<
>

17-3 third-period run takes vibe out of Sonics

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Seattle coach Nate McMillan was right. Just
as he told his team before tipoff, Game 5 was decided by how his
SuperSonics played in the opening minutes of the first and third
quarters.

They were lousy. And now they're headed home on the brink of
elimination, with the San Antonio Spurs a win from returning to the
Western Conference finals.

Manu Ginobili celebrated his return to San Antonio's starting
lineup with a career playoff-best 39 points and Nazr Mohammed
scored nine of his 19 points during a 17-3 run to open the second
half, sending the Spurs past the Sonics 103-90 Tuesday night and
giving them a 3-2 lead in the second-round series.

"We came in with an understanding that this is no slouch of a
team and we had to be ready to play," San Antonio's Bruce Bowen
said.

The Spurs were far more ready than Seattle, which missed its
first seven shots. The Sonics recovered to tie it at halftime, then
opened the second half by missing six of seven. San Antonio,
meanwhile, was rolling behind Ginobili and Mohammed on offense and
Bowen on defense.

The Spurs' defense was so good on defense in those two pivotal
quarters that Seattle's Ray Allen didn't make a basket during them;
his only point was a free throw with 4.2 seconds left in the third.
He still led the team with 19 points, but that came from 15 in the
catch-up second quarter and four in the fourth, when the Sonics
never got closer than 80-75.

"They came out and did what they were supposed to do," said
Allen, who was so off in the third quarter that he missed three
free throws after being 55-of-59 from the line this postseason.

The cozy win was a relief to Spurs fans who remembered their
teams' last two second-round Game 5s. Playing the Lakers both
times, San Antonio won on a Los Angeles miss in the closing seconds
two years ago, then lost last year on Derek Fisher's amazing
buzzer-beater.

The Game 5 winner went on to end the series the next game in '03
and '04. The Spurs would love to do that Thursday night in Seattle,
where the Sonics have won both games so far in the series. History
is on San Antonio's side the rest of the way because Game 5 winners
have won 103 of the 123 seven-game series that were tied at 2.

"I don't know if it was pivotal, but it was important for our
team," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Sonics forward Rashard Lewis missed his second straight game
because of a sprained left big toe. He may return Thursday night.

The three-guard lineup Seattle used effectively to replace their
All-Star in Game 4 helped them get back into this one after their
slow start. Yet no matter what combination the Sonics had on the
court, they couldn't slow Ginobili.

A starter the entire season and the playoff opener, Ginobili had
been the team's energizer off the bench the last eight games. Both
he and Popovich downplayed the importance of putting him back with
the first unit. More relevant to Ginobili was hitting two early
3-pointers, which forced Seattle to cover him more on the
perimeter, thus opening up his driving lanes.

He finished 10-of-15 from the field and 15-of-17 from the line.
He also had six assists and four rebounds, and withstood a flagrant
foul from Damien Wilkins in the closing minutes.

"I was very concerned about bringing a lot of juice, energy,"
he said. "It didn't matter if it was after 6 minutes or from the
start. I wanted to drive to the basket and make things happen."

Mohammed, who had just 19 points in the series coming into Game
5, was 8-of-10 with seven rebounds while also posting his career
playoff high in points.

Tim Duncan had 20 points and 14 rebounds for San Antonio, while
Tony Parker was 4-of-13 for just 11 points on his 23rd birthday.

"Manu was awesome," Duncan said. "Tony and myself weren't
playing great games, but he found a way to take us over that
hump."

Antonio Daniels scored 17 points for Seattle and Nick Collison
added 14. Luke Ridnour had 12 and Jerome James 10, but the Sonics
still haven't rekindled the magic that made them one of just three
teams to win in San Antonio this season. Their only lead on the
Spurs' court this postseason was 4-2 in Game 2.

McMillan stressed the importance of a good start because the
Sonics trailed by 12 and 13 after the first quarter of the first
two games here. It didn't sink in as Allen threw the ball out of
bounds on the opening possession. James had two fouls before the
Sonics finally scored. Still, they trailed just 7-2. They finally
tied the game at the end of the second quarter behind a 9-1 run led
by Allen and aided by three missed foul shots by Duncan.

Then came the game-breaking start of the third quarter.

San Antonio was tenacious from the start, getting an immediate
offensive rebound, then trapping Allen and forcing him to throw a
bad pass that Ginobili stole. He cashed it into two free throws,
then another Seattle turnover led to a dunk by Mohammed and a
timeout by McMillan. It hardly helped as Ginobili came back with
two 3-pointers to boost the lead to 67-53.

"There were times we just got outworked," McMillan said.

Game notes
Ginobili and Mohammed combined for San Antonio's first 24
points of the third quarter. ... Dominique Wilkins, aka "The Human
Highlight Film," had to be smiling when nephew Damien faked Robert
Horry on a 3, then drove past several Spurs for a dunk that brought
everyone on Seattle's bench to their feet. ... The Spurs had nine
turnovers after committing 23 in Game 4.