Kathy Goodman: The win that almost was
I felt pretty good at the start of the game Friday night. OK, I knew Candace Parker was out for the season to finally get her dislocated shoulder repaired, but I looked at our roster, and it still looked pretty talented to me. If they played together, we could do pretty well. And the first half made me a believer. In fact, the whole game looked really good, looked like a winning game, except for six crucial minutes. Erase those six minutes at the end of the third quarter and we looked good; we looked like winners. But those six minutes counted and we went down for another loss, this time to the Connecticut Sun, 78-75.
In the first two minutes of the game, we had a milestone to celebrate: Tina Thompson, the last of the original WNBA players from 1997, scored point No. 6,000. She is only the second player in WNBA history to reach that milestone and the second Sparks player to do so -- Lisa Leslie was the first.
We played well throughout the first half, shooting better than 50% from the field, forcing nine turnovers, with twice as many assists as turnovers. Our one weakness in the first half was rebounding, getting beaten 24-15, and we were especially weak on the offensive end, getting only one offensive rebound to Connecticut’s seven. I wasn’t worried, though. We were moving the ball well (Ticha Penicheiro and Noelle Quinn each had four assists in the half) and we were capitalizing on their mistakes, scoring 10 points off their nine turnovers. I felt like my optimism was being rewarded.
At the beginning of the second half, we were up by seven points and we came out shooting. We made four three-pointers and a two-point jumper in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the third quarter and just like that, we were leading by 16 points. I was feeling really good about our chances then. But the next six minutes killed us. We did not score another point and Connecticut could not miss. They went on a 20-0 run that made our lead evaporate. If not for a buzzer-beating three-point shot by Marie Ferdinand-Harris to end the quarter, the Sun would have ended the quarter up by four. It was hard to believe that we were starting the fourth quarter down by one, when 6 1/2 minutes before we had been up by 16.
But we still had 10 more minutes of basketball. We were only down by one and we had played incredible team basketball in the first half. If we could get back to that, and erase whatever we were doing (or not doing) in the third quarter, this game was winnable.
We did not start the fourth quarter strong. Tan White and Sandrine Gruda made back to back shots that put the Sun up by 5 in the first minute and a half. Then, we got together and played some hard-nosed defense and forced some turnovers to pull ahead by one. Connecticut went through a brief slump, allowing us some steals, but suddenly we couldn’t find the basket and all those turnovers went unrewarded. With less than a minute left in the game, and down by three points, we ran a great play that left Ferdinand-Harris open alone outside the arc, but the ball danced on the rim and didn’t fall. Connecticut couldn’t convert either and then Thompson found herself outside the arc, ready to shoot the three, but the foul on her by Asjha Jones was called a non-shooting foul and then we only had 5.8 seconds to make something happen. Down by three, we got the ball into Marie, who shot a huge lunging desperation shot that improbably banked into the basket. The scoreboard showed it as a three, but the ref signaled a two, and after review, it was scored as a two-point shot. We just couldn’t get a break. After a foul on White, who made both her free throws, the last 0.8 seconds wasn’t enough for any more heroics. The game was over and we had lost by three.
I just can’t be too down, though. Phoenix lost tonight. Tulsa lost tonight. We’re still just one win out of third place in the West, and two wins out of second. We’ll get there.
--Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the L.A. Sparks
Photo: Connecticut's Anete Jekabsone-Zogota collides with the Sparks' Noelle Quinn as they go after a loose ball during the first half on Friday night. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press