Kathy Goodman: You gotta have heart
The Sparks came off a big win on Thursday night against San Antonio right into their fourth match-up against the best team in the league, the Seattle Storm. It is hard to argue with the level of basketball Seattle is playing. They have the best record in the league because they have earned it — playing consistently good team ball with a core that has been together for a couple of seasons and some great new additions this year. Going into the game, I still felt that if we played our best basketball and they made some mistakes, we could have things go our way. Although we did not continue our win streak — Seattle beat us 75-62 — I left the game feeling that we really competed hard. Seattle just didn’t make enough mistakes.
Undeniably, we started terribly. We could not get the ball in the basket, and Sparks fans had to stand for a very long time in the first quarter. Coach Jennifer Gillom finally called a timeout after three scoreless minutes for the Sparks, while we watched Seattle go up 11-0. It still took another minute after that for the Sparks to make the scoreboard with Tina Thompson free throws, and it wasn’t until about halfway through the quarter that the Sparks scored their first field goal of the game. By the end of the quarter, Seattle was up 27-16, and we knew we had some work to do.
The second quarter was a little bit of a different story. The Sparks settled down and played some hard-nosed defense. We had let Lauren Jackson shoot five for five in the first quarter, but she was held scoreless in the second. In fact, the entire Seattle starting five was held scoreless. Our scoring came mostly from Kristi Toliver, but we out-rebounded Seattle and led them 8-2 in second chance points, as Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton pulled down 3 offensive rebounds. Even though at one point we let the Storm lead balloon to 16, by halftime we had shaved it back down to 10.
Our first half was better than the score indicated. We had half as many assists as Seattle but also fewer turnovers. We were one rebound short of Seattle’s total but had out-boarded them on the offensive end. Our shots just were not falling. Toliver was leading all our scorers with 11 from the bench, and Noelle Quinn, who had been huge for us on the offensive end since Candace went down, was held scoreless. If we had some luck, and Seattle was tired, we might be able to make some headway in the second half.
As the third quarter opened, Sparks fans were all wondering the same thing: Would we be able to cut into the lead, or would we make a fourth-quarter comeback impossible? Right out of halftime, Lauren Jackson shot a three-pointer, extending their lead back up to 13, but that was as far ahead of us as we would let Seattle get. We spent the quarter chipping away at their lead, and our field goal percentage was way up. We were a perfect three for three from behind the arc, including one from Quinn — her sole points in the game. Our team played with heart and kept our fans in the game. With 2:34 left in the period, we had cut Seattle’s lead to three, and the crowd was on its feet! Some free throws and quick shots, however, pushed Seattle’s lead back up to seven, leaving them leading 60-53 at the end of the third.
Last 10 minutes of basketball. We started the fourth quarter with a shot-clock violation and our first missed free throws of the game, but then we again went on a scoring run to cut Seattle’s lead to just three points. The arena was on its feet, but back-to-back three-pointers by Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright ended our celebration. Seattle’s superior depth and experience doomed us. Tina Thompson recorded her second double double in a row (11 points and 10 rebounds), Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton scored her first of the season (10 points and 10 rebounds), and Kristi Toliver led the team in scoring with 18 points, including four of six from three-point range. I knew I was supposed to be disappointed in our loss, but we had four players in double figures and out-rebounded Seattle on both ends of the floor. I just couldn’t be disappointed with the effort our team had shown against the team with the best record in the league.
We have one more game before the All-Star break. If we can show that much determination on Tuesday night against Phoenix, we will be all right.
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks