Thursday, July 16, 2009
With the "largest crowd anticipated" of the year according to Tom Hanneman of FSN Sports - the crowd didn't look that big to me, seriously, until the campers got back from the concession stands - the Dream faced off against the Lynx, managed to stare its demons in the face in the fourth quarter, and not only win but win by 14 points. The Dream faced a gut check and for once they weren't sent scurrying to the port-a-potty with a bottle of Kaopectate.
Hanneman and his broadcast partner Lea B. Olsen did a fairly nice job. One problem was that Hanneman kept calling Castro Marques "Castro Mar-QUEES". It took one year for the league to explain how to properly pronounce Erika de Souza's name; is this now the prefered pronunciation of Izi's name? Does Izi's last name rhyme with "says" or "cheese"?
Coco Miller was announced as the starter, but before the game Marynell Meadors made a switch. Shalee Lehning would get her very first start as a point guard for the Dream. Was she a Sue Bird level point guard? No, but she had had some good games and it would be good to see how she did as a WNBA starter.
The starters for Atlanta would be Holdsclaw, Lyttle, de Souza, Lehning and Castro Marques. Minnesota, missing Seimone Augustus, would answer with Hodges, Houston, Anosike, Wiggins and Kelly Miller, Coco's twin sister.
If there's such a thing as "intangibles", then Shalee must have brought them in spades. The Dream skyrocketed to a 16-7 lead, with a 13-2 run behind them at one point of the game. It was Chamique Holdsclaw that had a hot hand of shooting, scoring at least 12 first-quarter points. Not only could Holdsclaw make impossible shots but she could pass bullets, including an NBA-level bullet where she found Sancho Lyttle downcourt, who passed it back to Holdsclaw as she crossed the dividing line, who hit the shot.
At one point, the Dream were shooting 69 percent, blazing hot. The Dream were 9-0 on fast break points alone in the first quarter.
Meadors brought Ivory Latta in to play point in the first, and she showed that she had finally managed to kick the rust off after the enforced layoff. The Dream had left Latta in a situation where there would be no pressure to produce immediately. She scored a bucket and the Dream led 27-18 after the first quarter.
Coco Miller came out to join her sister Kelly in the second quarter, and both traded baskets to start the quarter. Michelle Snow looked good - at least in the beginning - and was making one handed shots and generally terrorizing the Lynx. The Dream had 24 points in the paint to Minnesota's 12, and led the Lynx 11-2 on fast break points, building up a 39-25 lead - their biggest of the game - following an Ivory Latta fast break.
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1) They are still playing that "every-BODY-clap-YOUR HANDS" song at the WNBA arenas, and the Lynx is no exception. More on this phenomenon later.
2) This is the first time I've ever heard a Green Day song played at a WNBA arena. The song? "Brain Stew". It might betray my taste in music, but this might be the coolest song ever played during a WNBA game.
(* * *)
The Dream felt it safe to bring in Jennifer Lacy, and something immediately changed. The Lynx answered right back with a 12-4 run of their own. The Lynx were starting to feel comfortable with the 3-pointer, hitting 4 out of 10 of their attempts at that point. Angel McCoughtry came in and got a 3-pointer of her own, but that didn't stop the run.
The only joy of the run was watching Alex Chambers, of 13 Teams, 1 Journey, who is visiting every WNBA team in the league. It was his turn to come to Minneapolis, and Hanneman and Olsen chatted with him for a while. There was no comment on what was going on on the court, which must have annoyed Lynx fans but which made things much easier for me to bear.
At one point, the Lynx scored on eight straight possessions, closing the gap to 45-41. They brought Lehning back in, but she turned her ankle and that was the end of her for the half. The Lynx scored on 11 of their last 14 possessions.
How bad did it get? With the Dream up 49-45, Candice Wiggins - who hadn't done much of anything all game - made a last burst of energy for a final fast break as time expired. Angel ended up fouling her, Wiggins hit both free throws, and all the Dream got out of it was an extra foul on McCoughtry. Atlanta, which led by 14 points, now hung on to a two point lead at halftime, 49-47.
Atlanta was still shooting hot, at 62 percent going into halftime. The Lynx, however, were shooting 47 percent and were keeping up on rebounds. Claw had 13 points, but so did Charde Houston of the Lynx. We scored 32 points in the paint, but the Lynx could shoot the three. Only the fact that the Lynx had turned the ball over 10 times in the first half saved our lead.
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3) We finally got a chance to see the Lynx's camp day crowd, consisting mostly of little girls from basketball camp. They filled the arena out nicely.
4) Renee Montgomery was interviewed by FSN before the game, and they showed the interview at halftime. Apparently, Beyonce Knowles is going to be performing in Minneapolis, and the Lynx bumped into her at a restaurant or something. Beyonce gave out some tix and Montgomery got one of them, claiming that she "might give it away on Twitter". I'm sure there were a lot of Minneapolitans anxiously loading and reloading Twitter, hoping for a ticket pick-up.
5) The halftime show for the Lynx - the brief part I saw of it, anyway - was a martial arts display. I generally find martial arts halftime shows pretty dull. It's hard to make chopping a board in half interesting, but the kids in the crowd enjoyed it. The camera panned to three hyper young boys who had been temporarily possessed by the spirits of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Chuck Norris.
(* * *)
This took us to the third quarter. The same starters would come out for the second half with the exception of Lehning, now replaced by Ivory Latta. Izi started the second half with a 3-pointer and the Lynx missed their first eight shots. It was now Atlanta's turn to run and the 10-2 run started a getaway - Izi hit another three and Latta added one of her own - to put the Dream up 64-51 with 5:29 left in the third. For a few moments there, I thought this was were the Lynx were going to go to the map and stay there. Even when Sancho Lyttle picked up a foul, she was pumping her fist, and going "Woooo!" like she had the Holy Ghost.
If there was a WNBA basketball goddess, however, she changed the channel and the Dream's prayers to end this game in the third went unanswered. Minnesota found the basket and despite the fact that we were still shooting over 60 percent, the Lynx began chopping away at the lead. Meadors throw McCoughtry out there to stop the bleeding, but that didn't help. Lacy just looked awful and a 9-0 run cut the lead to 64-40.
With about 1:27 left, Lehning came back in. Anosike crossed the 20 point line, with 11 of Anosike's points coming in the third quarter. A pair of free throws by Renee Montgomery closed the lead to two points, 66-64, but Holdsclaw hit a 3-pointer - her 20th point of the game - and Angel hit a basket with four seconds left to send us to the fourth with a seven-point lead.
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6) In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Michelle Snow was compared to Kevin Garnett by the FSN announcers, at least in terms of having a long, lanky appearance and not necessarily in terms of being able to dominate a game.
7) The arena started that stupid "CLAP-YOUR-HANDS" song. I know why they play it; it's a friggin meme, a brain worm. It started playing, and I started clapping along...until, to my horror, I realized that I would be clapping for Minnesota! AGGGGHH!!
(* * *)
Atlanta was starting to dip below 60 percent in shooting as the fourth quarter started slowly. It was clear that the Lynx were going to be a bit more methodical, and it was working. Montgomery stole the ball from Lehning, and then Lehning fouled her, compounding the mistake. Charde Houston got a steal from Iziane Castro Marques, but couldn't make the shot.
However, Houston was hitting her free throws and Anosike - who had been phenomenal; she should have started as center for the West in the All-Star Game - was hitting as well. Houston scored a bucket, and with 6:21 left in the game the Atlanta lead had been cut down to one point again, 73-72.
By this time, I was almost nuts and cursing up a storm. I thought I had reached the end of my patience. We were going to lose a second straight game in the fourth quarter after establishing a commanding lead. I cursed the basketball gods, Players X, Y, and Z, coach Meadors, the Atlanta Dream front office and fate itself for making me fall in love with the Atlanta Dream. I even cursed tape delay - if the game wasn't on tape, I couldn't stop it and watch moments over and over, which would force the game to go by at the speed of real time and therefore faster.
And who should step up to the plate but...Iziane Castro Marques? Streaky Izi. She hit a 3-pointer and then followed that with another bucket, and suddenly we led 78-72 with 5:04 remaining. Ivory Latta came in. "YMCA" started playing on the overhead, but even the Minnesota crowd of screaming, enthusiastic Lynx-loving little girls couldn't stop the Dream.
Holdsclaw hit a couple of free throws and it was an 84-74 game again. With 1:21 left, Candice Wiggins made a 3-pointer to close it to 84-77. It was Wiggin's seventh point of the night - had she woken up?
Wiggins followed with a foul of Izi. Izi calmly sank both attempts to score her 19th and 20th points of the night. We were up 86-77 - three possessions - with 1:00 remaining. With the next possession, Candace Wiggins tried to follow up with another 3-pointer....
...which missed. Holdsclaw got the rebound with 52 seconds left, and the Lynx realized that if they were going to have any chance to win, they'd have to send Atlanta to the line and pray for misses.
But Minnesota never hit another shot for the rest of the night. The Dream hit three of its next four free throws. When Montgomery threw a pass into Lyttle's hands, she made the layup that put us up 91-77 with 26 seconds left. Montgomery would try a 3-pointer, which would not go in. Erika got the ball, dribbled down the rest of the clock, and the Dream turned a 2-point lead into a 14-point victory.
Very nice win. Our next game will be against Indiana in Indinapolis on Friday. I'll write more about this game later, but let's put an end to Indiana's 11-game winning streak on their home court. We have everything to gain, and they have everything to lose.