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Kathy Goodman: One step forward, one step back

July 17, 2010 |  8:33 am

The Sparks had a good plan going into our game against the Chicago Sky on Friday night.  We knew we were facing a serious inside presence with Sylvia Fowles, recently named Most Valuable Player in the WNBA All-Star Game and the very close No. 2 draft pick behind Candace Parker; the only woman to be charged with a goal-tending penalty.

With Lisa Leslie retired and Parker sidelined with her shoulder repair, we have been a little less dominant in the paint than in seasons past. Therefore, we needed a plan to neutralize Big Syl’s 19 points if we wanted a chance to get the win.  By the end of our game, we had held her to just 10 points and only eight shot attempts for the game.  Unfortunately, we let the Sky's three-point shooters loose, and we fell to the Sky, 68-80.

We’re in the middle of a three-game road trip before returning home for a single game on Tuesday and heading back out on the road again for another 10-day East Coast swing.  We wanted to maximize our time away from home and were happy coming out of our win against Tulsa on Tuesday night, seeing the possibility of a 3-0 road swing. We knew Chicago would be a tough opponent for us.

They are in last place in the East right now, but given the dominance of the Eastern Conference this season, their record would be good enough to put them in second place in the West.  We needed to slow down Sylvia Fowles and get our outside shot to fall and we could take this one.  Last season we were the worst three-point shooting team in the league, but we had improved substantially this season, so this was not a bad bet.

The game started a little tough with a quick foul on Delisha Milton-Jones, but we were the first to score.  Fowles didn’t take long to get on the board, and by the end of the first quarter, she had 6 points on 3 of 5 shooting, a steal and a block.  We had kept the game close for the first five minutes but the Sky went on a 13-4 run for the next four minutes, including three 3-point shots to end the first quarter and we were looking at an 8-point deficit at the end of the period.  Our 3-point shot was less efficient (0-2) -- we were definitely not executing our game plan.

Things looked a bit better on the Sylvia Fowles front in the second quarter.  We held her scoreless but the Sparks were getting crushed on the boards.  In the second quarter alone, the Sky out-rebounded us 11-4 (including five offensive boards).  We shot 50% from the floor in the second, but the Sky shot 60% from beyond the three-point arc. We had slowed Sylvia down, but their outside shooting was killing ours. Part One of the game plan -- slowing down Sylvia -- was working fine, but it left Erin Thorn and Catherine Kraayeveld open to shoot at will from 3-point range (they were a combined 5 of 6.) We went into the locker room down by 13 at the half. This was not the first half we were hoping for.

We were just as successful containing Fowles in the second half -- she scored only four more points in the game.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop their 3-point shooting and we could not get our shots to fall. Noelle Quinn, who has been averaging 48% from 3-point range, didn’t attempt one 3-point shot in the game, though she did end up scoring 12 on 60% shooting. Tina Thompson, who has averaged just under 38% from three-point range, went 1 of 3.  We ended the game with three of our players in double figures (Milton-Jones with 21, Thompson with 15 and Quinn with 12), but let five of the Sky players score double figures, with Kraayeveld and  Thorn scoring a combined 7 of 9 from outside the arc (and no attempts inside).  The nine 3-point shots the Sky made to our two made the difference in the game. 

Tuesday’s win over Tulsa pushed us up in the standings, but our loss Friday night pushed us back again.  One step forward, one step back. Still in fifth, but if we get San Antonio on Sunday and Tulsa on Tuesday at Staples Center, we’re in a playoff position. One game at a time.  See you Sunday.

-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks