Kathy Goodman: For Sparks, all good things must come to an end
Riding a six-game winning streak; shooting a perfect seven of seven; having zero turnovers. These are all good things in basketball. They were all things that were true of Lisa Leslie and the Sparks ten minutes into the first quarter of our game against the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday night. But all good things must come to an end. And we certainly proved that later in the evening.
I don’t really like unbroken streaks. Because they’re just itching to be broken. It’s one thing to win three games in a row, that’s not really a “streak.” But once it gets to six, then it’s something to be nurtured and protected … and broken. So, I admit, I was nervous coming into the game. It wasn’t reassuring that we were going to be missing two starters, Kristi Harrower and Candace Parker. And Phoenix is the best in the West. But we had that streak going for us.
In the first quarter it really did look like the streak was going to remain intact. We played the best ten minutes of basketball we have played all season. We had zero turnovers and ten assists on 13 made baskets. Lisa was a perfect seven of seven from the field and was scoring at will from the paint. We left the quarter with a season high 34 points to Phoenix’s 19. If WNBA games were only ten minutes long, this would have been perfect. But games are 40 minutes long, and all good things must come to an end.
I thought if we could just keep pounding it inside, and if we kept playing decent perimeter defense on Phoenix, it should go our way, even if we couldn’t keep up the tempo of the first quarter. But we suddenly seemed to switch identities with Phoenix. Our defense broke down and Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi combined for 14 points in the quarter (compared to seven in the first.) We turned into a jump-shooting offense and our high scorers from the first quarter, Lisa and Tina (who combined for 22 points in the first) struggled for three in the second (all Tina, as Lisa was held scoreless.) Our 65% field-goal percentage from the first slumped to a dismal 25%.
Still, going into the half....
more after the jump
The beginning of the third quarter for Phoenix was the foreshadowing of what was to come: they opened with four straight lay-ups. We had the size inside, but they definitely had the speed—and let’s face it, no one can get a shot off faster than Diana Taurasi. I know I am not supposed to find anything praiseworthy or admirable in the opposing team, but the elegance and speed of Diana Taurasi’s catch and shoot will long remain in my mind as one of the most beautiful moves in basketball. When the third quarter ended and we had gone from up five to down six, even then I thought we could win it. If we could get back to our first-quarter play, even halfway, we would be there in the end.
We opened the fourth quarter with a three-point basket by Noelle and a steal and drive by Betty Lennox that ended in two made free throws, dropping their lead to one within the first 90 seconds of the quarter. But that was as close as we could get. We ended up mostly trading baskets for the quarter — once we put a mini-run together, the Mercury responded. Phoenix ran up a 10-point lead, but we fought back again, getting back within one with three minutes left in the game. But we just couldn’t get back on top. Phoenix put together another run and when they were leading by eight, the horn sounded to end the game.
We may have held Diana Taurasi to two points in the first quarter, but she was not going away that easily. By the end of the game, she had scored 20. Temeka Johnson, clearly putting on a show for her former fans, shot six of 10 for the game and had six assists. Cappie Pondexter ended with 26 points and 6 assists.
We did a lot of good things tonight. We took pretty good care of the ball, with only 12 turnovers. We played together, with Noelle Quinn and Tina Thompson each hitting a season high in assists—8 for Quinn and 7 for Thompson. In all, we had 28 assists on 32 made baskets. Lisa had 23 points, Tina had 17, Betty had 18 and Noelle had 12; against any team other than Phoenix, those look like winner’s stats.
But our winning streak ended, as they always must. There was only one thing to do now. Start a new one.
-- Kathy Goodman
Goodman is a co-owner of the Sparks.
Photo: Lisa Leslie puts up a shot as Phoenix Mercury's DeWanna Bonner defends during a game on August 27 in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press.