Kathy Goodman: Camp Day
Have you ever wondered how loud 12,000 kids could be if you put them in an arena and put a graphic of “Make Some Noise!” on the Jumbotron? If you have ever been to Staples Center on the Sparks’ “Camp Day,” you would know exactly how deafening it is. The Stats crew always offers me earplugs before the game — they know exactly how loud it will get in there — but I always decline.
One of the joys of co-owning the Sparks is seeing kids having the time of their lives in one of the most iconic sports arenas in the country, cheering on the best women athletes in the world. “That’s the future,” I think.
These are kids who will have seen Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker, Becky Hammon and Sophia Young, all play basketball and never imagine there was anything “progressive” or “cutting edge” or “ground-breaking” about it. They were just there cheering on a basketball game with their friends from camp.
We were hoping for a happier homecoming. After being gone for a month, it may have seemed to the team that Staples was just another away arena; it had been so long since we had played there. But the very vocal crowd was definitely pro-L.A. for a change, and we had a lot of pieces in place.
Lisa Leslie was finally cleared to play after recovering from her knee injury, and she made her impact felt — scoring 13 points and recording two blocks and three assists in 23 minutes. Candace was Candace — another double-double, shooting five of seven from the field and blocking three shots. Noelle Quinn clearly enjoyed being back home, shooting 60% from the field, grabbing five boards, dishing four assists with no turnovers and scoring 13 points.
But it wasn’t enough. San Antonio killed us from outside the arc — shooting a better three-point percentage than field goal percentage — and at the end Hammon seemed to make every basket she threw up.
The Sparks do seem to have broken their third-quarter curse. Unfortunately, they have replaced it with a second-quarter lapse. The first three quarters of this game were an almost exact replica of the Sacramento game. We started strong, up by as many as five points in the first quarter. Hammon was scoreless (attempting only one shot in the quarter), while Delisha Milton-Jones shot three of four. We had more rebounds, fewer turnovers and more free throws than San Antonio in the first quarter. It was a little comforting. But then the second quarter.
Just as in Sacramento, we couldn’t get going in the second, and we couldn’t seem to stop the Silver Stars. Hammon scored eight; we had six turnovers to their two, and our two-point first-quarter lead had turned into a four-point deficit at the end of the second 10 minutes. It wasn’t time to panic, but it’s always nicer to go into the locker room holding onto a lead we had established. Especially because the third quarter is often scary at a Sparks game. I was thinking about the third quarter at Sacramento, when we had played so well, and I was trying to send those thoughts into the locker room telepathically.
Maybe some of it got through. We got back to first-quarter basketball. We held Hammon again to just two points, and held onto the ball, committing just two turnovers to their five. Noelle Quinn really came alive, shooting three of four (including a three-pointer), scoring seven. We erased the first-half deficit and ended the quarter up by three, and then there were only 10 minutes left in the game.
I had exactly the same thought as I had had at the Sacramento game: which team was going to play in the fourth quarter — the first-quarter Sparks or the second-quarter Sparks. In Sacramento last Saturday, it had been the first-quarter Sparks. This afternoon, it was the second-quarter Sparks who finished up the game. We lost track of Hammon, who doubled her first three quarters of scoring in the last 10 minutes. San Antonio shot almost 54% in the fourth quarter, and we struggled to make a third of our shots. We stayed close, but in the end, when it came down to hoping Hammon would miss free throws to give us a chance, well, let’s just say she doesn’t really miss free throws that often. (While her team as a whole shot 53% from the line, she was a perfect six of six.)
So, about 12,000 kids came to Staples Center today to eat hot dogs, candy and popcorn, scream themselves hoarse and watch some of the greatest athletes in the world. In all of that, they were not disappointed. But they will have to come back Thursday night if they want another chance to see a Sparks victory.
-- Kathy Goodman