Kathy Goodman: Defense is not enough
I walked into Key Arena on Wednesday night thinking about the Sparks’ game against the Seattle Storm last Saturday night. The Sparks had given the Storm a scare — forcing a last-minute shot to fall to keep their perfect home record alive, and now there was a part of me that wished we hadn’t played that game. Because then they wouldn’t have known that we were a different team from earlier in the season — they would not have been prepared for the team we had become. But we did play that game, and they were prepared, and the playoffs were starting Wednesday night and there was no undoing what had happened.
Key Arena was jammed with Seattle Storm fans, but I couldn’t help but notice those wearing Sparks jerseys in the crowd. It’s playoff time in the WNBA, and everyone is showing their colors. Everyone counted out the Sparks when we opened the season 3-7 and even more so when Candace Parker went down with her shoulder injury and then when Betty Lennox had knee surgery. And yet, here we are in the postseason for the 11 time in 14 seasons. It was not time to start doubting now.
There is an old saw in basketball that defense wins championships, but we all know that, at the end of the day, offense wins games. Keeping the other team from scoring points doesn’t help you unless you score some. At the end of Wednesday night’s game, our defense was not enough. We needed some offense to go with it. As a result, the Storm came away with the win in the first game of the three-game series, 79-66.
In the first round of both 2008 and 2009, we met Seattle in the playoffs as the lower-seeded team. In each of 2008 and 2009, we succeeded in eliminating them from playoff contention and moving on. In the same way that we were not the same team as we were in June, we knew Seattle this year was not the team of the past. They were undefeated at home, and we knew it would be tough to steal one in Key for Game 1 of the Conference Semi-Finals. We were right.
We did a lot of things right in the game. We had eight steals (to Seattle’s four) and limited our turnovers to 13 (same as Seattle.) We did not foul often, so none of our players were in foul trouble, and we limited Seattle to 12 free throws for the game (of which they made eight). We got almost twice as many offensive rebounds as the Storm (7-4), but at the end of the day, we couldn’t score.
In order to win a WNBA game, you pretty much need three players in double figures, and to add to the burden, in order to win a playoff WNBA game, you almost always need four players in double figures. We could play all the defense we wanted to during the game, but we only had three Sparks players scoring in double figures (Tina Thompson with 16, Marie Ferdinand-Harris with 18 and Kristi Toliver with 16.) Otherwise, our shot just wasn’t falling. The Storm had four players in double figures: Lauren Jackson (who shot of 6 of 14 for 17 points), Swin Cash (who scored almost all of her 20 points in a steal or break, or in the paint), Camille Little (scoring 11 points on 5 of 8 shooting) and Jana Vesela, who shot a perfect 4 of 4, including three from beyond the arc.
The Sparks played some great defense in this game for stretches, but once the Storm got out to an early lead, it seemed like we could never quite catch up. The 10-point deficit we ended the first quarter with was the 10 points we carried through to the second and third quarter and, although we got it down to six or seven points at various times during the game, we could never quite dig all the way out of that first-quarter 10-point ditch.
We shot just shy of 41% from the field, while the Storm shot close to 58%. We had more shot attempts than Seattle, but we just couldn’t convert. Theirs seemed to go in; ours rolled off the rim. We had more free throws and made a larger percentage of them (88.6% versus 66/7%), but the only stat that really mattered was the final score, and on that we weren’t even close — 79-66.
The good news is that the Sparks are packing up and ready to head home for the second game in the three-game series at Staples Center at noon Saturday. If we can get the Storm away from home, we may have a chance. And if we could make a few more baskets along the way, even better!
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks