Kathy Goodman: Better late than never
Candace Parker had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Tina Thompson had 12 points and six rebounds. We had 15 assists. And it was only half-time.
I will say, I felt confident going into tonight’s game against the Connecticut Sun. We had played tough against Phoenix last week, but with only nine players (and Candace among the missing), we fell fewer than 10 points short of a victory.
I knew everyone but Kristi Harrower would be back tonight, and I knew we were a substantially better team than we were when we last played (and lost to) Connecticut in the middle of July -- when Candace was just coming back and Lisa was still suffering from her knee injury. And Connecticut would be a different team, since Asjha Jones, who was so successful against us in the last meeting, was nursing an Achilles injury.
Earlier in the season, our wins seemed unusual and wonderful, and I went to each game hopeful but ready to be disappointed.
After the winning streak that put us firmly back into playoff contention, it is losing that strikes me as out of character. So I felt confident: The loss to Phoenix was the anomaly, not the six-game winning streak.
That said, the first five minutes of the game were not exactly what I expected.
It was a battle. The lead changed seven times, and the biggest lead by either team was three. This was a little closer than I had been hoping for.
With about 4 1/2 minutes left in the quarter, Delisha Milton-Jones hit a jumper that put us ahead by two and sparked a run that made that lead permanent.
In the last five minutes of the quarter, we outscored the Sun 16-4. We took care of the ball (only one turnover in the quarter) and kept pounding the ball inside, outscoring Connecticut 18-4 in the paint.
Of course, the first quarter of the game against Phoenix had been strong as well but had ended in a loss. This felt different, though. This felt like our team was finally playing together and in rhythm. The second quarter proved that the first was no fluke. We scored another 19 points, holding the Sun to just under 16% shooting.
By the end of the first half, all but one of our players had at least one assist but had only five turnovers combined. Parker had already scored her double-double. In our loss to Phoenix, our bench only scored a total of 11 points.
By the end of the first half of this game, our bench had already contributed 14. This was the team we had expected to see all season long.
I have become used to the third-quarter let-down. This game was no different.
Our perimeter defense broke down as Anete Jekabsone-Zogota got three three-pointers in a row, and on the inside we were out-rebounded 12-5. But our offense was still clicking as we managed to score another 19 points with seven assists on seven made field goals. Connecticut may have succeeded in cutting our lead in half -- from 20 points to 10 -- but it wasn’t by interrupting our offense.
We had survived our third-quarter slump, and if we could keep playing together for the last 10 minutes, we would easily grab the win.
In the fourth quarter, Connecticut never got closer than eight. Of course, we got a little sloppier, committing as many turnovers in the last 10 minutes as we did in the entire first half. And the Sun’s three-point shooters kept coming at us, scoring 15 of their 25 fourth-quarter points from behind the arc. But our determination to go inside kept us at the free-throw line, shooting a perfect 10 of 10 in the last quarter, capping off a perfect 16 of 16 free throws for the night.
Watching the Sparks play tonight was watching the team we all knew we had. The team everyone picked to win it all at the beginning of the season. We had a rough start in June and went through our share of injuries and growing pains, but now, with the season winding down and the post-season in view, we were a team to be reckoned with. Candace tied her season-high rebounds at 13, and Tina set her season-high blocks at three. Our all-Olympic front court came up with 60 of our 91 points, 32 of our 42 rebounds and 15 of our 26 assists, while committing only three turnovers combined. This was Sparks basketball.
Better late than never.
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks
Photo: The Sparks' Tina Thompson, left, and DeLisha Milton-Jones trap Connecticut's Anete Jekabsone-Zogota during the first half Sunday. Jeff Lewis / Associated Press