Kathy Goodman: almost a miracle
I know I am supposed to be optimistic before every game, but I have to admit I did not have high hopes Saturday night against the Seattle Storm. We played Friday night in Phoenix, and then arrived back in L.A. about noon and the team had to find its way to Carson to play a back-to-back against the league’s hottest team, in a venue they had never seen, outside. So, I wasn’t going to hang a lot on the outcome of this one.
I missed the game Friday night because I was participating in my high school’s graduation ceremony. (There are very few reasons I miss a Sparks game, but sending off my seniors was one of those reasons.) As a result, I got text message updates from my business partner Carla Christofferson, and was hanging on to the very end as I got the final crushing news that, just like the season opener, we had again lost to Phoenix by one point in the last 20 seconds of the game. Another loss that could have been a win. And then the team was going to come home to face Seattle the next night.
There was a lot of anxiety heading into Saturday’s game. I am a worrier, and the Sunset Showdown gave me plenty of ammunition. Since we were playing outside for the first time, I was mostly focused on the weather. I was worried it would be too cold or too wet. I was worried it would be windy. As all Angelenos know, it may be 110 in the Valley at noon, but 60 at the beach by the time the sun goes down. When the day dawned warm and dry, with less June gloom than usual, my anxiety eased a bit. When I got to the Home Depot Center and saw our floor laid down in that intimate setting, with the lights set up and the scoreboards installed, I started feeling some excitement. When I saw our players run out on the floor, I was definitely ready for the game to start!
But then I remembered what my team had been through in the last 24 hours: a heartbreaker of a loss, a plane flight and an unfamiliar venue. “This would take a miracle,” I thought as I contemplated whether we would win.
By the end of the first quarter, I was not encouraged. We came out flat, shot under 30%, had five turnovers and one assist, and were down by 13. I decided I needed a hot dog to get through the rest of the half. By the time I got back into the arena, I was hoping that the Sparks had rallied in my absence, but we were still facing that same 13-point deficit. With about four minutes left in the half, though, we went on a 7-0 run and by halftime we had chipped away at Seattle’s lead to bring it into single digits.
At the start of the third quarter, I was hoping we would come out strong, and started thinking maybe we could pull off a miracle. Instead, Seattle started on a 6-0 run and we had to call a timeout. The team settled down a bit, but couldn’t do much more than trade baskets with Seattle, and then started to lose control of the game. In the last two minutes of the quarter, four of the five Storm players on the floor scored (LeCoe Willingham had to settle for an assist), while Candace Parker scored everything for the Sparks. We ended the third quarter having erased all the work of the second, and then some. Down by 16 with only 10 minutes of basketball left.
I was getting cold and discouraged. The fourth quarter was going to be brutal for our team, having played the night before. But the Sparks perked me up right from the beginning of the end. Delisha Milton-Jones scored a runner on an assist from Betty Lennox and then Lennox hit our first three-pointer of the game. We started to gain a little momentum. The next seven minutes were scrappy and pushy and aggressive basketball, and the Sparks went on a 17-4 run. I looked up at the scoreboard and it was a three-point game! Could we pull off this miracle? Sue Bird answered with a jumper, but Tina Thompson came storming back with a turnaround jump shot off a Milton-Jones assist and drew the foul. The arena went crazy (and I think I jumped around like a fool on the Fox Prime Ticket broadcast.) With 1:41 left in the game, down by only three, I thought we just might just pull this off.
The last minute and a half was tough to watch. Those three points were the closest we came. Bird hit a huge three and Parker, who had knocked knees with a Storm player earlier in the quarter, and seemed to still be feeling it. We finally resorted to fouling, and although Tanisha Wright had difficulty getting her free throws to fall, Bird and Lauren Jackson made sure theirs counted.
The horn sounded and we had almost had a miracle ending, but it was not to be. Sparks fell short by four points. Now we have a chance to get revenge on Phoenix on our home court, Staples Center, on Tuesday night. There will no excuses in that game -- I am expecting to win.
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks