Despite their deficiencies, even the Denver Nuggets couldn't blow this one. But, oh, how close they came.
Antonio McDyess had 23 points and 15 rebounds as the Nuggets squandered a 29-point lead before holding on for a 102-98 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics on Sunday night.
"I was surprised," McDyess said of the Seattle's big comeback. "It was still in my head that we were up by almost 30. The lead was almost done when it was a one-point game. It was frustrating."
Nick Van Exel added 20 points for the Nuggets, who won for just the second time in 11 games and snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Sonics. Denver's last win over Seattle was April 21, 1996.
"I should have chosen my parents a little bit better. I wouldn't have to work this hard," Denver coach Mike D'Antoni said. "This was a big win for us winning one anywhere."
Detlef Schrempf came off the bench to score 22 points for the Sonics. Gary Payton, averaging 22 points per game, was held to seven on 3-of-15 shooting and Vin Baker was 1-for-6 and finished with three points.
Baker, trying to play through a strained right thumb, did not return after leaving the game with 9:02 left in the second quarter. He is doubtful for Seattle's game Monday at home against Philadelphia.
"His spirit was willing, but we should have had enough brains not let him play," Westphal said. "He couldn't grip the ball. I give him credit for heart, but he couldn't play."
Even Seattle's healthy players struggled in the first half as the Nuggets led 62-33 at one point and by as many as 19 in the third quarter. Denver nearly fell apart over the final 16 minutes as the Sonics chipped away at the lead, closing to 81-80 with 8:23 remaining.
With the familiar look of doubt and frustration starting to show on his teammates' faces, McDyess took ver, grabbing offensive rebounds, blocking shots, making free throws and hitting a fade-away jumper in the final 5@1/2 minutes.
McDyess finished just 4-of-11 from the field but was 15-for-21 at the free throw line, including 6-for-6 when the Sonics were making their fourth-quarter charge.
"He blocked shots, hit jump shots, and we went to him again and again," D'Antoni said. "And we will again and again."
McDyess' effort prevented the Nuggets from repeating their Feb. 15 performance against Phoenix when they blew a 24-point lead at home and lost by 11. Denver worst collapse was in 1996 when Utah erased a 34-point halftime lead.
"The state of urgency kicked in," said Johnny Taylor, who had two timely baskets and two free throws in the final minutes. "We gave the game away early on this year to Phoenix. The sense of urgency kicked in and we were like, `We've got to buckle down and get this one."'
After seemingly burying themselves in the first half, the Sonics pulled to 79-74 after three quarters, holding Denver to five field goals and forcing nine turnovers.
Seattle pulled within one on Payton's free throw, but Cory Alexander hit a layup, Taylor made a high-arching 3-pointer and McDyess made two free throws less than three minutes later to build the lead back to nine.
"It would have been something," Westphal said. "A couple of breaks and we could have come back from 29 and won the game."
The Nuggets shot 57 percent in the first half and led 62-33 before the Sonics went on a 14-0 run in the final 3:28 to make it 62-47.
Denver missed its last four shots of the second quarter and committed two turnovers to give Seattle life after the Sonics opened the game 3-for-18 from the floor.
"We're not the kind of team that can just start slow and get going," Schrempf said. "We're not good enough for that."
Notes: Sonics swingman Billy Owens had 19 points in 30 minutes after a sore left knee limited him to four minutes in the previous three games. ... The Nuggets shot 6-of-7 on 3-pointers in the first quarter, including a 30-footer by Alexander at the buzzer, but were 0-for-5 in the second. ... Denver's opponents have a .581 winning percentage (331-239). ... Seattle's bench outscored its starters 56-42. ... McDyess' free throws made (15) and attempts (21) were career-highs.
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