Kathy Goodman: Hope springs eternal
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We did not play a good game on Thursday night against the Washington Mystics, so I was, not surprisingly, a little pessimistic coming into Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Dream, which is atop of the Eastern Conference. I took some time on Saturday to get a little perspective and inspiration by visiting the Martin Luther King Center and the Carter Center in downtown Atlanta. By game time, I was fairly philosophical and just wanted us to play some good basketball, win or lose. So why is it the Sparks had to start so strong and get my hopes up all over again? We knew Erica DeSouza and Sancho Lyttle were going to be tough in the post. With Iziane Castro Marques and Angel McCoughtry running around shooting from anywhere, we had to keep our composure, play smart defense and aggressive offense to stand a chance. We were a tough team in the first half, getting their bigs in foul trouble and locking up their shooters. When the first half ended, DeSouza and Lyttle had spent most of their time on the bench with a combined five fouls, and McCoughtry and Castro Marques had shot a combined 5 of 21. The Sparks, on the other hand, had three players in double digits and Ticha Penecheiro had dished out five assists. We had led by as many as 16, but a late flurry by Atlanta cut the lead to 11 at the half.
I was happy we were playing the kind of basketball I knew we could play. Atlanta was playing hard, but we were definitely hustling for rebounds and loose balls, playing hard and together.
And then the third quarter started.
The opening three minutes of the third quarter reminded me of Washington all over again. Atlanta came out with intensity and we couldn’t stop them. In three short minutes, they went on an 11-4 run, cutting our lead to four. We settled down a little bit then and for the rest of the quarter, we held them off, but all our hard work of the first half was lost. We entered the fourth quarter with a slim lead — 65-63 — but that was almost solely because Atlanta had shot so poorly from the free throw line. The Dream had missed six of their 10 third-quarter free throws.
As the fourth quarter began, I was wondering whether I would have preferred it if I thought we had never had a chance in the game. Atlanta was first in the East; the Dream had scored over 100 points when we played them in Staples earlier in the season; I didn’t have a real reason to be hopeful. Except that first half. When we played the kind of basketball I knew our team could play. If they played like the first-half Sparks, we’d be good. If they played like the team that played the first three minutes of the third quarter, it would be hard. Although we started the final period by pushing the lead to four, in less than two minutes, Atlanta forced a tie. Philips Arena, which had been fairly quiet during the game, erupted. Within another minute, the Dream took the lead for the first time and never looked back. Castro Marques, who had been held to four points in the first half, exploded for 21 in the second half. Yelena Leuchanka, coming off the bench for DeSouza, scored six of her eight points in the fourth quarter, all in the paint.
We just couldn’t hold on through the fourth quarter. The Dream won, 89-81. I wanted those three minutes back at the beginning of the third quarter, but I thought the tradeoff might be that Atlanta would have the chance to retake some of their free throws (they made only 19 of 35.) In the end, though, I just can’t help remembering those first-half Sparks. We are still just a game out of fourth, two games out of second in the West. We play New York on Tuesday night at Staples Center. Hope springs eternal. I think we can win that one.
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the L.A. Sparks