Friday, July 31, 2009
Erika de Souza, Iziane Castro Marques...and her twin sister.
This is the beginning of a new era for the Atlanta Dream.
Let me explain that. We could lose every game we play for the rest of the year (God forbid it) and this would still be the beginning of a new era. The first era, the era of B-Money, was one marked by inevitable losses (in 2008) or situations where one could never count on a win until the final minutes (in 2009). The players were gone from the 2008 season - we virtually turned over the whole team - but the stench remained.
The fact is, the Dream had never delivered an out-and-out ass whipping to a team, never in its brief history of 53 regular-season games. Much less a whooping of a good team like Phoenix. We could point to lopsided defeats, but never to lopsided victories. With this win against the Mercury - a win in which we beat our previous scoring record by five points - we have not ascended to the great teams of the WNBA...not yet. But the stench from last year has now been replaced with a piney-fresh new car smell. On our own home court the demons of last year were finally and irrevocably exorcised. There is no denying that this is not the Atlanta Dream of the past.
I might not feel like this after Saturday's game against the Libs, but I'll give you my thoughts on this game.
1) I got to watch Diana Taurasi warming up with her team. She was palming the ball - holding it upside down and keeping gravity from grabbing the ball using only the strength of her fingers. It's such a simple thing, but it amazes me any time I see anyone doing it.
She was goofing around, at one time, trying to score with a 1-on-3 drill. She practiced it once. Maybe she should have practiced it some more.
2) Sighting of first Diana Taurasi jersey: 6:40 pm. My fear was that there would be a bevy of Taurasi fans in the audience loudly cheering her on, and they'd take the crowd out of the game.
3) The sign on the moving electronic sign reads that Delta Airlines is the official airline of the Atlanta Dream. How can that be when I know they take AirTran sometimes? Does AirTran become the "unofficial airline" of the Atlanta Dream?
4) I spoke with an Atlanta Dream insider. I can't say who, but I got some numbers on WNBA Live Access. Supposely, the number of people watching WNBA Dream games on Live Access are around 6,000. (I forgot to ask if that was per game, or in total.)
The insider said that this was more than the Dream organization expected. For all the doom and gloom WNBA fans hear, that's a good sign.
5) Looking at the Dream floor, I noticed that it was "upside down". If I recall correctly, the Dream logo is read right-side up if you sit on the "players benches" side of Philips Arena. Last night, it was upside down. I wondered if that was going to jinx us.
To the DFO: IF THE LOGO IS UPSIDE DOWN, DON'T MOVE IT!!
6) The Dream were dressing "green" in the warmups. Last night was Green Night for the Dream. MARTA (Atlanta's rapid transit system) was giving away water bottles to the first 3,000 fans in attendance, and the Dream was wearing cotton green shorts in the warmups.
I didn't like them. They looked like the color of yellow teeth. It gave fans the impression that the Dream were a rec league club that had mistakenly wandered out to the court.
7) It looks like the Dream has some new warm-up music. More hip-hop. Someone was singing about a Gucci Rag. Someone more fly than me will have to tell me if this was the song by T. I.
8) The fans seemed to just trickle into the arena at the beginning. I bemoaned Dream fandom - "what's wrong with you, you have Diana Taurasi here and you're not showing up?"
But as the game progressed, more and more fans came, entering the arena like lines of orange and yellow and blue ants. (Rec leagues? Church groups?) We had a big crowd tonight, and they were into it.
9) Tonight's anthem singer: a young girl named Clara Hong. Have no idea who she is. She started a bit flat, but she finished strong.
10) Mercury starting lineup: Pondexter, Willingham, T. Smith, Taurasi, T. Johnson
Dream starting lineup: Castro Marques, Holdsclaw, Lyttle, de Souza....
...and Shalee Lehning, to my surprise. I would have figured that Ivory Latta's last few games would have earned her the starting spot, no question. It appears that coach Marynell Meadors wants to hit them with Shalee Lehning early on, and then bring Ivory Latta off the bench to change up things. As long as we win this way, I don't think anyone will mind, not even Latta.
11) We brought the lowered-lights, runway lights out for the introductions. What surprised me were the cheers for Mercury players. There must have been quite a few Auburnites in the crowd to cheer on DeWanna Bonner. Taurasi got a lot of cheers.
And of course, the Dream were cheered loudly - and the cheers for Erika de Souza were louder than they've usually been. I think Dream fandom is starting to realize how great Erika is.
12) Then, the game started. How do you describe it?
How's this for a try: Phoenix didn't hit a damn shot. They missed their first 12 baskets. We went ahead 5-0, then 7-0, then 9-0. I wasn't impressed. The Dream have started out 10-0 and lost games. But the baskets just kept falling. I was sitting with my companions and we watched in astonishment as the scoreboard read: Dream 15, Mercury 0.
My friend said, "I'm not seeing anything from the Mercury. No rotation. No offensive boards. No nothing."
13) Usually, this is where we fall apart, and the basketball guards wanted to provoke us. The Mercury answered with an 11-0 run, that involved Diana Taurasi going to the line to shoot a couple of free throws.
Someone shouted from behind me, "Lay off the booze!" This was directed at Taurasi, who had a high-profile DUI arrest in Phoenix. Whatever the Dream fans were going to provide, it wasn't going to be 100 percent Southern hospitality.
14) During this run, Shalee Lehning tried to make a layup, but Temeka Johnson had grabbed Lehning before she could make the shot. Lehning was going to be making that layup from 5 feet above the floor. Taurasi, smelling a victim, made like an arrow across the court and gave the best block of a potential shot that I've seen all year in the WNBA.
The ball hit the floor so hard you could have heard that block in Savannah. Taurasi's face said it all: "Stay out of my way, little girl." It looked like Dee had come to play tonight.
15) Phoenix was shooting 17.6 percent in the first quarter. The Dream had 18 first-quarter rebounds. We finished the first quarter with a 26-11 lead - but having a 26-11 lead against the Merc is like trapping a rattlesnake in a corner: okay, you've got the snake trapped, but then what do you do?
16) Atlanta answered my own question: "you shoot it." After Phoenix's 11-0 run, the Dream answered with another 15-0 run and led 30-11. The Dream boosted the lead to 23 points on a reverse layup (!!) by Jennifer Lacy. When Lacy is hitting reverse layups on your team, your team has a problem...and supposedly Lacy wasn't even at 100 percent health.
Diana Taurasi simply...vanished. Atlanta's defense was just demolishing Phoenix as the Dream played with furious intensity. It was as if Harry Potter lent her his Cloak of Invisibility. Taurasi started the game 1-for-6 while the Dream pushed the lead to 25 points. Then 29 points. Then 30 points.
17) I could tell that Marynell Meadors was in a good mood. The ball was inadvertantly thrown out of bounds, and was recovered by a fan sitting behind the Atlanta bench. The fan handed the ball back to Meadors, who handeded it back to the referee...and then high-fived the fan.
18) Ivory Latta was now in the game for Lehning. She was on her way to scoring 12 first half points. Lehning came back in and made a silly foul on Taurasi. We prayed that Lehning wouldn't wake the sleeping giants of the Mercury.
However, Iziane Castro Marques punctuated the first half by ending it with a 3-pointer that put the Dream firmly in control. The Dream now led 59-29 going into the break. I told my friend, "if Meadors loses this game, she deserves to be fired".
Taurasi had been flattened. 2-for-9 shooting. That block on Lehning was going to be her game highlight. Ivory Latta had 12 points. Angel McCoughtry had 11 points.
19) Halftime wasn't much of anything. I don't think people were even paying attention to the skills display by the "Top of the Key Kids" because the crowd atmosphere was so animated. "We're leading by 30! How about that?" The crowd rushed to the concession stands en masse for physical fuel.
The Shooting Stars dancers came out to give free T-shirts, delivering the shirts by sling shots. They were wearing their own version of "green wear" - standard green cotton shirts with an all-white Dream logo. For once, the men matched the women in appearance - and they all looked sharp.
DFO: Maybe you want to keep the green tees?
20) It was at least mathematically possible that the Mercury could come back. All they needed was two strong quarters - granted that they'd have to be very strong quarters - and theoretically, the Merc could tie in the final minutes. This was a run-and-gun team, one of the best offenses in WNBA basketball.
But whatever the Mercury tried, the Dream countered. The Mercury were inexplicably charged with a "delay of game warning" (you'd think that the last thing Phoenix wanted to do would be to delay the game). Iziane Castro Marques missed a free throw, but Erika de Souza rebounded the free throw, kicked it out to Castro Marques - who sank a three. It was going to be that kind of night for the Mercury.
21) With the score 75-40 in favor of Atlanta...Shalee Lehning tried a reverse layup. (Facepalm.) It didn't go in. A word of advice - if you're not known for being a scorer, eschew those low-percentage shots.
22) The Dream entered a zone where they were doing everything right. Holdsclaw went for a ball, then saw that she couldn't bring the ball back without going out of bounds...so she threw it off of Diana Taurasi's les. The Dream went up to a 40 point lead.
By this time...the game was over. The Dream were so confident that I swear they were just trying shots to see if they would go in. Erika de Souza making a 20 foot shot? Oh why not, let's give de Souza a 3-pointer in her career. The Dream were extremely relaxed, exchanging jokes on the court.
When the other team is treating the game as if it's a glorified practice session? That's when Corey Gaines should have benched his starters for the rest of the night.
23) We hit 90-45. A forty-five point lead. The quarter ended with the Dream up 90-48.
24) Present at the game: Hawks announcer Ryan Cameron. Never heard of him, but I'm sure he's a great guy - he looked happy.
25) It was good to see Coco Miller come back out on the floor. Miller took an elbow to the ear at the end of the second half, but she had recovered from it. Miller is hella tough.
26) What else to say? The Dream began to slack - how could you not slack when you're up by 40-plus?
Taurasi batted the ball out of Lacy's hands from behind. It was Taurasi's fourth foul, and if Taurasi had fans, they were silent. "Go find a bar!" someone screamed from the crowd.
For those for whom such crowd behavior is inexplicable - the American South has a much more negative attitude towards alcohol than other parts of the country. Go to Wikipedia and look up "dry county".
27) At the end of the first half, I turned to my friend. "Why isn't Tamera Young in this game? We're leading by what, 32 points, and you don't feel confident enough to put Young on the court?" With about six minutes left...Tamera Young finally came into the game.
She lost the player she was guarding on the Dream's first defensive possession - but can you blame her?
As is turned out, it would be the first of two free throws that Tamera Young made that broke the all time scoring record for the Dream franchise. The rest of the game was a snoozer.
27b) A first: Dream fans leaving early because the win was secured and they wanted to beat the traffic. What is this, the Los Angeles Dodgers?
28) At the end, Phoenix had closed the game to within 30 - but declined to take a final shot as the crowd applauded. At the end of the game, it was the Dream players that were throwing T-shirts to the crowd.
Great game. Great everything, pretty much. The post-mortem comes later.