Kathy Goodman on the L.A. Sparks: We control our fate
I walked into Staples Center on Tuesday night, making sure my WNBA Center Court iPhone app worked because there were three games I needed to keep track of. The Sparks game against Phoenix was the most important, of course, but the San Antonio Silver Stars were playing the Washington Mystics, and the Minnesota Lynx were playing the Seattle Storm. The Sparks were in a three-way tie for third place with Minnesota and San Antonio, and since only two of the three of us would make the playoffs, we all needed a win tonight.
Before our tip-off, the score in the San Antonio game was in: San Antonio had lost to Washington, putting us very temporarily half a game ahead of them. Minnesota tipped off half an hour before we did and were leading in the early going. I needed to stop looking at the other games and just concentrate on what we were doing. And in the first quarter, it was not a lot of good.
The game started well, with a Diana Taurasi foul leading to two made free throws by DeLisha Milton-Jones. For the next six minutes of the game, the teams went back and forth, trading baskets, but the last four minutes of the quarter were disastrous for the Sparks. Suddenly, there was a lid on our basket and Phoenix went on a 9-0 run to end the quarter, leaving us down by 10. We shot a woeful 19% for the quarter, and though we had five steals, we couldn’t convert and scored only four baskets from the field in the first.
The second quarter was the Tina Thompson quarter. Although relatively quiet in the first, she went on a scoring tear in the second 10 minutes. Making seven of nine baskets, including four of six from beyond the arc, Tina pushed the Sparks time and again closer to Phoenix. She scored 18 of the Sparks’ 25 second-quarter points. Although Phoenix grew its lead to 16 at one point, the Sparks fought back, got within four but allowed it to slip away again as the half wound down, letting the Phoenix Mercury enter halftime with a nine-point lead.
Third quarter, we played like the Sparks. We shot just under 60% and Ticha Penicheiro dished six assists in the quarter. We out-rebounded Phoenix and outscored them 23-17 in the third. We started the quarter on a 14-4 run and recaptured the lead with the quarter half gone, but we couldn’t put the Mercury away. We ended the quarter down by just three and had 10 minutes left of basketball. It was then that I saw Seattle had beaten Minnesota, putting us all alone in third for the moment, as we finished up our own game. My mind started racing with all the different possible scenarios — if we won tonight and Minnesota and San Antonio each lost one of their remaining games; if we won and they and Phoenix lost out; if we won tonight but Minnesota beat us Friday, etc., etc., etc. We had 10 minutes of basketball left to eliminate some of the scenarios from contention.
We played the fourth quarter tight with Phoenix, but we could never retake the lead. By the end of the game, Tina Thompson had scored a total of 33 points, including making five of 10 outside the three-point line, and Ticha Penecheiro had another double-digit-assist night, with 11 for the game. We played tough all the way to the end, getting to within two points with a little over a minute left in the game, but we never really recovered from that first-quarter deficit and, finally, just had to start fouling to get the ball back and came up short 84-90.
With all three of us -- Minnesota, San Antonio and the Sparks -- losing our games tonight, the playoff picture remained unchanged. We were still in a three-way tie for third, but we needed to beat Minnesota on Friday. I ran every scenario I could think of, and our road to the playoff ran right down the middle of that game. How fitting that our final regular-season home game should also be the deciding game for making it into the post-season. Our destiny is in our hands. We have 40 more minutes of regular-season basketball at Staples Center to decide our postseason fight. Friday night at 7:30 at Staples will be a huge game against Minnesota. I can’t wait.
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks