the first round. Seattle is simply a victim of its timing, having reached the Finals the same year that Jordan was playing his first full season of basketball since his retirement.
Jordan finally erupted Sunday, scoring 36 points. During one stretch in the second quarter he scored 15 straight points for the Bulls. As the Bulls have amassed a 14-1 record during their impressive playoff run, Jordan has led his team in scoring in all but one game.
"I think he had a lot of touch shots in that [second-quarter run] that borderlined on unstoppable," Sonics coach George Karl said. "We know there are probably three or four guys in the NBA that are capable of doing it."
Karl could only wish that his own star guard, Payton, was one of those players capable of such games. Payton finally showed signs of shaking his Finals slump, scoring 19 points while hitting seven of 15 shots on Sunday. But for the series Payton has hit just 19 of 47 shots.
After saying the basket must look like an ocean to Jordan, Payton was asked what it looked like to him. He looked at the questioner incredulously.
"It looks like a basket -- a basketball hoop and a net," said Payton. "It might be an ocean to [Jordan], but it's just a basket to me."
During the regular season, the Sonics averaged 104.5 points per game, which ranked second in the league to the Bulls. But their bTC highest scoring game in this series has been 90 points. Seattle in the series has more turnovers (60) than assists (40), a clear sign ++ that the team is getting overwhelmed by Chicago's defense.
On Sunday the Sonics were unable to adjust to the new wrinkle the Bulls threw at them when they started sending double teams Shawn Kemp. The Seattle forward had averaged 30.5 points through two games, but managed just 14 on seven shot attempts.
Rodman, who called himself "the master" after Sunday's game, continued to unnerve the Sonics. For the second time in three games Seattle forward Frank Brickowski was thrown out, this time for planting an elbow firmly in Rodman's neck.
"That's another notch in his belt," Karl said. "The only thing to do with Rodman if you were playing with him on the playground would be to fight him. Dennis is using that line of intimidation with his elbows and holding and grabbing and walking underneath you to frustrate us."
Called by some the greatest team in NBA history, the Bulls appear to have stolen the heart from the Sonics.
"With all the things that we got done before the series, you have to give Chicago credit for taking us out of the series," Seattle guard Hersey Hawkins said. "I'm probably more down than at any time this season. And I don't know why."
A 3-0 deficit may have something to do with that.
# Chicago vs. Seattle
(Chicago leads series, 3-0)
Day .... .... Site/result (Line) ... Time
Game 1 ...... Chicago, 107-90
Game 2 ...... Chicago, 92-88
Game 3 ..... Chicago, 108-86
Tomorrow ... at Seattle (+5 1/2 ) ...... 9
Friday* .... at Seattle ..... ...... 9
Sunday* .... at Chicago ..... ...... 7: 30
June 19* ... at Chicago ..... ...... 9 TV: All games on chs. 11, 4
Pub Date: 6/11/96