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Originally published May 20, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 20, 2005 at 1:11 PM

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Steve Kelley

Sonics crowd a sound so loud, you wish you could listen forever

Tim Duncan's last jump hook over Vitaly Potapenko and off the glass was as soft as the sudden silence that fell. The season was over that...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Tim Duncan's last jump hook over Vitaly Potapenko and off the glass was as soft as the sudden silence that fell. The season was over that quickly. The Sonics had lost 98-96 and lost in the Western Conference semifinals to San Antonio, four games to two.

It was a stunning end to a remarkable game and wondrous season. An end to a night that was so good it should have continued until sunrise.

They threw a party at KeyArena last night. A loud, raucous, can't-sit-down party. The kind of party the neighbors object to, the kind they call the cops to stop.

The rumbling started before the Sonics and Spurs took the court. It started before Antonio Daniels dribbled into the lane for the first time and floated a runner 26 seconds into the game.

This night was 1979 loud. Loud as Game 5 against Chicago in 1996. Loud as the stereo system in one of Jerome James' many rides.

This sixth game of a series few people in Seattle thought they would ever see, started noisy and somehow got noisier. It was a wave of noise the Sonics hoped to ride all the way back to Game 7 in San Antonio on Sunday.

It wasn't to be. For all the big-game plays — Daniels' wire-to-wire 22 points, Nick Collison's late-game grit, Damien Wilkins' fearless fourth-quarter three — the Sonics ultimately weren't going to beat a team as good as the Spurs without Rashard Lewis, who sprained his left big toe late in the third game and never returned.

With Lewis gone, the Spurs double-teamed Ray Allen on every pick-and-roll. They dared him to beat them. And, as good as Allen was, he finished 25 points, he missed 14 of his 25 shots, turned the ball over six times and, incredibly, didn't get to the free-throw line. He didn't score in the last six minutes.

Despite an effort that ranks with every Sonics team from every era, this team wasn't deep enough to win without Lewis, their second-best scorer, and Vlade Radmanovic, their third.

But, oh my, did they come close.

As close as Allen's final three-point jumper that barely beat the final buzzer and barely missed rattling in for the win. Allen's last-gasp three suddenly sent San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich back to last year when the Lakers' Derek Fisher beat the Spurs and the clock in a game as good as this one.

You want a reality show? I'll take this game over any gaggle of Survivors from any faraway island.

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This game was as real as the three-pointer Robert Horry hit that gave the Spurs the lead for good at 93-89 with 1:48 left. It was as real as Daniels' drive a mere 12 seconds later that cut the lead in half.

After sputtering in their first two Seattle games, the Spurs showed just how good they were in this decider.

How many times and for how many teams has Horry made shots as important as last night's? From Houston to the Lakers to San Antonio, Horry has been breaking hearts and cracking open games.

Last night, he beat the Sonics and beat a crowd that didn't want the game to end, knowing that, with eight Sonics free agents, it's hard to wait until next year when you don't know who next year will bring.

So they roared for the present, not for the future. The KeyArena cacophony shrieked at calls that went against the Sonics. They chanted, screamed, barked their displeasure with (ah-hem) questionable calls of officials Dan Crawford, Joe Forte and Greg Willard.

They cheered during dead balls. They roared without being coaxed to do so, just like the old days. They tried to will coach Nate McMillan's incredible shrinking lineup to a win, but "small ball" only lasts so long against the Spurs.

Last night was as tough as the open-handed smack Danny Fortson landed on Manu Ginobili on one late Sonics fast break.

But on this night of Gladiators, nobody was tougher, more resilient than Duncan. With 8:08 left, he collided with Collison and fell to the floor grabbing at his right ankle. The Sonics were leading 77-76 and this looked as dramatic and series-changing as Lewis' injury.

From underneath the basket, Duncan stayed down for several minutes, got up slowly and limped toward midcourt, trying to loosen the ankle for these final minutes.

Even though he was in great pain, Duncan didn't leave. And all he did was win the series. He made those two free throws. In those decisive eight minutes, he scored 10 points.

This is how good Duncan is. He missed his first 10 shots from the field and didn't score his first field goal until 4:59 was left in the third quarter.

At the time of his injury he was 2 for 16. And he still was the difference in the game, finishing with 25 points, while finishing on one leg.

Duncan was the Spurs' silencer. He was the one player the Sonics had no answer for.

And he closed this game that was hot and loud and tasty as gumbo.

This was a game that left Seattle wanting even more, on a night when nobody on the court could have given any more.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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