SEATTLE (AP)—Standing at midcourt, hearing his home fans roar as they never have during his rookie season, Kevin Durant wore a giddy smile, lifting his arms and asking for more from the appreciative crowd.
“Save Our Sonics,” they replied in deafening unison.
If this was the end of the Seattle SuperSonics, they went out with a rare victory and feeling well loved.
“I almost cried, to be honest with you. People kept saying it might be the last game in Seattle,” Durant said. “It was phenomenal.”
Durant scored twice in the final 45 seconds, and the Sonics rallied from a six-point deficit in the final 3 minutes to beat the Dallas Mavericks 99-95 on Sunday night.
It was an impressive home finale for a Seattle team that might be playing in Oklahoma City next season and is putting the finishing touches on the worst record in franchise history.
The crowd cheered as much for the effort on the floor as the rare appearance of former star Gary Payton in the stands. The Sonics outhustled and outplayed the playoff-bound Mavericks giving their fans something to be proud of.
Durant dived on the floor to save a loose ball. Jeff Green snatched one-handed rebounds off the glass. Undersized forward Nick Collison hustled his way to 11 rebounds.
“That was our focus from the beginning, sending the fans out with a ‘W’ and giving them something to be proud of,” guard Earl Watson said. “It’s bigger than us. It was for them.”
Watson led Seattle with 21 points and 10 assists, while Collison had 18 points and 11 rebounds as Seattle scored the final 10 points and handed Dallas a second straight loss. Durant finished with 19 points, 13 coming in the second half.
But bigger than the game itself was the possibility of it being the last game in Seattle for the franchise after 41 years here.
Owner Clay Bennett will have his efforts to relocate the Sonics to Oklahoma City debated at the NBA Board of Governors meeting later this week in New York.
Last week, e-mail messages between Bennett and team co-owners appeared to show Bennett misled NBA commissioner David Stern on the group’s intentions to move the team to Oklahoma City before all avenues for a new arena in Seattle were closed.
The messages have become part of the team’s dispute with the city of Seattle over the two years remaining on its KeyArena lease, with a trial scheduled for June. Bennett’s goal is to have the Sonics playing in Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season.
“It’s been a hard year and to have some success sometimes, it surprises you, you do get a little emotional,” Collison said. “It’s been a tough year and some of the extra stuff has been kind of tough. We don’t really know how to handle it.
“But it was a lot of fun. It shows it would be a shame if basketball wasn’t here.”
The latest news about the e-mail only heightened the disdain Sonics’ fans feel toward their owner, spewed in derisive chants about Bennett that bubbled periodically during the game.
But that contempt for Bennett was never directed at the Sonics’ players, many of which have expressed surprise at the support they’ve received in a season that’ll be remembered mostly for losing. The Sonics are 19-62.
Payton, who played most of his career in Seattle, showed up for the first time this season, specifically to show his support for the team.
“The simple fact is we want to try and save the team. It’s not gone yet,” Payton said. “Everybody has to try and buckle down in the next couple months and see what can happen. It’s not looking good, as people are saying, but you always want to try.”
Payton left his seat near the court about halfway through the fourth quarter and missed Seattle’s finishing charge that was capped by Durant’s break-away layup with 14 seconds left and Jason Kidd’s subsequent missed 3-pointer that could have sent the game to overtime.
“This was the loudest crowd I’ve heard here in a long time,” said Dallas coach Avery Johnson, who broke into the league with the Sonics. “It was like Payton and (Shawn) Kemp were out there playing.”
Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 32 points and Seattle native Jason Terry added 25.
Nowitzki’s second 3-pointer of the fourth quarter gave Dallas an 91-88 lead and Terry hit consecutive baskets to push the lead to six.
Collison answered with a three-point play for Seattle and Durant saved a jump ball from going out of bounds, diving on the floor and getting a timeout. Johan Petro then hit a 15-footer and after Eddie Jones missed an open 3, Durant swished a 15-foot fadeaway to give Seattle a 96-95 lead with 41 seconds left.
Terry then missed a 3-pointer and Durant broke free for the layup. After Kidd’s miss, Collison hit one free throw to cinch the victory.
“That’s the first thing I thought when the crowd was going nuts and Kevin went in for that layup. I felt, ‘It’d be a shame if this was it,”’ Collison said.
“Hopefully, this night is meaningless. Hopefully, we will be back.”
Chants of “Save our Sonics” and signs chastising state government officials were also prevalent. … Dallas F Jerry Stackhouse was inactive with a sore groin, but Johnson said Stackhouse will practice on Tuesday and play in Dallas’ regular season finale Wednesday against New Orleans.