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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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April 6, 2008 11:51 PM

Sonics Win! Sonics Win!

Posted by Rod Mar

It felt just like 1995.

Head coach George Karl roamed the sidelines of KeyArena,, his signature hand-painted tie bearing the likeness of the Space Needle. As the crowd roared "GO! SONICS!", Karl did his best to will his team to pull out another must-win game in the playoff hunt.

Except this is 2008, and Karl is coaching the Denver Nuggets, the team in the playoff hunt.

The Seattle crowd made noise like it hadn't all season, and the Sonics managed to pull out a double-overtime win for only their 18th victory against 59 (!) losses.

I was there working on a project and not really shooting game action, but when the game got tight I called the office and we agreed that if the Sonics won we would make the game our sports cover for the next day.

Pregame at any NBA game has become a tired and overdone production, designed to fire up the fans for the game. The league would be wise to give its fans a little more credit — no matter how much green smoke you surround a mascot with, the fans still know their team has a record of 17-59. Trust me on that.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 17mm, ISO 1000, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

I worked on my project for most of the game (details to come soon), and started shooting action with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Denver's Anthony Carter leapt high to save this errant pass from sailing out-of-bounds as official Violet Palmer watches:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

Denver's Marcus Canby leaned in to beat the shot clock over Seattle's Nick Collison:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

Collison was then the recipient of an arm-bar courtesy of Denver badass Kenyon Martin:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

I was shooting from the corner of the court where the Nuggets were shooting, which was also the end where the Sonics bench was located. I kept getting blocked by players while shooting on the bench side of the basket, so I moved to the opposite side to get an unencumbered view.

Conventional wisdom (there's wisdom in sports photography?) says to be shooting at the end where the team you're covering is shooting. But I wasn't necessarily looking for an action photo of the Sonics. If they managed to win this game, it would be emotional for them for a number of reasons, one being they'd beaten the Sonics in their last two meetings by 42 and 52 points, respectively.

(Hard to use any form of the word "respect" when talking about NBA games being decided by more than 40 points...)

So, I wanted to be on the end of the court where the Sonics bench was. If they scored a big bucket near the end, I was sure the Nuggets would call a timeout (in the NBA, every basket near the end of a close game is followed by a timeout, or so it seems). If they did score, I was hoping they'd turn around towards their bench to celebrate and I'd be in good position.

Sure enough, with 5.1 seconds left in regulation, Seattle's Kevin Durant nailed a three-pointer to tie the game. And as I had anticipated, Denver called timeout, allowing Durant to turn around and celebrate near midcourt:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 148mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 148mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

The game went to overtime, and Durant scored on another dramatic shot, this one with 6.7 seconds left in overtime. By the way, this is one of the rare instances where it's an easier photo to make manual focusing than autofocusing. When using autofocus, you have to keep the part of the frame you want focused in the center of the frame. When you're trying to compose, as I was here, manual focus lets you control what and where is in focus. All that said, I did autofocus this, which is why the defenders are sharp and Durant is not:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 80mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

Again, Denver called timeout and he turned to celebrate, this time with fellow rookie Jeff Green nearby. Even though this photo doesn't have the impact of the others, it was important because both rookies had career high games, and if that was going to be the gist of the game story, I wanted my editors to have options:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 118mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

When it appeared that the Sonics would wrap up the win in the second overtime, I moved back to the other side of the basket nearer the Seattle bench. I used a wide-angle lens to shoot players, including Damien Wilkins, here, as they ran onto the court.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 2000, 1/640 sec.,f2.8)

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