Kathy Goodman: A great 32-minute game
Too bad basketball games last 40 minutes. Because the Sparks had a great game against the Seattle Storm tonight … if it had ended after 32 minutes. Actually, when I really think about the game, I really only liked the third quarter. That was an excellent 10 minutes of Sparks basketball. The first quarter was nice, but I loved the third quarter. Maybe the game should have ended then. But basketball is a 40-minute game. And it did not end well for the Sparks on Sunday night.
To be honest, Sunday night’s game was what I thought Saturday’s season opener was going to look like. We had too many turnovers and lapses in offense. We missed rebounds and settled for jumpers instead of driving to the basket. All things that happen early in the season, as a team is learning new offensive and defensive schemes, learning to play with each other. If I hadn’t seen the game Saturday, I might not have been so disappointed in our loss Sunday night. Saturday against Phoenix, we had 13 turnovers. Sunday night against Seattle, we had 10 in the first half (ending the game with 21.)
Key Arena is definitely hostile territory for the Sparks. The crowd there is loud and passionate. And they seem to resent that we knocked them out of the playoffs for the last three seasons. To make matters worse for us, this was their home opener. The last WNBA game in that building was a Sparks victory, ending Seattle’s 2009 season. The desire for revenge apparently had been simmering all winter and spring. The Storm came out swinging, and as if following a script, Lauren Jackson scored the first points in the game off a Sue Bird assist. The Storm owned the first five minutes and the Sparks owned the second five, ending the quarter with the Sparks ahead by 2.
The second quarter started absurdly fast. As many points were scored in the first four minutes of the second quarter as were scored in the entire first quarter. The Sparks played hard the first two minutes, running up a seven-point lead, but then the Storm took over, going on a 12-2 run to lead by three, and then in the last minute and a half of the quarter went on a 7-0 run, to go into the locker room at the half up by seven.
We had been out-rebounded in the first half (almost doubled up), and the Storm was killing us in the paint. We had turned over the ball 10 times to their four turnovers. The worst part was that the Storm was only shooting 28.9% in the first half and was still beating us. The games against the Storm are always physical, and this one was no exception, except we were definitely the ones getting pushed around.
When the Sparks came out for the second half, they had a hole to climb out of. I thought if they could just bear down and play some hardnosed defense and start bodying up in the paint, we might be able to make a game of it. The team apparently read my mind.
The Storm fans stand at the beginning of the second half until their team scores. They were standing for a very long time. For the first three minutes of the half, the Storm’s play-by-play read “turnover, foul, foul, blocked shot.” By the time the Storm called a timeout after four minutes of the half had elapsed, the fans were still standing and the Sparks had pulled ahead by two. The Storm players finally got their feet under them again, and the game seesawed back and forth, but a three-pointer by Betty Lennox, two backdoor layups by Tina Thompson, a charge taken by Lennox and a jumper by Noelle Quinn, all in the last 2 1/2 minutes, gave the Sparks a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
I was filled with exhilaration by our play in the third quarter. We had shot almost 53% from the field and 40% from three-point range. We had out-rebounded the Storm and had outscored them 12-4 in the paint. Why couldn’t the game have just ended at the end of the third quarter? But we had 10 more minutes of basketball to play.
For the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, we picked up where we left off in the third. Hustled after loose balls, forced some turnovers, played good defense. The game stayed tight, and I wasn’t sure I could take another down-to-the-wire, wait-for-the-last-shot game. In retrospect, I would have preferred that. Tina Thompson made a layup with eight minutes left in the game, putting us up by three, and it was like we thought the game was over. For the next six minutes, we scored two points and seemed to be standing by watching the Storm rack up 20 points. They could not miss, and we couldn’t hold onto the ball. Maybe it was last night’s late flight into Seattle. Maybe it was playing a back-to-back on opening weekend. Whatever it was, we let the game go, and the Storm won 81-67. If basketball was a 32-minute game, it would have been a great game. Too bad the game lasts 40 minutes.
-- Kathy Goodman, L.A. Sparks co-owner
Photo: Tina Thompson is double-teammed by Seattle Storms' Sue Bird (10) and Camille Little (20) on Sunda in Seattle. Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press.