Payton likes way Sonics play together


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Gary Payton is keeping Seattle's solid start in perspective.

Payton had 22 points and 10 assists and the Pacific
Division-leading SuperSonics rallied in the fourth quarter to beat
the Los Angeles Clippers 84-78 Sunday for their fourth consecutive victory.

The Sonics are off to their best start since 1999-00 when they
opened 9-2. Three of their wins came against such struggling teams
as Golden State, Utah and Miami.

"It's still early. We haven't played a lot of good teams, but
we're starting off good,'' Payton said. "This is the most together
team we've had here, where everybody isn't worried about who's
getting the shot. We've got confidence that everybody's going to
make the shot.''

The Sonics certainly did in the fourth quarter, going 10-of-17
from the floor. The Clippers were a woeful 4-of-24.

"When the shots were supposed to count, we made them count.
That's why we kept taking the shots, because we knew something was
going to go down pretty soon,'' Payton said. "Nobody got down on
each other. We just kept playing hard, picked up the defense,
grabbed the rebounds, and then things started to fall our way.''

Payton and Desmond Mason sparked the Sonics, combining to score
all but 10 of the team's 30 points in the final 12 minutes. Mason
had 10 of his 18 in the quarter when Seattle trailed by 12.

Elton Brand had 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Clippers, who
lost their third in a row. Eric Piatkowski added 17 points, and
Michael Olowokandi had 13 rebounds.

"We've just got to relax and play, especially down the
stretch,'' Los Angeles coach Alvin Gentry said. "We've got to
believe we're a good enough team to win games like this. We've been
such a good home team the last couple of years and we're struggling
at home. We missed a lot of easy shots.''

After leading by 15 points in the third quarter, the Clippers
scored just two points in the first 6 minutes of the fourth. Payton
and Mason combined for 11 points and then Vladimir Radmanovic hit a
3-pointer to give Seattle the lead for good with 5:11 remaining.

"Not much you can do when the ball doesn't go in,'' Brand said.
"We just let them come back. They're not 8-2 for no reason.''

Mason followed with a three-point play, then hit one of two free
throws for a 71-67 lead. The Clippers got within one on a layup by
Brand, but Payton answered with a 3-pointer and a jumper for a
77-72 lead with 1:41 remaining.

"We don't have any one particular player who can take over a
game like Payton, so we do have to work hard,'' Olowokandi said.
"We need to understand when you're up by 15 in the third quarter,
it isn't a guarantee the game is over.''

The Clippers went 5-for-11 at the free throw line in the final
5{ minutes. Andre Miller finally made both his foul shots to put
Los Angeles within two points, but Rashard Lewis hit a running
jumper for a 79-75 lead with 54 seconds left.

Miller got the crowd on its feet by hitting a 3-pointer with 49
seconds left, leaving the Clippers down 79-78. After a timeout,
Lewis hit another running jumper for an 81-78 lead. Miller missed a
3-pointer with 20 seconds to go and Piatkowski fouled Predag
Drobnjak, who made both shots to keep Seattle ahead 83-78.

Lewis added 16 points and 11 rebounds for Seattle.

"We played good defense down the stretch, made some big shots
and kept our poise. We didn't turn on each other, and they found a
way to win,'' Sonics coach Nate McMillan said. "Rashard made a
couple of very big shots at the end. The plays were called for him
and he was able to deliver on both of them.''

Los Angeles hadn't been able to hold on to the ball in its last
two games, committing 22 turnovers at Portland on Friday and 19
miscues against Orlando on Thursday, both losses. The Clippers had
19 Sunday.

Game notes
Seattle guard Kenny Anderson wasn't with the team because
of back spasms. ... The Sonics are 5-0 when Payton has
double-figure points and assists. He has five doubles in 10 games.
... The Clippers travel to Golden State on Monday night. They were
11-9 in the first of back-to-back games last season, but just 5-15
in the second game. ... Seattle won last season's series 3-1. ...
Seattle equaled its season low in points.