Kathy Goodman: Sparks vs. Storm: I knew it would be tough
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I was sitting in ridiculous bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405 fighting my way to LAX on Friday afternoon with my Jackson 5 anthology album in my CD player like most of the country, thinking, ‘I really don’t want to fly to Seattle this afternoon.’ Mostly I was sad about Michael Jackson, as I reminisced about cutting Jackson 5 singles off the back of boxes of Honeycomb cereal when I was a kid and playing them on our Close ‘N Play record player, lip-syncing along and trying to imitate their dance moves. And the traffic wasn’t helping. And, of course, there was looming above all that the prospect of another road game. The Sparks have not exactly played well on the road this season. And we were playing the Storm. Who are playing really well. Anywhere.
There’s no question our team is talented. We arguably have the most individually talented team in the WNBA from top to bottom. But we also have only five players returning from last season, and two of them are sitting home recovering from injury and pregnancy, so, what with basketball being a team sport and all, it has made the start of the season a little rockier than we anticipated. And the road is definitely not our friend.
The thing about being a fan of a team, any team -- and I may co-own the team, but I am still definitely first and foremost a fan -- is that hope springs eternal. Any fan truly knows deep down that his or her team can beat any other team in the league no matter what. I knew the Storm’s Lauren Jackson had been playing out of her mind and Swin Cash was back to her old form after back surgery and Sue Bird -- well, her most recent Olympic gold just reinforced that she was one of the best point guards in the world. But I knew our team was much better than our record indicated. I thought about all our weapons -- our own Olympians -- DeLisha Milton-Jones and Tina Thompson and Kristi Harrower; our Finals MVP Betty Lennox; our point guard that led her college team to back-to-back championships, Shannon Bobbitt. I knew it would be tough, but if we stayed strong for 40 minutes, if we played hard and together, if we ran and ran, we could beat Seattle.
I got to the game about two minutes before tipoff. The team looked ready, but the crowd was big and very vocal. If you haven’t watched the Sparks play away, the one thing you will need to get used to is hearing the endless chant of ‘Beat L.A.’ It always seemed strange to me, because in L.A. we don’t have a chant against any team in particular -- like any self-respecting Southern Californians, we’re all about ourselves -- but every Sparks away game I have been to starts with that chant. I usually chant right along, but say ‘Go, LA!’ No one can hear me over the din, but it helps me feel a part of things without being disloyal. I thought, ‘This is going to be tough.’
The first quarter was tough. Lauren shot 4-4, Sue shot 3 for 5 and Swin made 2 of 4. We got outrebounded 10-4 and ended the quarter down seven. The second quarter didn’t look much better, as Seattle at one point led by 13 and we could not get a shot to fall. We went into the locker room at halftime down by eight. This was not looking good. But I looked at the stat sheet again. We had done some good things in the second quarter -- we now had more rebounds than Seattle and tied up the points in the paint. We were looking more like the Sparks. Lauren Jackson had shot a perfect 8-8 from the field (and made it look easy), but Tina wasn’t far behind shooting 6-7. On the other hand, if you’ve watched the Sparks at all, you know that we’re not really a second-half team. We like to have a big comfy cushion of a lead at halftime. We don’t like to fight back from a halftime deficit. A win would be tough. I would tell you what the halftime entertainment was, but I knew I was going to need a beer to get me through the second half.
The Sparks did what they usually do coming out of the locker room at the half: Let Seattle’s lead bloom to a seemingly insurmountable 16 points. But curiously, when I looked at our players, they did not look in the least defeated; they looked determined. I had been texting my co-owner Carla Christofferson all through the game (she was watching in L.A. on WNBA’s LiveAccess), and I sent her a message saying, ‘It’s not over yet. Our guys are definitely fighting.’ By the end of the third, things stood exactly where they had at the half, down by eight. We had 10 more minutes to make something happen.
Suddenly the Sparks showed up. Our defense shut down Seattle for the first five minutes of the quarter, allowing Seattle to score only two points, while we tied the game. The last four minutes of the game were just a battle. Lauren Jackson scored on back-to-back possessions, including a heartbreaking three-pointer (she ended up shooting 12-15 for 32 points), but DeLisha threw up a wild shot with the shot clock winding down that improbably sank. With 3.5 seconds left, we were down by two. Coach Michael Cooper called a timeout. I was sitting with Penny Toler and asked her, ‘If you’re Coop, do you go for the tie or the win?’ She said, ‘At home, you go for the tie. Here, we need a 3.’ The ball was successfully inbounded to Tina (who had missed only one shot all night). The entire sold-out arena took in a deep breath as we all watched the final seconds tick off.
I had been asked a few days ago whether it was worse to lose by a blowout or by two points, and I had said I hated being blown out; I would rather we contended hard, and if it came down to a shot not falling or an errant pass, well, that was why you played the game. A blowout meant we just weren’t trying. In the last 2.5 seconds of this game, I was rethinking my position.
Tina couldn’t get the shot off and the horn sounded. Game over. Man, I knew it would be tough!
But since I am a true fan, I just KNOW we are going to kill them at Staples Center on Sunday night!
-- Kathy Goodman, Sparks Co-owner