Don't call him a man-child anymore.
For 46 punishing, intense minutes, Shawn Kemp fought Seattle's battle in the trenches Friday night, and the SuperSonics emerged with an 89-78 victory that sent the NBA Finals back to Chicago.The Bulls' championship that looked like such a sure thing just a few days ago is anything but automatic now. Seattle has cut Chicago's commanding series lead to 3-2.
"Two or three days ago, nobody thought this series would still be going on," Kemp said. "We're having fun."
Seven seasons after he entered the NBA as a 19-year-old wunderkind with an abundance of muscles and shortage of maturity, Kemp has arrived as one of the game's best big men. If there were any doubts, the way he's played in the finals should erase them.
"These two wins here, the leader of our faces and our attitude was Shawn Kemp," Seattle coach George Karl said. "He challenged our guys to play at such an intensity. He wasn't going to go down unless they cut his heart out.
"He's a big-time man and he's definitely a Dream Teamer."
On Friday night, despite a painful bruise to his chest suffered in the first half, Kemp played the entire third and fourth quarters. He iced down the injury at halftime and again during third-quarter timeouts.
"I just caught a little elbow, but I'm fine," Kemp said.
Until he came out to the roar of the crowd win 16.4 seconds to go, slapping hands with Karl and his delirious teammates, Kemp played all but two minutes of the game.
"I was just trying to play good basketball and trying to contribute," Kemp said. "It's not going to be a one-man show and I realize that. The only thing I can do is come in here with energy and focus to let the guys follow me a little bit. And they've been doing well."
He was the Sonics' designated battler on the boards, holding his own against the game's best rebounder, Dennis Rodman.
"I think definitely Shawn got the best of Rodman tonight," Seattle's Hersey Hawkins said. "He'd gotten the best of us for four games and it was nice to see us get to him a little."
Kemp showed those who decided to leave him off the U.S. Olympic team that he is no longer a hot dog. Only once did he seem to lose his cool, bouncing the ball off the cheek of Luc Longley in a heated moment in the third quarter.
And, as he has throughout the series, Kemp showed he has more than just a thundering power game. He was consistently accurate with jumpers from 18 feet and in. From the free throw line, he ran his string to 15 in a row before missing a pair.
At the start Friday night, with the Key Arena crowd in a frenzy, Kemp was all the offense the Sonics had. While his teammates missed their first 10 shots, Kemp sank a 10-foot jumper, a breakaway stuff and two more jumpers. Chicago's lead was just 12-8.
"I came out and played aggressive from the start," Kemp said. "I wanted to knock down a couple of shots and it worked out fine for us."
When Kemp threw up an air-ball with 1:19 to go and his team only up by six, the crowd gasped. But the Bulls missed at the other end, and the big power forward gathered in his final rebound with both hands.
Kemp wound up 8-for-16 from the field for 22 points. In the series, he's shooting 57 percent from the field and averaging just under 25 points per game.
Gary Payton, who also played 46 minutes, added 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
After being down 3-0 in the finals, the Sonics can look to the Payton-Kemp combination as the young leaders who brought Seattle back.