Kathy Goodman: Sparks pull through in a must-win game in Seattle
Let’s face it -- we have lost a lot of games this season. More games than I thought we would. More games than we should have. But Wednesday night's game against the Seattle Storm was the first game this season that I would have called a “must win.” There were a lot of games I wanted to win (well, I wanted to win every game); there were a lot games we should have won; there were a lot of games that we could have won. But it's the playoffs, and we don’t have home court advantage. So when we’re home, we must win.
There’s a lot of talk around playoff time about everything starting at 0-0. It may be true that regular season records don’t matter, but there is still a lot of history to contend with. Between Seattle and L.A., there’s a lot of history. Seattle has lost in the first round of the playoffs for the last four seasons, twice at the hands of the Sparks. We split our regular-season games with them this summer, both of us winning the home games in the series. There’s the Lauren Jackson-Lisa Leslie rivalry carried over from the Olympics. Both teams know how to win and neither team wants to lose. Especially to each other.
People write about playoff experience. How many rings each team has; how many rings the players on each team have; how many playoff games the players have played in. Both Seattle and L.A. have their share of veterans and winners. Between the two teams, there are nine Olympians. Both teams have won WNBA championships and both rosters are riddled with WNBA champs, All-Stars and NCAA champions. When Tina Thompson would not give up on a basket in the fourth quarter, powering her way to the hoop, and finally flinging up an improbable shot that fell through the net as she fell on the photographers on the baseline, I turned to the person I was sitting with and said, “You can tell she has four rings.” It was playoff basketball and there was only one acceptable outcome.
Neither team played especially well Wednesday night. Both teams shot close to a pretty dismal 36% from the floor and were plagued by turnovers. Seattle started abysmally slow, as L.A. played lockdown defense, holding the Storm to just six points in the first quarter. The Storm returned the favor in the second quarter, when they went on a 10-2 run over the first five minutes, and ultimately cut the Sparks’ 15-point lead at the end of the first quarter to a six point lead in the half. Bad second quarter for the Sparks usually means a decent third, but we just barely held our own, as Seattle shaved another point off our lead.
This was a must-win. We had already seen Atlanta let a double-digit lead slip away in the game played just before ours. But Atlanta was in its second season and L.A. had been here before. It might have been a little scary to watch Seattle get within third at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth, but as it turned out, that was as close to a lead as the Storm was going to get. Twelve of L.A.'s 16 fourth-quarter points were scored by Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson. The 13-year veterans, with six rings between them, knew it was a must-win and knew what they had to do to ensure it happened.
Now we have to finish it up in Seattle on Friday.
Related: Sparks 70, Seattle, 63
-- Kathy Goodman
Goodman is co-owner of the Sparks.
Photo: Sparks' Lisa Leslie. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press