Seattle's rout of the Suns in Game 4 evened the best-of-7 Western Conference finals at 2-2. It also demoralized the Suns, who had seemed downright carefree after earlier playoff losses.
"I thought we gave up. We played a terrible game effort-wise, and it was the worst game we've played all year, as far as I'm concerned," Dan Majerle said.The key to Seattle's 120-101 win was the play of the front line.
Derrick McKey and Shawn Kemp scored 20 points each, and Sam Perkins added 19. By contrast, the Suns got 35 points from their front-line starters, and Charles Barkley had 27 of the total.
Seattle also outrebounded the Suns 46-34. That differential could get bigger in Game 5 if Oliver Miller is not a factor. The 6-foot-9 center missed practice Monday because of stomach flu and was listed as questionable for tonight's game.
Sonics coach George Karl was reveling in his team's height advantage, and said the Suns can expect his team to try to take advantage inside again. One of the biggest mismatches is at small forward, where the 6-foot-10 McKey has been playing against small forwards Richard Dumas and Cedric Ceballos.
"We've won games this year with outside shooting, with pressure defense, and with our transition game," Karl said. "Now, it looks like we'll go inside a little more."
McKey, who had 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Game 4, helped hold the 6-7 Dumas and 6-61/2 Ceballos to four points each.
"McKey is a fine basketball player and a tough matchup for us, but I think that with some changes we'll be ready for him," Barkley said.
Following a spirited practice, Barkley repeated his contention that the Suns' Game 4 loss, however ugly, doesn't alter the fact the Sonics have to beat Phoenix again on its home court.
The homecourt edge isn't as secure for the Suns, who are 5-3 at home in the playoffs, as it was when they went 35-6 during the regular season. The Sonics are 2-1 in their last three games at Phoenix.
The Suns' reliance on Barkley, the 1993 NBA MVP, is a weakness a balanced team can exploit, Karl said.
"We have a lot of All-Star players on certain nights. Sometimes it's Ricky Pierce. Sometimes Shawn Kemp. Sometimes someone else. The flow of the game and matchups dictate who that is," Karl said.
"Sometimes, you can get in trouble by forcing size, but if we can make them aware of our balance, we have a good chance," McKey said.
The distribution of talent makes Seattle difficult to double-team, McKey added.
"Ricky Pierce draws a lot of attention, so they have a tough choice to make," he said. "I don't think I have to score 20 a game for us to win this series. If I don't have the advantage, it'll be somewhere else."