SAITAMA — Rashard Lewis scored 25 points and Ronald Murray added 24 as the Seattle SuperSonics beat the Los Angeles Clippers 109-100 in their season-opening game at Saitama Super Arena on Thursday night.
A contest that began looking like the first day of training camp, instead of the first day of the regular season, turned into an entertaining and fast-paced game that thrilled the crowd of 19,323 in attendance.
The Clippers, led by first-year coach Mike Dunleavy, refused to quit after falling behind by as many as 18 points in the third quarter. They battled back and made a run in the final minute of the game, pulling within four points before running out of gas.
Reserve guard Eddie House paced the Clippers with 22 points, while starting forwards Elton Brand and Corey Maggette scored 21 apiece.
Leading by 14 points, Seattle had a chance to again break the game wide open early in the fourth quarter, but guard Ansu Sesay missed a dunk and the momentum swung back to the Clippers, who proceeded to trim the deficit to six on a 3-pointer by Maggette with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
Lewis then appeared to put the game away when he missed a 3-pointer, had the rebound bounce directly back to him, then made his second try near the baseline to give Seattle a 100-91 lead with 2:45 left.
Murray followed with two key jumpers down the stretch for the Sonics, but then Maggette roared in for a dunk to make it 104-100 with just under a minute to go as the Clippers refused to quit.
Seattle played without both its leading scorer from a year ago, Ray Allen, who is on the injured list and facing surgery on his ankle, and first-round pick Nick Collison of Kansas, who is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery for an injury aggravated early in training camp.
Sonics coach Nate McMillan said, “We talked about the loss of Ray. We didn’t want anyone to try to come out and be Ray Allen. I told the guys to go out and play their game. They did and it was excellent.”
The Sonics led 83-69 after three quarters, building slightly on their halftime lead with a combination of good ball movement and penetration in the low post.
The Sonics picked up the pace after the intermission, moving out to a 60-49 lead just over three minutes into the second half, which was highlighted when Brent Barry fed Calvin Booth on a sharp play for a dunk.
Barry hit consecutive 3-pointers midway through the second quarter and led all scorers with 15 at halftime as the Sonics took a 44-42 lead.
Barry, the son of Hall of Famer Rick Barry, brought the crowd to its feet early in the first quarter when he drove to the lane and flew in for a rim-rattling slam that he turned into a three-point play after being fouled.
“We would like to take these fans back home with us,” said Barry, who finished with a game-high nine assists. “I felt like I just needed to be aggressive. I told Rashard at the break I’ve done my job, now you do yours.”
Thursday’s game marked the first NBA action in Japan since 1999, when the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves played two contests at Tokyo Dome.
The teams will meet again on Saturday in Saitama with tipoff scheduled at noon.
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