Sparks: Another one-point game
For the third time in our very young season, the Sparks faced the Phoenix Mercury, this time finally on our home court at Staples Center. And for the third time, it was a game decided in the last 15 seconds by a single point. This time, however, streamers and confetti rained down from the rafters on our players because the one point lead belonged to the Sparks.
The game started slow and sloppy. We came out on our home floor and committed three straight turnovers. This was not the revenge I was looking for. We have a tradition at Sparks games of standing until we score, and I just thought, “I really don’t want to stay standing through an early timeout.” But Kristi Toliver got things started for the Sparks with a three-point shot, and then the game began. We had dug a bit of hole for ourselves, but finally pulled ahead with two minutes left in the period, and though the Mercury fought back, a pair of threes by Betty Lennox and Toliver in the last 30 seconds put the Sparks up by five.
I was not complacent, though. Five points against the Mercury is 20 seconds' worth of work for them. Although we had done an excellent job containing Diana Taurasi — her only two points in the first quarter were on free throws — that always makes me nervous. Because Diana will get hers.
The beginning of the second quarter, though, picked up where we had left off. All of our players were hitting. In the first 2 1/2 minutes of the quarter, four of our five players scored and our lead blossomed to 12. I was still not ready to be too excited. Phoenix went to work and, for the next 7 1/2 minutes, methodically whittled our lead down to one by halftime. I was afraid to have too much hope about the outcome.
The third quarter rewarded me for my cautious nature. We started strong, but then Phoenix put on a shooting clinic, scoring 13 points in a little over two minutes, including three three-pointers in a row by Taurasi and Tangela Smith, and suddenly we were down by 11 points. I thought the scoreboard must be wrong. We did not lose our composure, though, and fought back hard to bring the score within two again, but a last-second turnover meant we ended the quarter down five as Smith hit her third three-point shot of the quarter at the buzzer.
So we entered the fourth quarter down by five. I wasn’t sure I had enough left in me to watch 10 more minutes. It is hard to put into words how much I wanted to win this game. I thought both of our last two games against Phoenix were winnable and I did not want to see another one slip away. Fortunately, no one consulted me as to whether they were going to continue and instead, the horn just sounded and the last quarter began whether I wanted it or not.
But the real story of the fourth quarter — and the game — was the last minute. I heard our public address announcer say, “One minute left in the game!” and then Temeka Johnson hits a three-pointer to put the Mercury up by five. Toliver answers with a jumper and one, putting the Sparks within two with 42 seconds left. The Sparks get the ball back and call a timeout with 22 seconds left. They draw up a play that leaves Noelle Quinn all alone in the weak-side corner and Tina Thompson gets her the ball. Her wide-open three arcs up beautifully and through the net! Sparks up by one with 18.3 seconds left. The Mercury takes a timeout. Its play out of the timeout breaks down, but Johnson sees a lane and drives to the basket, scoring with 8.8 seconds left, putting the Mercury up by one. “I cannot watch this happen again,” I thought to myself. We simply could not lose for a third time to the Mercury by one point in the last 10 seconds of the game. I didn’t want to watch. After our timeout, Thompson finds Candace Parker, who splits a double team and drives hard to the hoop, where she lays it in with 3.4 seconds left on the clock. The arena erupted! But the Mercury had one last play. It looked very similar to the last play they used to beat us in the season opener. Sure enough, the ball went in to an open Penny Taylor, but this time, there was no foul. Just great collapsing defense and DeLisha Milton-Jones got her hands on the ball, keeping Taylor from getting her shot off. And the final horn sounds. And “I Love L.A.” comes out of the speakers. And streamers fall from the ceiling.
This was my kind of last-second one-point game!
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the L.A. Sparks