SEATTLE (AP)—Nate McMillan was itching to get the ball in the air. His heart began to beat faster and his anxiety grew, as did the weird feelings of being in the visitors locker room.
Three hours later Portland’s coach walked off the floor at KeyArena celebrating a victory in his return to Seattle.
Zach Randolph scored 32 points and the Trail Blazers beat the SuperSonics 116-111 on Monday night in McMillan’s first game back in the Emerald City after 19 seasons as a player and a coach.
As the final seconds ticked away, McMillan celebrated with hugs from Randolph and Ruben Patterson, capping a successful trip home for the man once referred to as “Mr. Sonic.”
“I thought they were playing this game, once the game got started, for me,” McMillan said of his players. “I couldn’t really tell in the locker room how they felt … at the end they started to celebrate for me and with me and that’s special. That means a lot.”
McMillan was greeted by a standing ovation before the game, then watched his team snap a four-game road losing streak. Portland had not won on the road since Dec. 26 at Sacramento.
McMillan said he was eager to get through Monday’s game. While most fans applauded McMillan’s return, there were a few boos and one fan behind the Blazers’ bench who displayed a cardboard sign with “Mr. Sonic” crossed out and “TRAITOR” written below in black marker.
McMillan’s contract expired with Seattle on July 1 and he agreed to a reported six-year, $30-million contract with the Blazers on July 6.
“Anytime a player or coach leaves an organization, when you come back, you want to win,” McMillan said. “It was definitely strange and as the game got closer the heart started beating faster, but it was nice to see the fans and to get the game going.”
Randolph’s outstanding play made a victory possible. He topped 30 points for only the second time this season and added nine rebounds. He capped his night by tipping in Jarrett Jack’s miss with 54 seconds left to give the Blazers a 106-99 lead.
Portland outrebounded Seattle 47-33, including 20 offensive rebounds. Portland had 29 second-chance points.
“I’d say we played for him,” Randolph said. “We played for ourselves to, but a lot of guys knew he wanted it bad. He never said anything like ‘go out there and play for me,’ but you could tell.”
Another former Sonic, Ruben Patterson, added 14 points off the bench as the Blazers’ reserves outscored Seattle’s 41-30. Juan Dixon scored 15 points and Joel Pryzbilla scored 13.
The Blazers had lost three of their last four and hadn’t won on the road since Dec. 26 at Sacramento.
“It was good to see Nate, but we were trying to win tonight,” Allen said. “There’s a lot to be said for his time here, because he did a lot of great things.
With McMillan barking orders from the visitor’s bench—a spot he never occupied before in Seattle—the Blazers took control midway through the fourth quarter.
Sebastian Telfair and Jack hounded Seattle’s guards, and the Sonics struggled to get into their offense.
Theo Ratliff made a 10-footer and Randolph followed with jumper from 21-feet giving Portland a 100-89 lead with 4:05 left.
Seattle went 4:01 without scoring, missing four shots and turning the ball over twice during that stretch. Ridnour broke the string with a jumper.
The Sonics closed within five in the final 90 seconds, but the Blazers made eight free throws in the final 40 seconds.
It was an emotional day for McMillan who’s mother, Jeanette Tyson, died a year ago Monday in North Carolina.
McMillan took the floor with about 2 minutes left in pregame warmups just as a video tribute to him was beginning, and said he was thinking of his mother.
“I wish she would have the opportunity to see me and see what’s going on right now,” he said.
McMillan received a standing ovation for the duration of the video from a not quite sold out KeyArena that included Sonics’ owner Howard Schultz. McMillan’s players stopped to watch the highlights of his 12-year playing career, his two years as an assistant and five seasons as Seattle’s head coach.
McMillan tried to arrange a trip for the Blazers to the Super Bowl in Detroit, but the league would not grant the request. “I totally understand what they’re trying to prevent,” McMillan said of the league’s decision. The Blazers play in Denver on Saturday, then don’t play again until Feb. 8 in Indiana. Both the Blazers and Seattle Seahawks are owned by Paul Allen, but McMillan said the trip was his idea. … Neither team was interested in playing defense in the first quarter. Seattle shot 52 percent and the Blazers 59. Seattle led 32-31 and there were six dunks in the quarter.