Kathy Goodman: A win is a win
As of game time Friday night, we had moved into third place in the West — a little bit by our own efforts (three wins in a row for the first time this season) and with a little help from others (Atlanta beating San Antonio on Thursday night.) Now we had to prove we deserved it by beating the team we had passed in the standings — the San Antonio Silver Stars.
The Silver Stars, of course, was the team that kept us out of the championship series last season. And they had ruined our homecoming at our Camp Day game after our monthlong road trip this season. For San Antonio, a win would keep them in playoff contention, tied with us again for fourth, but a loss would push them below Minnesota into fifth. A lot at stake. A big game.
We looked good to start. We made five of our first six shots, three of them for three points. San Antonio missed five of their first six. San Antonio got their legs under them as the quarter progressed, but we held them off and ended the first 10 minutes up by six. It was great to see Tina Thompson’s outside shooting touch was back. She had shot 2 of 3 from three-point range and pulled down three rebounds in the first quarter. If only the game could end now. I had gotten to the point where I was more interested in the outcome than watching the game! But there were three quarters to go.
The start of the second quarter showcased some defense. It opened with a block by Betty Lennox, a San Antonio shot-clock violation, a Delisha Milton-Jones steal. We had our own misses and shot-clock violation. Suddenly, the lid came off the baskets. San Antonio hit a couple of shots and Thompson hit another three for us and the quarter was underway. During the last three minutes of the quarter both teams were scoreless, with the exception of a pair of made free throws by Thompson. It was hard to decide whether that was great defense by both teams or ineffective offense by both. I was just happy we finally got into halftime holding on to the lead we had. Oh, the third quarter. A novel could be devoted to the Sparks’ third quarters this season. A Shakespearean tragedy. We had held the Silver Stars to 14 points in the first quarter and 13 points in the second, but they broke away from us in the third. Or rather, Sophia Young broke away from us. Young, who shot the miracle jumper with 1.3 seconds left in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals last season to give San Antonio the win and push the series to a decisive Game Three.
Of the 26 points scored by the Silver Stars in the third quarter (just one fewer than their total points in the first half), Young scored 15 and assisted on another four. Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker did their best to keep us in it, but by the end of the quarter, San Antonio was leading by four. I just couldn’t face losing this game. It was a must-win, if for no other reason than to just prove to ourselves that we could. We came out strong in the fourth. We held the Silver Stars to just two points in the first five minutes of the period, while Leslie and Parker scored nine (with two assists from Milton-Jones.) I started to get a good feeling. Maybe we had missed a ton of free throws; maybe we had committed too many turnovers; maybe we had missed too many layups earlier in the game. But maybe we would win anyway.
Then came the last four minutes. San Antonio seemed to want this win as much as I did. Thompson made one more three-pointer and then it was all San Antonio. With the exception of a pair of free throws by Milton-Jones, we did not score a point in the last four minutes. With two seconds left, the game was tied. Oh, I had flashbacks to Young’s buzzer-beater in the playoffs. But this time we had the ball. Could we get payback? That would be a great win! Parker inbounded the ball to a cutting Leslie. She turned and got the shot off in time, but it didn’t fall. We were going to overtime. The break before overtime gives you plenty of time to relive every missed free throw, every missed rebound, every turnover that led to the other team scoring, so you can think of the many ways you could have avoided overtime.
But here we were and we had five more minutes to survive. The game didn’t change tempo much in overtime. Neither team scored a field goal until the overtime period was about half over, when Noelle Quinn, who was 1-9 so far in the game, drove for a layup, adding to her two made free throws earlier in the period. Young (of course) finally found a way to score with two minutes left, cutting our lead to one, but that was going to be the end of scoring. Parker came up with a huge block on Sophia with a minute left, and then 30 seconds later, San Antonio had two chances to go ahead until Milton-Jones came up with a big rebound. And then what I had been waiting for since the end of the first quarter finally happened — we got the win. It was ugly — we turned over the ball way too many times, we had too many shot clock violations and missed free throws. We had to go to overtime. But a win is a win. Now we have to extend our streak to five.
-- Kathy Goodman
Goodman is co-owner of the Sparks.