Kathy Goodman: Eight is enough
We are in a playoff crunch now. Coming into Wednesday night’s game against the Chicago Sky, the L.A. Sparks were one game out of playoff contention, and with only nine games left, every game was a must win. We had quite a challenge, however, because in addition to our almost season-long handicap of playing with only nine players, we also would be without Tina Thompson for the game. We dressed eight, and they played with passion, unity and purpose and came out with the 82-77 win, a big win that put us right back in the playoff hunt (half a game behind Minnesota and facing Tulsa on Friday night).
The game began auspiciously when Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, in her first WNBA start, out-jumped Sylvia Fowles to open with a Sparks possession. Then when we missed our first five shots of the game, I started thinking about Tina Thompson’s 15 points per game we would be missing. The Sparks, who haven’t played in front of a home crowd in 15 days, settled down a bit and got to work. By the end of the first quarter, the Sparks had built up a seven-point lead, had nine assists and not a single turnover, and I thought this might turn out well for us. Lindsay was making up for the lack of size in the paint, pulling down six rebounds (compared with Fowles’ five), and DeLisha Milton-Jones (nine points) and Marie Ferdinand-Harris (eight points) were carrying the scoring load.
Forty minutes of professional basketball add up to a long game for eight players. The first quarter was played at a pretty quick pace, and I was glad we had a lead because, at the pace we were playing, we weren’t going to have the depth to make up a big deficit late in the game. Second quarter was a little slower, and the Sky opened with a 6-0 run in the first minute and a half to cut our lead to one. The Sparks fought back to push the lead to 10, and although the Sky went on another run to end the quarter, the Sparks still went into halftime with a four-point lead.
Looking at the box score at the half, I had nothing to complain about. We had 13 assists and only four turnovers. Wisdom-Hylton already had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Milton-Jones had scored 11. We had scored 12 points off Sky turnovers and held Fowles to just seven first-half points. I was now downright eager to see the second half.
The Sparks held their own for most of the third quarter, but the Sky, which is fighting for its own playoff spot in the East, was not about to give up. Although we pushed the lead back up to eight, by the end of the third quarter, the Sky had briefly taken the lead, and only a last-second block by Lindsay kept the Sparks ahead when the horn sounded to end the quarter.
For the last 10 minutes of basketball, the Sparks showed determination. Starting the quarter with a one-point lead, it was Kristi Toliver’s turn to go to work. Taking over where Ferdinand-Harris had left off, Kristi scored 12 of her 17 points in the fourth. Ticha Penicheiro dished out a final four assists to set a new franchise record of 15 assists in the game (breaking a record held by Penny Toler for 12 years.)
Wisdom-Hylton and Milton-Jones continued to play strong. The Sky got within one in the waning minutes of the game, but the Sparks never let them get ahead, knowing, as we all did, that we couldn’t let this game go to overtime. Instead, Kristi, DeLisha and Ticha hit their free throws in the stretch and got the win. I have had the advantage of seeing our team come together over the last two weeks on the road. It was great to have them display their newfound confidence and teamwork in front of the home crowd now. It will be an exciting run to the end — with Ticha breaking assist records, Tina Thompson poised to break Lisa Leslie’s record to become the all-time high scorer in WNBA history and our retiring Lisa’s jersey next week at Staples Center.
Eight was definitely enough Wednesday night, but with Tina back for Friday’s game and, hopefully, Betty Lennox rehabbing quickly enough to get back in the lineup before the end of the regular season, I will be happy to see what we can do with nine or 10.
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks