Saturday, September 6, 2008
This was a historic game for the Dream - their first experience at Madison Square Garden, one of the meccas of world basketball. I'd go so far as to say that it was more important than Boston Garden or Rupp Arena.
This game was being televised on MSG, and by extension, on my laptop. I had to determine if I'd listen to Art Eckman's play-by-play, or if I'd listen to the MSG announcers. Wanting a change of pace, I let the TV announcers tell the story. (I knew that at least, they could get the names right.)
1. The New York Liberty knew one thing: "win, and we're in". A win over the Dream would clinch a playoff berth. They could also clinch a playoff berth if the Sun beat the Sky in Connecticut, but New York preferred to have their fate in their own hands.
2. Two members of the Liberty would not play: Shameka Christon and Tiffany Jackson. Christon was the Liberty's leading scorer, while leading rebounder Jackson was out with a stress fracture. We had a chance, at least.
3. I'm sure every WNBA player is faced with a tough decision whenever interviewed by the media - "Do I tell the truth, or do I just feed them some bullshit?" The MSG announcers interviewed Janel McCarville, whom I suspect teeter-tottered between both options.
The first question was if she wanted the ball for the Liberty whenever things were down. The announcers were referring to her 33 point performance against the Comets in the previous game. This is a pitfall of a question, because if you answer it too enthusiastically, you come off as a ballhog. McCarville gave a non-answer answer that I don't think satisfied anyone, but you could almost sense McCarville desperately wanting to answer, "Yes! Give me the damn ball!"
The next question was how they felt about playing a 3-27 Dream team. Once again, a pitfall, because the standard answer is you-know-I'm-just-humbled-to-be-here-every-team-is-tough. McCarville smiled, and said, looking down, "We're going into it pretty confident." Not slamming the Dream, McCarville said it in the manner of "we feel good about ourselves". I suspect the answer McCarville Wanted to give was "We're going to be all over these guys like lox on a bagel."
4. The starting lineup for the Dream: Izi Castro Marques, Erika De Souza, Alison Bales, Ivory Latta, Betty Lennox.
For the Liberty: Essence Carson, Janel McCarville, Catherine Kraayeveld, Loree Moore, Lisa Willis
This would give Alison Bales the tough job of guarding Janel McCarville. Good luck, Alison.
5. GAMETIME! Betty Lennox hit the first shot of the game, a three-pointer. Despite some sloppy play by Izi - Izi trying a three-pointer that no one could have hit, and throwing the ball over Erika's head - the Dream took a 7-4 lead over the Libs, forcing Patty Coyle to call a full time out. It's always great when the Dream don't call the first time out in a game.
6. That's when I learned some of the most terrifying words to be heard by any WNBA fan. "Refereeing tonight is Michael Price." A worser person would ask which of the two teams Price had bet on, but I keep myself a level above that, please.
7. Janel had some trouble in the first quarter against Alison Bales and Erika De Souza, who could match her height. She drove to the basket and hit the Bales-De Souza wall. The added height of the Dream was a real problem for the Liberty.
Example: Betty Lennox misses a 3-pointer, and then picks up her own offensive rebound. DeSouza goes in for the layup, misses the shot, and then gets her own rebound. Latta goes for a layup, and misses the layup.
Two offensive rebounds against the Liberty. The Libs were also coughing up the ball. They'd have six turnovers by the end of the quarter.
8. Lennox was on fire in the first. She scored 11 points and was carrying the team for us. Both teams were shooting fifty percent in the first quarter.
9. Watching the game on TV gave me a chance to see
a. The Liberty Puppy: I think the Liberty puppy mascot is named "Maddie". It's a dog (I think) with a Statue-of-Liberty-tiara. Very cute looking. Sky's not as cute as Maddie, but we still love Sky.
b. Cotton candy: You know those cotton candy poles that you see people with at the Braves games? It looks like they have vendors selling cotton candy at Madison Square Garden.
It would be great if they had vendors at the Atlanta Dream games. You can get food at a Dream game, but you have to leave your seat. Just imagine...cotton candy...hot dogs...pizza...soda....
(I think I'm hungry. Be right back.)
10. The Dream had put full court pressure on the Liberty for virtually the entire game. The Dream had nine turnovers, but were still hanging around, only down by two points, 24-22.
There was a Essence Carson-Jennifer Lacy jump ball where New York got the rebound but Janel McCarville tripped over Tamera Young's outstretched leg. I'm certain it was accidental, but McCarville had this "What - the - f@#k?" look on her face. The announcers said, regarding McCarville, "She's not someone you want to tick off."
11. Erika de Souza was being forced to guard Jessica Davenport, but Davenport was winning the battle. Ivory Latta, for some inexplicable reason, had given up on her mid-range jumper and was trying to drive into the basket.
Lennox was keeping us in the game. She had 17 points at the half, with Izi, Alison Bales, Ivory Latta and Katie Feenstra having four points each. Janel McCarville led the Libs with 10, with Catherine Kraayeveld right behind her with six.
By halftime, it was Liberty 38, Dream 35. The Libs couldn't shake us. The Dream/Betty Lennox were/was shooting slightly under 50 percent. Statistically, both teams looked even. However, the Dream had a history of giving their fans two and a half quarters of good basketball, and the rest of crap basketball. I was just hoping the Dream could hold it out through the third quarter.
12. The referreeing was the typical botch job that you'd expect with Michael Price on the squad. Erin Thorn got called for a phantom illegal screen in the second.
13. Once again, the Dream were staying tough on the offensive boards. Once again, they got three chances to score. Betty tried for a three-pointer but missed it, but Alison Bales got the rebound. It was kicked back to Ivory Latta, who also missed the free throw, but Betty Lennox got the rebound. Erika De Souza would find Bales for the easy layup and the Dream would stay within three, 40-37.
14. I've come to the conclusion that Janel McCarville is the most athletic center I've ever seen. Three years ago, if I had said that you'd think it was a joke. Janel "plays like she's five four". For a big woman, she's completely comfortable with her size, whereas most other bigs are either clumsy or slow. McCarville is neither.
The scary thought is that she's only going to get better. Can we make a trade for McCarville? Coach Meadors, are you listening?
15. Just as Cinderella's clock began to chime, sure enough at the two-and-a-half quarter mark is where the Dream started to uniwinde. With the Libs up 46-44, Ashley Battle made a couple of free throws, picked up a rebound off of one of Izi's missed shots, and then found Kraayeveld for the layup.
It was Liberty up by six, their biggest lead of the game (so far). Coach Meadors called for a full time out.
16. For those who haven't followed the Liberty for thirty-some games, here's some inside info - a timeout by Coach Meadors usually don't mean shit. She might as well be speaking Linear B to our players, who undoubtedly are planning their social events post-game while nodding their head. No time out by Coach Meadors, ever, turned anything around.
But not this time. Izi shot a three. After McCarville missed one of two free throws, Izi found Erika who made a layup that finally tied the game again, 51-51.
17. Janel McCarville, however, proved that she could create plays as well as finish them. She found both Lisa Willis and Ashley Battle outside the arc. Two assists for McCarville. Six points for the Liberty.
Time out for Atlanta. Again.
18. Despite McCarville's "I'm-a-gymnast-in-a-bruiser's-body" antics, Betty Lennox already had 22 points. As the announcers said, it was as Lennox was saying to the Liberty, "Okay, who wants to try to guard me next. Essence Carson, assigned to guard Lennox, would score a grand total of one point for her efforts.
19. At the end of the quarter, the Liberty began to gain acceleration. They finished the quarter with the last six points.
There is a famous clip of a North Carolina-Duke game where Alison Bales of Duke set a pick and no one on the Tarheels bothered to tell Ivory Latta about it. Latta, running full tilt, slams into a stationary Bales like a mini-bike slamming into a telephone pole. Latta ended up flat on her back, and it seemed as if Bales never took notice.
Well, yesterday we got to see a Version #2. It was Latta moving again, but her unwitting target was Jessica Davenport. Once again, someone forgot to communicate with Latta, once again, Latta ended up slamming full tilt into Davenport and ending up flat on their back.
I've been trying to find the complete Liberty-Dream game on line, but no luck. Just look at the hotlinked clip above, and mentally substitute Jessica Davenport for Alison Bales. It's hard, but I know you can do it.
20. We sent the Liberty to the line multiple times in the third quarter. That was what hurt us most of all.
21. Early in the fourth quarter, the Libs were up by 12, 67-55, their biggest lead of the game. Katie Feenstra was on the court, and Jessica Davenport was assigned to her.
Davenport and Feenstra are two kinds of big women. Feenstra is pretty well-proportioned for a tall woman, whereas Davenport blocks out the sun. Davenport was having a hard time guarding Feenstra, and had to resort to Hack-a-Feenstra, a play that I hadn't seen since before we acquired Alison Bales.
22. Another piece of bad refereeing: Betty Lennox made a basket where she was travelling so much that she virtually carried the ball in both arms - it was so blatant even I could tell it was a travel, and I don't know nothin' about basketball.
I suspect that the refs were not watching huge parts of the game. There was a "three blind mice" moment in the third where the refs were scratching their heads and finally called for a jump ball because they couldn't decide who had touched the ball last.
That basket made it 69-61. The Liberty called time out!
23. And then, Betty Lennox hit a three pointer to close it to five! Kristen Haynie almost had two steals in harrassing the Liberty offense. Feenstra scored again and it was 69-66 Liberty. Davenport fouled again and Patty Coyle put Davenport on the bench for a little while.
At 3:23 remaining in the game, Erika de Souza tipped in a shot on a rebound to close the gap to three points! It was 71-68 Liberty! The Dream were on a roll!
24. This play typified the rest of the game.
Loree Moore was chasing a ball out of bounds that had last been touched by the Liberty. With quick thinking, in midair, she grabbed the ball and flicked it into Erika de Souza's legs. The ball bounced off De Souza and out of bounds.
25. And then it went to hell. The Atlanta Dream was like a wound rubber band that suddenly snapped with the tension.
McCarville hit a driving layup and was fouled by Jennifer Lacy (McCarville got a free shot, which she missed.)
Loree Moore finds Kraayeveld for a backdoor cut to the bucket.
McCarville finds Thorn who makes a running jump shot.
Then Meadors gets called for a technical. According to the announcers, Meadors had been riding one of the refs all night (the ref they showed was Bonita Spence) and finally, Meadors got the T.
The New York Liberty went on an 11-0 run. Lennox would hit a free throw, and Bales would get the last shot, but it was all Liberty for the last three and a half minutes.
Final score: Liberty 82, Dream 71.
(* * *)
All right. Let's look at the box score and the four keys to victory:
Field goal percentage: The Liberty won that one, 52.6 percent to the Dream's 43.1 percent. The Dream was shooting about 47 percent at the end of three quarters but collapsed in the fourth.
Offensive rebounding: The Dream won the offensive rebounding battle, 12 to 7. It was a very good rebounding night for the Dream, but the Liberty were missing their leading rebounder.
Turnovers. Once again, the Dream won, 13 to 15.
Free throw visits. This was a double loss for the Dream and one of the unforeseen keys of the game. The Dream sent the Liberty to the line 19 times, compared to the Dream's 14. Furthemore, the Liberty hit 84 percent of their shots, whereas the Dream went 8 for 14 at the free throw line.
If free throws were a bit even, this might have been just a three-point loss.
Flow of the game. The Dream and Liberty swapped the first two quarters, and then the Liberty took the final two quarters. The third quarter was particularly telling.
Who guarded who? I know that Bales was responsible for holding down McCarville, but as Meadors said earlier in the year, few teams have an answer for McCarville. Bales would score eight points which was above average for her. Not exactly a defensive struggle on either side.
Feenstra scored 10 points. DeSouza scored 10. The Liberty had no answer for our big women.
Efficiency: Us, then them
Lennox: 28 points on 17 shots. This was a breakout game for Lennox. Lennox had three offensive rebounds and seven total rebounds. Lennox is easily the Player of the Game on both sides.
De Souza: 10 points on 7 shots. Also 6 rebounds.
Feenstra: 10 points, 11 shots. Average efficiency.
Izi: 9 points, 11 shots. Meh.
Bales: 8 points, 8 shots, and six rebounds.
Latta: 6 points, 8 shots. It wasn't the disaster of the game before against the Storm. However, this is the fourth straight game where Latta has been held under ten points. Any hope of us winning a game between now and the end of the season depends on Latta pulling out of this slump.
McCarville: 21 points, 18 points. Five rebounds, five assists.
Kraayeveld: 18 points, 17 shots, five rebounds.
Willis: 12 points, 9 shots. Three rebounds. On efficiency alone, Willis is the player of the game for New York.
Battle: 9 points, 11 shots.
Davenport: 7 points, and 4 shots, but when Feenstra owns you, it isn't a good game.
Thorn: 6 points, 11 shots. A lousy game for Thorn at a time when the Liberty is two players down and needs every player to produce.
Moore: 5 points, 3 shots, four rebounds.
Use of the roster: Both teams used the roster about equally. It was odd to see Tamera Young only get two minutes. What was up with that?
Southern Belle Milk Carton of the Game: It was a toss-up between Essence Carson, Kristen Haynie and Jennifer Lacy. I'm going to give this one to Kristen Haynie, but it was close.
Haynie: zero points, two shots, two rebounds. Thirteen minutes played.
(* * *)
So what can we take out of this game?
Our shooting percentage since the break has been pretty damned good. Furthermore, we're generally matching teams in offensive rebounds. Our big women are working well together.
However, we're sliding backwards. That 82-71 loss was the closest loss since after the Olympic break. Part of the problem is that Ivory Latta has disappeared. Izi is too streaky. This leaves Betty Lennox to do the bulk of the lifting.
Our inside game can get rebounds, but we don't have a Janel McCarville who can rebound and score. Our bigs are one-dimensional, meant to be parts of a whole. The Atlanta Dream don't have a whole, and they haven't had it since the beginning of the season.
The next game coming up is our final home game against the Fever. This is our best chance for a win in the final three games - and if Ivory Latta doesn't wake up, it might be our only chance, with our final two games on the road against Los Angeles and Seattle - and those two games are back to back.
What we need to happen is for Chicago to lose on Sunday to the Liberty. If Chicago loses, then the Fever clinches the final of the four playoff spots in the East. Then the Fever won't have the sense of "OhGodIneedtowinandwinrightnow". They'll feel a bit less pressure and we can sneak up on them. Furthermore, it will put more distance between the Libs and the Fever.
As Buffalo Bill Cody said on his deathbed, "Well, let's forget about it and play high five." Let's forget about it, and get our second home year of the year on Monday.