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Originally published April 29, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 29, 2005 at 1:08 PM

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Steve Kelley

Ridnour holds these games in his hands

In a classic case of role reversal, Sonics point guard Luke Ridnour was alone in the corner asking for the ball as Ray Allen dribbled, looking...

Seattle Times staff columnist

In a classic case of role reversal, Sonics point guard Luke Ridnour was alone in the corner asking for the ball as Ray Allen dribbled, looking for an open teammate.

With the shot clock quickly ticking, Allen found Ridnour, who flicked his wrists perfectly, swishing the first three-pointer of his playoff career. And as Key Arena roared, Ridnour, in very unlike-Luke fashion, screamed like a fan, leaped into the air and threw a clenched fist into the bedlam.

"I've had so many good looks and they just haven't gone in," Ridnour said after yesterday's practice. "To finally hit one, I felt like maybe I could get going a little bit. I mean, it's the playoffs. The crowd was into it. It's fun."

In the third quarter of the second game of the first round of the playoffs, Ridnour had found his stroke, and his unvarnished reaction was refreshing to watch.

"I know how he felt," Sonics coach Nate McMillan said. "It was like, 'I finally got one to go down, man. I'm ready now.' It was like he willed it in. Like he was telling it, 'You gotta go. You gotta go.' And I think, at that moment, he felt like that's what he needed."

If the Sacramento Kings, who trail the Sonics 2-0, had one advantage entering this series, it appeared to be at point guard, where their experienced All-Star, Mike Bibby, was matched against playoff rookie Ridnour.

But through two games, Ridnour, with bumping defensive help from Reggie Evans, has contained Bibby, who was 1 for 16 in the first game and benched in the fourth quarter of the second.

Ridnour hasn't loaded up the stat sheet. He was scoreless in the first game and has shot 2 for 17 so far in the series. But he is running the offense, leaving the scoring to the scorers. In 58 minutes, he has 10 assists and no turnovers.

Young point guards can be paralyzed by this pressure. They can over-think their games, but in his first trip into this foreign land, Ridnour, so far, is doing what his coach has asked.

"This time of year, every possession is important," McMillan said. "The guy that you're playing against is coming at you every possession defensively. He's going to be more aggressive because the officials allow more.

"You really have to play every possession, and a single mistake or two can basically throw your rhythm for an entire game. You can lose confidence or you can gain confidence off a play or two. And in the playoffs if you lose it, it can take a quarter or a half or a game to regain that."

Every young point guard knows the stakes are higher, knows the heat is more intense, knows the games mean more than any games they've ever played.

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Every young point guard has heard from every head coach how different the game is in the playoffs. But until you've played in a game, it's all talk.

"It's like anything new," Ridnour said. "It's like the NCAA tournament. You go from the regular season to that, and you can't explain it until you go through it. That's the way I look at this.

"I've never gone through a stretch where you know you're going to play the same team for possibly seven games. Just to have that mind frame and to stay focussed on that and to play with such intensity level, I didn't know what to expect."

His backup, Antonio Daniels, has played in 50 playoff games with San Antonio, Portland and Seattle. He barely remembers his first game in 1999 with the Spurs against Minnesota.

"The only thing I remember is how nervous I was," Daniels said. "At point guard you have a lot of pressure. You definitely have a lot of pressure. You have to make sure everybody's in the right place. If somebody's not in the right place, it's your fault.

"You have a lot of responsibility out on the floor, but I look at that as a good thing. It's an experience thing, and you can't teach experience. The playoffs are just something else you have to go through by yourself, and I think the second game of this series Luke looked more relaxed."

McMillan, a former point guard with 98 games of playoff experience, has pushed Ridnour this week, without pressuring him.

"What I've tried to do is just encourage him to be aggressive and not be afraid of making mistakes," McMillan said. "Because you're going to make mistakes. You have to play through them. Don't get down.

"You really want to keep the game simple. Value the ball. And value each possession. You can't get caught up in negative talk. You have to stay positive. And stay aggressive. I want the ball in Luke's hands 90 percent of the time, but the thing about Luke is, he doesn't really have to score. Just take the shot when he's open and knock it down."

Now the series moves tonight to raucous Arco Arena in Sacramento, where Ridnour's decision-making becomes even more important. It will be his job to control the tempo of the game and the decibel level of the crowd.

"It's up to him," McMillan said. "When do we set up? When do we run? When does he pull the ball out and reset the offense? It's going to be crucial for Luke to understand all that."

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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