We're turning back the clock to October of 2003, when the Sonics crossed the Pacific for two season-opening games against the Clippers in Saitama, Japan. This wasn’t the NBA’s first showcase in Japan – it was actually the fourth installment of the “Japan Games,” a series first played in 1990 between the Suns and Jazz.
The 2003-04 Sonics were a team in transition. The Japan series would mark the first season the Sonics would begin without Gary Payton since 1989-90. The Glove had been dealt to the Bucks for Ray Allen the previous February. To further complicate matters, Ray Allen was dealing with an ankle injury suffered the previous week in practice. Tests revealed a bone chip and debris; Allen stayed behind to have the ankle surgically repaired while the rest of the team made the trip to Japan.
Beginning the season without both their longtime cornerstone and their new All-Star was daunting. The Sonics needed someone to step up – and Rashard Lewis answered the call.
Game 1 was a slugfest. The Clippers boasted some talented players that could play physically – Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and Quentin Richardson to name a few. Down their best player, the Sonics rolled with a Flip Murray / Barry / Radmanovic / Lewis / Calvin Booth starting lineup. Also of note – Luke Ridnour made his NBA debut in this game, scoring 8 points in 19 minutes off the bench. Flip Murray (24 points) and Rashard Lewis (25 points) did the heavy lifting on offense, while the Sonics defense gave Richardson a tough day from the field. Final score: Sonics 109, Clippers 100.
Game 2 – one of the most memorable regular-season games in Sonics history. The Rashard Lewis show. A cool 50 burger. Rashard came out firing, hitting shots from all over the floor. Sweet Lew nailed 18 of his 25 takes from the floor, easily setting a career high with 50 points. Asked after the game about his performance, Lewis kept it humble: "I wasn't really thinking about the points but more about by how much we were up." The Sonics cruised in this one, 124-105. Elton Brand sitting for the Clippers didn’t hurt.
The NBA has only been back to Japan once for regular season games in the time since since 2003. Every time they return, there’s some 50-point-sized shoes to fill. How fitting would it be for Seattle to eventually return for another Japan Series and give us another performance to remember? Sign us up.