Kathy Goodman: Focus and effort
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The last time I played basketball -- the only time, really -- I was in eighth grade and my U.S. History teacher, who coached the eighth-grade team, asked me to join because I was tall. I knew the rules of basketball — I had played it in gym class — but had no actual basketball skills. But I liked my history teacher, so I joined the team. It became apparent pretty early in the process that I had no actual skills. I couldn’t dribble; I couldn’t pass; I couldn’t shoot. My coach still played me, though, because the one thing I could do was rebound. It didn’t require great athleticism or years of practice. It required focus and effort. I was reminded of that often during the Sparks’ 80-68 loss to the New York Liberty on Tuesday night.
I could cover all the basic stats for this game, but the one that mattered — and almost always matters in any basketball game — was New York’s rebounding edge. Often one of our issues as a team is our turnovers, but on Tuesday night, it was definitely all about rebounding. In the first quarter, when we had a slight lead, New York outrebounded us, 6-4. By the end of the game, New York had outrebounded the Sparks, 35-22. Even more important than the overall rebounding edge was New York’s offensive rebounding edge of 14-8. We just could not get our hands on the ball once the shot went up.
The Sparks tried to make a game of it, and we had some great offensive displays (shooting over 60% in the first quarter). We played some tough defense in many of the Liberty possessions, but too often we were undone by their superior rebounding. As if to make sure no one missed the point, New York put on an offensive scoring clinic in one stretch of the fourth quarter. The Sparks, down by 19, went on a two-minute offensive spurt with just over six minutes left in the game. We went on a 9-2 run, getting the fans back into the game, and putting a scare into the Liberty. With just over four minutes left, Noelle Quinn put up a three-point attempt that would have dropped the lead to single digits, but the ball rimmed out and New York grabbed that rebound.
The Sparks then had six offensive stops in a row — first Janel McCarville missed a jumper, then Nicole Powell missed; McCarville missed her next attempt followed by an Essence Carson miss; Delisha Milton-Jones blocked Carson’s next layup attempt, and Essence Carson misfired one more time. This would have seemed like good news for the Sparks, except each miss was followed by an offensive rebound. Our two-minute scoring flurry was matched by two minutes of Liberty offensive rebounding, making it impossible for us to capitalize on their poor shooting. We did everything right defensively in each of those possessions -- except get the ball back at our end of the court.
At the end of the game, I looked at the other games that had been played in the League. The other Western Conference teams keep helping us out: Phoenix, Tulsa and San Antonio all lost Tuesday night as well, keeping us in playoff contention. But just as New York’s failure to make a shot in those waning two minutes of the fourth quarter didn’t help us win this game, it won’t be enough for other teams just to lose their games. If we want to take advantage of those losses, we will have to win some games. We play at home at Staples Center on Thursday, Saturday and next Tuesday night, all against Western Conference teams. If we want to win, just like getting rebounds, it will take focus and effort.
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the L.A. Sparks