Kathy Goodman: Happy Birthday, Coach
People impose patterns on the universe. We look for meaning in all kinds of chance occurrences. Especially sports fans, who talk only half-jokingly about their “lucky shirt” or “winning shoes.” So, it seemed meaningful that on Coach Jennifer Gillom’s birthday, we would be playing her former team, the Minnesota Lynx. That must mean we would have to win, right? She deserved that as a birthday present for her first season in LA. And, so it was to be, with the Sparks getting our third win of the season, 88-84 over Minnesota.
It didn’t start out as much of a birthday party, though. The Sparks definitely came out more focused today than in their game Friday night against Seattle. They had the perfect play from the tip, with Candace Parker getting it to Noelle Quinn and streaking past her to get the ball back for an easy layup. But the rest of the quarter was a back-and-forth affair. Just as we got some momentum, the Lynx answered, and although we led throughout, we ended the first quarter up by only two.
The second quarter was looking all right — again, we played well, but we couldn’t pull away, never leading by more than four. Then with about three minutes left in the half, Parker went up for a rebound and when she came back down, one arm was dangling and she was using her other hand to tell the bench she was done for the game. She ran straight from the court to the locker room, having dislocated her shoulder — the same injury that has plagued her since college.
I won’t lie — I did not like our chances without Parker. She had been playing hard, and in her 17 minutes in the game, she had 12 points, seven rebounds and a block. If we were just hanging in there with her on the floor, I was worried about what would happen without her. I hadn’t counted on Marie Ferdinand-Harris. In Ferdinand-Harrris' five minutes of playing time in the second quarter, she scored a point a minute. She kept up that pace for the rest of her playing time in the game.
After the half, they had transported Parker to the hospital for further evaluation and the team knew it was on them to help the coach celebrate her birthday in style. Delisha Milton-Jones, who had struggled a little in the first half, scoring most of her seven points from the free-throw line, picked up the weight and scored 11 points in the third quarter, going four for seven. Ticha Penicheiro’s veteran leadership showed up in her four assists in the period, and the team as a whole shot 64% from the floor. Still, the Lynx were having none of it. They outrebounded us, especially on the offensive boards and kept the game within five.
The fourth quarter was all about Ferdinand-Harris. We started the last 10 minutes pushing our lead to seven, but Lindsay Whalen and Charde Houston (who was huge off the bench for Minnesota) were not ready to go home. They put together an 8-2 run, which put the Lynx within one.
With 3:44 left in the game, the Lynx had tied the game, and now it was about mental toughness for the Sparks. We had lost our go-to offense in Parker, and we needed to gather ourselves together to fight through the last three minutes of the game. With 2:46 left, Houston came up with a huge three-pointer for Minnesota, giving them the three-point lead. But Ferdinand-Harris was just about to get started. She came back down the court and with back to back jumpers, put the Sparks up by one again.
When the Lynx took the lead on a Seimone Augustus' bank shot, Ferdinand-Harris sank two clutch free throws with just under 30 seconds to put the Sparks back up again. After a strong defensive stand by the Sparks, the Lynx had to start fouling and though Ferdinand-Harris' first free throw danced around the rim, it dropped through, and the second free throw put the Sparks up by three with 17 seconds left in the game.
One final defensive stand by the Sparks forced the Lynx to send Penicheiro to the line for the final points of the game, putting the score out of reach for the Lynx. In the last 10 minutes of the game, Ferdinand-Harris had scored 12 points for the Sparks, shooting 100% from the field and the line, and we came away with a great birthday celebration for Coach Gillom!