HOUSTON (AP) -- Gary Payton didn't have his best shooting night,
so he found some teammates who were hitting their shots.
Payton had a career-high 18 assists Tuesday night as the Seattle
SuperSonics almost blew a 20-point, fourth-quarter lead before
holding off the Houston Rockets 104-97 to remain unbeaten.
"They made that happen,'' Payton said of his teammates.
"Whenever I got double teamed I just tried to find the open guy
and they made the jump shots. We have good shooters and I'm very
confident to get them the ball.
"When they double team me, we have to learn to punish them. I
wasn't scoring today, so I needed to do other things to help.''
Payton hit only seven of 21 shots for 20 points to lead the
Sonics, who had six scorers in double figures. Rashard Lewis had 18
points and 12 rebounds.
"He's carrying the team right now,'' Lewis said. "He's the
reason we're 4-0. He had 18 assists tonight, and a guard can't do
better than that. He was kicking it out and were knocking down the
"Eventually that will open it up for his offensive game.''
Seattle (4-0) pulled away in the third quarter with long-range
shooting, making five 3s in the quarter. The Sonics finished
11-for-18 from 3-point range, including 4-of-5 by Vladimir
Seattle led 78-62 to start the fourth quarter and 95-75 with
5:16 to play before the Rockets made a run, led by Cuttino Mobley's
Houston got it down to 100-94 with 36 seconds to play on one of
Mobley's 3-pointers, but Payton and Radmanovic hit two free throws
apiece to keep the Sonics in the lead.
"I thought he did a great job,'' Seattle coach Nate McMillan
said of Payton. "When they didn't double team him he took
advantage of it by scoring and when they did double team him, the
guys got open and hit their shots.''
Payton's 18 assists gave him 6,968 and moved him past Bob Cousy
(6,955) for 11th place on the career list. His previous career-high
was 17 assists reached twice, the last time against Washington on
Nov. 10, 1999.
"They just got hot and they distributed the ball very well in
that third quarter they made a lot of threes,'' Francis said. "Unfortunately, I was on the bench with fouls. Watching those guys make threes, really hurt.
"I think that's the best we've seen a team shoot. We didn't
really have an answer for it.''
Houston took a 15-6 lead and held it until a basket by Jerome
James early in the second period gave Seattle a 26-25 edge.
Neither team could get more than a five-point lead in the second
quarter, and Griffin hit a 3-point basket at the buzzer for a 47-46
Houston halftime edge.
Payton and the Sonics shooters took over in the third quarter.
"I don't want to call him an old pro because he doesn't play
like an old pro but he's really good at finding people and they
have an arsenal of shooters,'' Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said.
"We tried several different tactics to slow him down but he had an
answer for every one of them.''
Yao Ming says he's not expecting to be respected by other
NBA players. "Respect is something you earn, not something someone
gives to you,'' Yao said. ... Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis are
the only starting backcourt in the NBA both averaging 20-plus
points per game.