When the Washington Bullets' Dick Motta reached the East team in this year's National Basketball Association all-star game, he called Seattle's Jack Sikma "the best fundamental player on the team."
Sikma likes to do everything fundamentally. "It's more efficient," he said.
Sikma was as efficient as he ever has been Thursday night when he scored a career-high 33 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had two assists to lead the Sonics to a 114-110 victory over the Phoenix Suns in the deciding seventh game of the Western Conference final and a spot in the championship series for the second straight year.
Sikma, in his second NBA season from Illinois Wesleyan, became the Sonics' center by default when Marvin Webster went to New York as a free agent and Tom LaGarde tore up his knee early in the season.
Because he had played some center in the past and is so sound fundamentally, Sikma, a forward as a rookie, had little trouble adapting to the new position.
There is nothing flashy about Sikma's game. His best shot is the turnaround jumper. He shoots it off his tip-toes without jumping, but he squares himself to the basket well and shoots with textbook form. And because he is 6-foot-11, his shot is difficult to defend against.
Defensively, Sikma overplays his man well and is a good rebounder because he screens out his opponent and goes straight up for the ball. He is also a banger underneath and is not shy when it comes to mixingr it up. He was one of only five players in the league to get more than 1,000 rebounds this season.
Sikma also has the intelligence to know when he is doing something wrong and to figure out how to work himself out of a slump, which he did during the Phoenix series.
The Sonics had a 2-o lead in the series when the Sunsh regular center, Alvan Adams sprained his ankle. Without Adams, the Suns went on to win three straight. Sikma blames himself for many of the Sonics' problems in those games.
"I started forcing things when Adams went out," Sikma said. "They were double-teaming me and I wasn't reacting right. I started forcing shots and not passing when I should have and all sorts of bad things and it carried over to the whole team.
"I think we realized in those three games that we have to stay with our bread and butter, which is moving the ball and getting it to the open man. You can't go outside your game."
In those three games, when Sikma was outside his game, he missed 29 of 39 shots.
In the sixth game in Phoenix last Sunday, Sikma went back to basics. He made seven of 11 shots and scored 21 points as Seattle won, 106-105, to force the seventh game.
Adams returned to the lineup Thursday and Sikma gave him a rude welcoming. He made 10 of 18 shots from the field and 13 of 15 from the foul line. Not only was Sikma making his jump shots, he was driving to the basket.
The Sonics outscored the Suns, 1806, to take a 100-85 lead with 6:02 left. But Phoenix never let up and still had a chance to win, thanks in large part to uncharacteristic coachingby Wilkens. Instead of forcing the action, the Sonics decided to hold the ball to protect their 15-point lead.
They ended up not scoring a field gola the last six minutes of the game.
Phoenix kept eating away at the lead and, with 20 seconds remaingr, was down, 112-104, when Wilkens brought in reserves Joe Hassett, Wally Walker and Dennis Awtrey. It almost cost Seattle the game.
Walter Davis made a quick jumper, stoel the ball and scored again. Paul Wesphal then stole Walker's in-bound pass, scored and was fouled by Walker. That put the Sonics on top by only 112-110, with Westphal at the fould line and four seconds remaining.
Wilkens unshered his first team back into the game.
Phoenix felt its only chance was for Westphal to intentionally miss the free throw and hope for the rebound. But Sikma grabbed Westphal's deliberate miss, was fouled and ousted Phoenix with two free throws.