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Wednesday, December 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Percy Allen
PORTLAND The Sonics pride themselves on their unselfishness and team unity, but in the wake of blowing a double-digit fourth-quarter lead, several players expressed a growing disdain toward Danny Fortson and his antics, which might have cost them a game they believed they should have won.
They love his defensive aggressiveness and the way he gobbles up rebounds, but it's times like last night, when Fortson gets drawn into a verbal confrontation with the opposition and refuses to walk away, that his teammates shake their heads in disgust.
They've tried interventions and giving advice, but none of that seems to work when Fortson is pushing and shoving beneath the boards, as he did with Portland's Shareef Abdur-Rahim for much of last night's 100-94 loss at the Rose Garden.
Both players were given a technical for their war of words in the third quarter, and the jawing continued in the fourth. During one confrontation, Abdur-Rahim fell to the floor, a play Fortson said was a flop.
Harsh words flew. And before anyone knew what had happened, officials had ejected Fortson with 9 minutes, 11 seconds remaining and Seattle's 13-point, third-quarter lead dwindling.
Standing on the sideline, sonics coach Nate McMillan's view of the play was obstructed. Only when guard Antonio Daniels walked to the sideline and said, "It's Danny," did the coach understand that he would have to devise schemes to hold off the hard-charging Trail Blazers without his big-bodied enforcer.
Without Fortson in the middle, Portland (8-6) got to the basket with little resistance. The only way the Sonics (13-3) could stop the Blazers was with fouls, which helped Portland to the free-throw line 21 times in the fourth quarter.
"That's where the technicals and flagrant fouls kill you the most," Daniels said. "Not only do we lose Danny, but all of that his fouling and stuff is sending them to the line and they're scoring points with the clock stopped."
Portland scored 19 of its 38 fourth-quarter points on free throws.
Meanwhile, the Sonics who erased a 45-42 halftime deficit with a 24-8 run to start the third quarter suddenly couldn't make a basket.
Seattle wasted a season-high 29 points from Rashard Lewis and brilliant double-double efforts from Luke Ridnour (11 points and 10 assists) and Reggie Evans (10 points and 10 rebounds).
"I'd trade all 29 points in for the W," Lewis said. "When we needed to make plays we didn't. They took a step forward, and we took a step back."
"Giving up 38 points in one quarter is ridiculous," said Jerome James, who finished with eight points and four blocks. "That's what we did when we were getting blown out by the Clippers. It's not what we've been doing lately, but tonight we reverted back to that first game."
Fortson assumed some responsibility for his part in the altercation, but he didn't understand why he was ejected.
"I'm like a piece of meat if I don't do what I'm supposed to do," he said.
Before leaving the court, Fortson jabbered at Abdur-Rahim and the referees, and he needed to be escorted off by teammates Vladimir Radmanovic and Lewis.
His mini-meltdown only added to the Sonics' dire circumstances.
"That was part of it," McMillan said. "It certainly didn't help. Basically, we lost our cool out there, and you can never do that."
Seattle's 74-64 fourth-quarter lead melted away before the Sonics regained their cool and scored four straight points to narrow the gap to 89-88.
Neither team led by more than six points in the final 10 minutes.
With Portland holding a 96-94 lead, Nick Van Exel lofted an air ball that replays showed was tipped out of bounds by teammate Ruben Patterson. The Blazers, however, were given the ball with 32.9 seconds remaining.
Given a second chance, Randolph put Portland ahead, 98-94, when he calmly dropped in an 18-foot jumper over the outstretched arms of Radmanovic.
On the ensuing possession, Allen drove into the teeth of the Blazers' defense, but his layup attempt rattled around the rim, fell out and into the hands of Abdur-Rahim.
"One person didn't lose this game for us," Daniels said. "I'm not saying that. But what happened out there, those things can't happen."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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