SEATTLE -- His SuperSonics down 19 early in the second half, Wally Szczerbiak looked around a sparsely populated home arena and thought of all the bad that's swirling around his team.
Nagging trade rumors. Rookie star Kevin Durant being home with flu. Sonics ownership's ugly attempt to flee town this spring. Szczerbiak then turned to teammate Luke Ridnour on the bench and said, "Luke, man, can't we just go out there and play to win?"
If only all the rest of Seattle's mess was so simple to clean.
Earl Watson scored a season-high 26 points and Szczerbiak had 24, including the go-ahead score with 31 seconds remaining, to rally the Sonics to a 108-101 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night.
Watson made a career-high 11 shots in 13 attempts and added nine assists. The last one was with 31 seconds remaining to Szczerbiak, after the Sonics blew three chances to break a tie at 101.
Rookie Jeff Green sandwiched misses on a breakaway layup and a 20-footer around a throwaway of a fast break by Delonte West, who was starting because Durant missed his second start in 52 games.
"I mean, three ugly turnovers," said Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo, whose team had 20 turnovers. "It looked like we were going to give it away."
But Memphis' Jason Collins missed two free throws with 50 seconds left. Szczerbiak then drove the baseline and leaned into the flailing Collins for a three-point play that put Seattle up 104-101.
Rudy Gay, who led the Grizzlies with 23 points, then missed everything but the lower part of the backboard on a long jump shot, the first of his two airballs in the final minute that left him wincing and tapping the top of his head in frustration. Watson made two free throws with 17 seconds left to seal his big night and the victory that -- for a few minutes -- trumped all Seattle is dealing with.
"There are a lot of things going on that are affecting our chances to win," Szczerbiak said of the Sonics (14-38), who won for the first time in four tries against equally lowly Memphis (14-39) this season.
"We just need to faze out the distractions."
The latest is owner Clay Bennett's attempt last week to buy out his lease with the city of Seattle, so he can move to Oklahoma City the moment this miserable season ends and without the mess of an ongoing lawsuit. The city rejected Bennett's $26.5 million offer, leaving the future of Seattle's NBA team for 41 years again in the court's hands.
Hakim Warrick backed up Gay with 22 points for the Grizzlies, who lost their 10th consecutive road game. Gay was only 9-for-23 from the field. He lamented having only three assists after Seattle began double-teaming him late.
"I need to step up and do more for this team," Gay said. "I took myself out of this game (mentally) and I can't blame anybody but myself."
The Sonics looked lost offensively for three quarters without Durant, who has led them in scoring 26 times in the 50 games he has played. Durant averages 19.4 points and normally gets almost all of Seattle's set plays run through him. Szczerbiak got most of those instead.
The Sonics had allowed a season-high 68 points in the first half the previous time they played Memphis on Jan. 18. They surrendered 62 more before halftime Tuesday. Gay's slashing drive and reverse layup with 1:26 left in the half had the Grizzlies up 60-46.
That grew to 69-50 when Memphis scored seven of the first nine points of the second half, three of those from Gay. The Sonics then scored 16 of the next 19 points to get back in it.
"Some kind of ridiculous run," Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni called it.
He has got his own mountain of problems in his first season as an NBA head man. Memphis is 1-6 since trading star Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 1. It's part of a long-term rebuilding plan similar to Seattle's -- without the leaving town part.
Durant's illness -- after he played in the rookie-sophomore game at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans and then visited his former teammates with the University of Texas at their game against Baylor on Saturday night in Waco, Texas -- angered the 10,000 fans who had just received Durant bobblehead dolls on their way into the arena.
They booed when the public-address announcer asked them to send Durant get-well thoughts after he informed them he was absent.
Memphis did not score over the final 3:02. ... Mike Miller scored seven points in the first half, then left for good with back spasms. The Grizzlies are so worried about losing more veterans in trades, they swarmed Miller with hugs and yells at the team hotel Monday when they saw he had rejoined the team -- for now, anyway -- following the All-Star break. The team's second-leading scorer had traveled back from the break on his own.
|Seattle (14-38) «||27||21||32||28||108|
|MEM:R. Gay 23 Pts
MEM:J. Collins 10 Reb
MEM:M. Conley 9 Ast
|SEA:E. Watson 26 Pts
SEA:N. Collison 9 Reb
SEA:E. Watson 9 Ast
|Players of the Game|
|R. Gay, SG||41||9-23||3-4||7||3||5||23|
|H. Warrick, PF||39||10-18||2-2||6||2||2||22|
|M. Conley, PG||31||3-9||2-2||4||9||2||8|
|D. Milicic, PF||21||2-8||0-0||7||0||2||4|
|M. Miller, SF||12||3-7||1-2||2||1||0||7|
|J. Navarro, PG||35||6-15||2-2||3||1||1||16|
|J. Collins, C||27||4-7||0-3||10||0||6||8|
|K. Lowry, SG||19||2-7||1-1||3||5||0||5|
|B. Cardinal, PF||15||2-4||2-2||3||1||2||8|
|A. McKie, SG||Did Not Play|
|K. Brown, C||Did Not Play|
|C. Jacobsen, SG||Did Not Play|
|A. Brown, SF||Did Not Play|
|J. Crittenton, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|E. Watson, PG||34||11-13||2-3||3||9||4||26|
|C. Wilcox, PF||33||2-5||2-2||4||0||2||6|
|D. West, SG||33||4-12||0-0||5||7||0||9|
|J. Green, SF||27||3-11||4-6||9||0||5||11|
|K. Thomas, PF||15||4-4||0-0||5||0||1||8|
|W. Szczerbiak, SF||27||9-18||3-4||4||1||2||24|
|N. Collison, C||22||5-7||2-4||9||1||1||12|
|D. Wilkins, SG||15||0-2||3-4||5||1||0||3|
|L. Ridnour, PG||14||3-5||0-0||0||3||1||6|
|J. Petro, C||13||0-1||1-2||5||1||4||1|
|R. Swift, C||8||1-2||0-0||0||0||1||2|
|M. Gelabale, SF||Did Not Play|
|M. Sene, C||Did Not Play|
|K. Durant, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|