Sunday, July 12, 2009
At least someone out there is happy.
Okay. After many sleepless hours after last night's game, I gathered my moral strength and a few shots of bourbon and began to type the writeup for the game.
Let's not mince words - this was the worst performance of the year for the Dream. There's a lot of talk about how the Liberty played up to the Dream's level. I give props to the Liberty for the win, but the statement is simply not true - there was no level by the Dream to play up to. (Maybe both teams played half-way.)
If it wasn't for the performance of Iziane Castro Marques - of all people - it could have been a lot worse. Most of the Dream's value in that game came from her; little of it came from anybody else.
At the beginning of the game, I had a lot of trouble getting WNBA Live Access to work. This is the story of my life, but in the second quarter Live Access started coming in clear with no stops or blackouts whatsoever. The first quarter? A bit spotty. I knew, however, that Izi scored the first six points for the Dream, and that was not a good sign.
Izi's Best Performances of 2009
20 points in a Game 3 loss against the Sky
16 points and 4 steals in a Game 9 loss against the Sun
31 points in a Game 10 loss against the Lynx
I'm coining a new phrase: The Izi Effect. The Izi Effect is when a particular player has good performances that combine with a lack of effort or interest from everyone else. -all of that player's good games come during team losses.
While Liberty fans were playing some sort of bizarre on-court tic-tac-toe game in the first quarter, Atlanta was establishing a 6-point lead. The Dream were out-rebounding the Liberty 12-4, Janel McCarville was off to a horrible start and the Dream looked like they were in command. They led after the first quarter 24-16, holding the Liberty to just seven rebounds.
Atlanta was shooting 45.5 percent in the first quarter, combined with 29.4 percent from the Liberty. Teams that are ahead should be warned - do not become complacent. This is what is called a "statistical dip", where the team is just having atypically bad shooting for one quarter and should bounce back the next quarter. What I didn't suspect was that this was going to be par for the course for the Liberty in Game 14. The Liberty was just shooting terribly, and if we could keep up our shooting, we looked good.
We began to build up a lead, up to 30-19 in the second quarter. McCarville was still stinking up the joint, with zero points and nine turnovers. The New York Liberty dancers - not the Timeless Torches - were probably the only entertainment the Madison Square Garden's fans were going to get. With the lead 30-21, Meadors could finally put Latta in and give her some time to warm up.
Atlanta held on to a 10 point lead, when from the depths of the Liberty bench, Kia Vaughn suddenly remembered, "Hey! I'm a first round draft pick! I should act like one!" Maybe every other big woman in the league is terrified of the Lyttle-De Souza duo, but Kia wasn't. She scored six points - all within the span of a minute - and before we knew it, it was a game again at 35-31. Iziane Castro Marques would pick up a jump ball between Kia Vaughn and Erika de Souza - then take a jump shot, be fouled by Shameka Christon, and pick up one of two free throws as the Dream took a 36-31 lead into halftime.
We were still shooting well - 45.5 percent. The Liberty was still in the sub-20s. We had 26 rebounds and Sancho and Erika has six rebounds apiece. Janel McCarville was on some other planet somewhere, but not in Madison Square Garden.
1) I've never quite been able to figure out Iziane Castro Marques. "Streaky" isn't the word for it. There are times when she looks like she's near damned unstoppable, and there are times when she plays so badly I'd swear she had money bet on the opposing team to win.
2) There is this fan for the Liberty who is a big black guy who wears his cap backwards and is wearing a #20 jersey - Shameka Christon's - who is always highlighted on the Jumbotron for his dancing skills. By "always" I mean "twice" - I saw his dancing this game, and I saw his dancing during the Liberty-Silver Stars game I was fortunate to attend.
3) There was a dance troupe which I think was called "Fresh Effects". They were there to do a tribute to Michael Jackson. They looked like kids in their high school years/late teens, and they danced pretty much not the way that Michael Jackson danced. I wondered if they had even practiced before their appearance before a crowd of unhappy Liberty fans at MSG.
I mean...my God. That was just pitiful.
4) I heard some weird background banging noise, like someone kicking the Live Access microphone at New York. Never did figure that out.
5) Is Shameka Christon's last name pronounced "Christian"? According to Mike Crispino at the microphone, it is.
(* * *)
In the third quarter, we put out the same starters - Holdsclaw, Lyttle, de Souza, Castro Marques and Miller. Loree Moore hit us with a 3-pointer as the sounds of "Mo(o)re, More, Moore" by Andrea True. The Dream began to backslide, as it were, and after leading by 11 points in the second quarter, Essence Carston tied the game at 38-38. A 3-pointer by Cathrine Kraayeveld put the Libety up 44-41.
The Dream then rolled off seven straight points to take the lead again, 48-44. Kraayeveld had her fourth foul and McCarville still hadn't scored. In the interim, there was a game on the court - for swag - where a random little boy in the Liberty audience was blindfolded and asked to locate Maddie, the Liberty's doggie mascot. You'd think this would be a simple task - the game announcer would say "hot" or "cold" and the kid would theoretically change direction. But no. The kid continued walking into a straight line, oblivious to instruction. After a point, the Liberty staff just turned the kid in a right direction and let Maddie find him.
Dumb kid. I would have let him keep walking all the way out to 34th Street and 7th Avenue.
Anwyay, with the Dream up 48-44, the Liberty tied it 48-48 on the first two points scored in the game by Janel McCarville. (I actually saw Izi let a player blow by her on defense, as if Izi was just standing still admiring something off in the distance.) The game was turning sloppier and sloppier, with both sides threatening to break 20 turnovers each before the third quarter was even over. Atlanta managed to find itself on top at the end of the third, 54-40, simply because we made fewer mistakes.
On the other hand, a lot had gone bad. Our shooting accuracy had been shredded, and despite the fact that Izi had 15 points, Loree Moore had 17 points. Furthermore, there were signs that Janel McCarville was starting to wake herself up. She hadn't scored, but she had had a lot of rebounds.
(* * *)
Random trivia: Did you know Kia Vaughn has a tattoo on her bicep which reads Kia!? It's useful when you wake up in a hotel on a long road trip and not only have forgotten where you are, but who you are.
(* * *)
With six minutes to go, we had a 58-52 lead. Even though we had regained the lead over New York in the third, we could never extend it to double digits. The Liberty always stayed within two or three possessions of the Dream, too close by to ignore. Ahead 60-58, Loree Moore cranked out another 3-pointer and with 3:24 to go, the Liberty were back up again 61-60.
Iziane Castro Marques hit a 3-pointer with 2:27 left to put the Dream back up 65-61. It would be the only 3-pointer the Dream would hit all night.
We still led by four points, 67-63 when Shameka Christon closed it to 67-66 with 1:10 left. With 55.2 seconds left, Janel McCarville made her last basket of the night and was chopped on the attempt by Erika de Souza. Sinking the free throw tied the game 69-69 with 43.9 seconds left.
For some inexplicable reason, we decide to chop time off the clock. With two seconds left to shoot, Sancho attempted a shot which she missed. Holdsclaw got the rebound, but she attempted an off-balance-falling-backwards shot which was probably low enough for Leilani Mitchell to block. Jackson got the rebound, the Liberty got the ball, and there were 16 seconds left to make a last-second shot.
With Kraayeveld trying to make a backdoor cut to the basket, there was a collision with someone in Powder Blue. Lacy would end up getting charged for the foul - it might not have been her, but it was somebody - and Kraayeveld went to the free throw line. Sank 'em both. New York had hit all 18 of its free throw attempts that night, and the Liberty were up 71-69.
The Dream had 16 seconds to send it into overtime. Shalee Lehning controlled the ball, brought it in - then, with no one to dish-out to, tried a left-handed jumper. Castro Marques was waiting on the wing - was the intent to get the ball to her? Lehning's shot didn't go, the ball ended up in New York's hands, and it was all over.
(* * *)
Okay, sounds like a close game, right. True, but it was a horribly played one. Last team to make a mistake wins, and the Liberty were sitting in the chair when the music stopped. We'll look at Dean Oliver's Four Factors, but not in their usual order:
Free throw visits: Both teams went to the line 18 times. The Dream were 14-for-18, and the Liberty were 18-for-18. You could plausibly claim that the game was lost at the free throw line, but the Dream had the ball at the end and a chance to send it to OT.
Turnovers: Egad. Atlanta turned the ball over 24 times. Normally, that would lose the game right there, but the Liberty turned the ball over 22 times. It was just an abysmal game, and very hard to watch.
Offensive rebounds: 15 for the Dream, and 5 for the Liberty. We out-rebounded them 45 to 28. Looks good, right?
Field goal shooting: In the most important of the factors, the Dream shot 39.7 percent and the Liberty shot 37.7 percent. We shot better than the Liberty, so why didn't we win?
I'll throw out a statistic at you: 3-point shooting
Atlanta Dream: 1-for-8
New York Liberty: 7-for-21
This is at least the third game where our opponents took 20-plus three point attempts and we took 10-minus. We don't take them because we can't hit them. They take them because we can't defend them.
In a way, you can say that 3-point shooting undoes bad field goal shooting - you might hit less often, but the impact on your shooting is greater. There is a stat called true field goal percentage, which is defined as (FG + 0.5*3P)/FGA. It's "field goal shooting + extra credit for 3-pointers".
Our field goal percentage was 39.7 percent, but our true FG% was 40.4 percent. New York's field goal percentage was 37.7 percent - but their true FG% was 43.4 percent. Counting 3-pointers means that we didn't shoot better than the Liberty - they shot better than us because they had the 3-pointer in their arsenal. Our lack of 3-point shooting was a real disadvantage, and the Liberty's free throw accuracy was just icing on the cake.
(* * *)
Let's look at how the Liberty players did:
Shameka Christon: 18 points and 6 rebound for Sista Christon.
Essence Carson: 17 points.
Cathrine Kraayeveld: 9 points, but 5 personal fouls. However, she scored the go-ahead points for New York at the end.
Janel McCarville: 7 points, 7 rebounds...and 7 turnovers.
Kia Vaughn: 8 points in just nine minutes played.
And now, time to look at the Atlanta Dream:
Iziane Castro Marques: 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Iziane could have very well had a triple-double if she would have just tossed the ball around some more. However, she turned the ball over 5 times and had 4 of her shots blocked. Nevertheless, Izi is very much the Dreamer of the Game.
Erika de Souza: 10 points and 8 rebounds. She had a little trouble with Kia Vaughn in that second quarter, but otherwise a good game.
Sancho Lyttle: She had 17 points and 6 rebounds - but she missed thirteen shots, shooting 8-for-21and diminishing the impact of her high scoring game. -5 in raw plus/minus. If you look at it from that angle, it really wasn't that impressive.
Angel McCoughtry: 6 points in just 16 minutes played. Only 2 fouls and 2 turnovers. She should have gotten some more time.
Chamique Holdsclaw: 9 points on 3-for-13 shooting. 8 rebounds, but 5 turnovers. Most of her good is washed out with the bad.
Jennifer Lacy: 4 points in 7 minutes played - but a zinc star on her paper for getting called for that foul on Kraayeveld at the end.
Michelle Snow: 2 points in 4 minutes. As you can see, we're down in zero-land in terms of value.
Tamera Young: Now we're at the zero border. Young, cleared to play, didn't even get off the bench. Even warming her buns on the bench, she still outperformed three players on the Dream by default.
The point guards: All of our point guards are at the bottom, and in 40 minutes of play, they combined for 3 points. It was a sad performance.
Coco Miller: The Point Guard Who is not Really a Point Guard. 7 minutes. No points. Assists: 2, Turnovers: 3.
Ivory Latta: 3 minutes. No points. One turnover. Ivory is losing the battle for playing time.
Shalee Lehning: Can she play point guard? Yes, she can. But all in all, a point guard is asked to do at least one of the following:
a) Score points: Shalee is not a point-scoring point guard. Lehning shot a horrible 1-for-6 and ended up with 3 points. And then there's that last play of the game.
b) Assists: If you can't score, you put the ball in someone else's hands so they can score. In 30 minutes, she had a total of one assist.
c) Intangibles: Okay, if you can't do the first two, you should add something else. Energy, whatever. But above all, nothing foolish, like turnovers. Lehning turned the ball over four times, and of the five missed shots, two of them were rebounded by the Liberty.
Like it or not, Lehning gets the Bad Dream of the Game. If you're out there for 30 minutes you have to do something, and Lehning didn't. By playing most of the minutes, she bears most of the responsibility.
Lehning will just have to shake it off and come back for the next game. So will the Dream, and so will the fans. One Team, One Dream. Beat the Lynx on Wednesday.