Regular Season Series (Game 1 of 4)

Series starts 11/5

Game 1: Tuesday, November 5th
Game 2: Friday, November 29th
Game 3: Tuesday, March 18th
Game 4: Saturday, April 12th

SuperSonics 104

(4-0, 2-0 away)

Rockets 97


    7:30 PM ET, November 5, 2002

    1 2 3 4 T
    SEA 22 24 32 26104
    HOU 25 22 15 3597

    Top Performers

    Seattle: G. Payton 20 Pts, 7 Reb, 18 Ast, 1 Stl

    Houston: S. Francis 33 Pts, 11 Reb, 9 Ast, 1 Blk

    Payton passes Cousy on career night

    HOUSTON (AP) -- Gary Payton didn't have his best shooting night, so he found some teammates who were hitting their shots.

    Predrag Drobnjak made life tough on the Rockets with his ability to score.

    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 shots.

    "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 Radmanovic.

    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 three 3-pointers.

    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.

    Steve Francis had 33 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for the Rockets. Eddie Griffin added 23 points and Mobley finished with 22.

    "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.''

    Game notes

    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.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

    Points 104 97
    FGM-FGA 39-81 (.481) 38-80 (.475)
    3PM-3PA 11-18 (.611) 9-16 (.563)
    FTM-FTA 15-21 (.714) 12-18 (.667)
    Rebounds (Offensive-Total) 10-43 10-37
    Assists 27 19
    Turnovers 13 13
    Steals 8 7
    Blocks 6 5
    Fast Break Points 4 7
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 21 (1/0) 19 (1/0)

    Top Performers

    Gary Payton Payton
    Points: 20
    Reb: 7
    Ast: 18
    Stl: 1
    Blk: 0
    Steve Francis Francis
    Points: 33
    Reb: 11
    Ast: 9
    Stl: 0
    Blk: 1