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Winning is better

July 28, 2009 | 10:59 pm

Sparks_240 When you lose, you think a lot about what you can learn from your loss, how maybe it was really a blessing in disguise, a learning experience, perhaps a wake-up call to get your act together.  You think and say a lot of things to rationalize why it was really OK that you lost even though you didn't feel that good about it.  But to state the perhaps most obvious truth in sports (and maybe life), winning is better.

Things we thought we might see from the Sparks all season long--and that we have seen in patches here and there--finally started to dominate in our Tuesday night game against the Minnesota Lynx.  We were a different team than the one that Minnesota beat on June 10, and so was Minnesota.  They lost their leading scorer from that game--Seimone Augustus, who dropped 30 on us--and we added Candace Parker, who is looking better every game. This time we only let three of their players edge up into double-digit scoring, Charde Houston (10), Roneeka Hodges (14) and Tasha Humphrey (11), and, for a change, we held on to the ball and played some defense. Nineteen assists and 15 turnovers were a welcome change from our season average of 15 assists and close to 17 turnovers per game.

That's not to say it was a walk in the park.  The Lynx play some serious basketball and were in third place in the West going into tonight's game, just a game behind Seattle.  We have had our well-documented struggles on the road.  Our triple-overtime loss in Seattle last week was a heartbreaker and it seemed like this trip might last forever.  But clearly the Sparks took the breather over All-Star Weekend to re-focus and re-dedicate themselves to Sparks basketball.  We started the game strong, played hard and together and came away with a much needed road win against a Western Conference team.

Candace played with the strength and finesse she showed as last year's MVP and Rookie of the Year, scoring her second consecutive double-double, with 12 points and 10 rebounds.  Tina Thompson continued to prove that she is a perennial All-Star, racking up 30 points (shooting 50% from 3-point range), eight rebounds and four assists.  Delisha Milton-Jones shot 50% from the field, scoring in the double digits. Betty Lennox scored 11 and, as usual, when we needed them most, icing two free throws near the end of regulation to put the game out of reach. Lindsay Wisdom-Hilton even found a way to grab five rebounds and score four  points in seven minutes of playing time.

It was not a game without suspense.  We opened strong and outscored the Lynx in the first quarter by eight.  We played hard in the second and even though they made a little run at the beginning of the quarter to get within four, we played through it and ended the half up 13.  Then, of course, the dreade third quarter.  I will need to go back and look at all our box scores, but I would venture to say we have never outscored our opponents in the third quarter this season.  Not sure what it is about halftime, but we just never seem to hit our stride coming out of the locker room, and this game was no different. Over the 10 minutes of the third quarter, we watched our lead slowly evaporate until with a minute and a half remaining in the third, the Lynx had cut our lead to two.  We showed some life, but the quarter ended with our 13-point lead cut to three. 

Although we had led virtually the entire game, the Lynx had come storming back.  After the first minute of the fourth quarter, the Lynx tied the score and then pulled ahead.  The Minnesota crowd found something to cheer about and made their voices heard!  For the next seven minutes of the quarter, it was anyone's game, with the lead changing hands five times.  In the last three minutes, though, the Sparks showed that they had come not just to play, but to win. In those last three minutes, Delisha Milton-Jones had a rebound and a fast-break layup; Candace Parker scored three points, a block and a rebound; Tina Thompson shot three for three for seven points, and had a block and two rebounds; Noelle Quinn had three assists and a steal, and Betty had an assist and those last two crucial free throws to put the Sparks up by five with 18 seconds left in the game.

We still have two more games left on this seven-game trip, and we have a very tough day Wednesday--the team has to be up and at the airport by 5 a.m. to catch a flight for a back-to-back in Chicago, in addition to putting in an appearance at a League lunch tomorrow afternoon.  But so many more things seem possible after a win.  Winning is definitely better.  We should do this more often.

--Kathy Goodman

Photo: Tina Thompson (32) shoots against Minnesota Lynx's Roneeka Hodges (5) during the second quarter of a WNBA game in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Photo credit: Hannah Foslien / Associated Press.