Saturday, August 15, 2009
Lehning moves the ball to the top of the key against the Detroit defense.
How many basketball games have I seen in my life? Not enough to satisfy some people. But the fact is that in your mind, you can arrange games on a continuum - best games and worst games. The game I think I remember most is not our first win against Chicago, but our win four nights later on July 9, 2008 against Minnesota. I watched it on TV, and I just said "wow" - after going 0-17, we're now 2-0.
Some fans love the 83-72 upset of the Sparks in our penultimate game of the 2008 season. And there's the best game I've seen the Dream play, our 106-76 thumping of the Phoenix Mercury this year. However, the 85-80 win by the Sparks against the Shock was the worst basketball game I've ever seen. Period. God, that was awful. That was cartoon awful. Everything a detractor would want to say nasty about WNBA basketball, that was the game where you'd see it. (Both teams scored over 20 points though, if only because they had nothing better to do.) Missed layups, lack of focus, stupid fouls, horrible officiating - the entire litany of woe.
So now that I've established plausible deniability, I'll talk about the game itself:
1. There was no special pre-game workout. Why, I don't know. Players from the Dream were just shooting around, although Arminitie Price was now with them. She was wearing a dark blue Dream sweat shirt and was helping rebound, dish the ball, and generally establishing herself all over again. I think Price knows her role and is just glad for the opportunity.
2. Initially, the crowd looked weak. Traffic was horrible coming to Philips, and I heard two people walking by remark "It's a nice crowd, ain't it?".
Before cynicism could take hold, I saw not one - but two fans in crutches navigate the treacherous stairs all the way to the bottom. Some fans are dedicated. I would have helped, but I was half an arena away from them.
3. This would be the last time that Kristin Haynie would return to Philips Arena in 2009. If you don't remember, Haynie was the back-up point guard after Latta in the 2008 season. A couple sat down behind the Shock bench. One man was wearing a white T-shirt with a #4 which read - "Haynieac" where you would normally read a Jersey name. Kristin Haynie has her fans - it's sort of hard to explain. Maybe it's because she's a nice person?
4. Singing the National Anthem was Nia Holloway. I think that's the name, I'm not sure. Every syllable of the Anthem was elongated by a quaver --
"aaa-AAAAAA-aaa-AAAAAnnnnnndddd the roooo-OOOO-oooo-OOOOO-cketttssss reeee-EEEE-eee-EEEE-dddd gl-aaa-AAAA-aaa-AAAA-aaa-AAA-rrrrre...." Someone standing on the sideline was giving the singer instructions to speed it up. The crowd seemed to like the performance; I thought it was a little long.
5. For the longest time, there was a blue latter next to the Dream practice basket. I assumed that it would be used for dunking, providing the Dream an extra advantage.
6. I'm surprised at how small Armintie Price is. Her official height is 5-foot-9 but I'll bet that's an exaggeration by about two inches. Latta's given height is probably two inches greater than her real height, too. Latta was showing some emotion out there on the practice court, pumping her fist when she smoked a 3-pointer.
7. Starters for the Shock: Nolan, Hornbuckle, Smith, Ford, McWilliams
Starters for the Dream: Lehning, Castro Marques, Lyttle, de Souza, Holdsclaw. Holdsclaw had some great dance moves coming out.
8. This was Mascot Mania, but there were no mascots out yet. Where were they?
9. The opening music and video for the Dream's introduction is pretty sweet. It really needs to be thrown up on YouTube. Not just the part where the gigantic Dream players are shooting through the city, but the intro part where the players are working out. I like the music and I like the visuals. DFO, get that up on YouTube! (Maybe you want to wait though until August 17th, when the trade deadline passes.)
10. Both benches were standing for the longest time after the game started. Is this a tradition - you stand until the first basket is made?
11. And now, the horror that awaited. Both teams started the quarter 0-for-5 in shooting. My friend and I were looking at each other, like, "whAAA?" Taj McWilliams of the Shock was the first player to score any points, with 7:31 to go in the first quarter.
12. Up 7-4, Sancho Lyttle of the Dream earned her second personal foul with just 5:17 to go in the first. I thought, "great - we're going to have to worry about the Shock and the refs."
13. There were, however, highlights. Sancho Lehning completely faked out her defender one time in the first quarter, leaving her an open drive straight to the basket.
She missed it.
Erika de Souza was fouled by Cheryl Ford and sent to the line for two free throws.
She missed both of them. Egad.
14. Shavonte Zellous committed an offensive foul on Shalee Lehning in the first, and when she was called for it, she jumped up and down like a petulant schoolgirl. Coach Meadors would subsitute Angel McCoughtry for Iziane Castro Marques at the interruption of play, and 14 seconds later McCoughtry would have her first basket.
15. There was another gap at the end of the first quarter where Detroit went 0-for-3 with a turnover as Latta stole the ball from Taj McWilliams. Then, Latta would pass the ball right into the hands of Kara Braxton. The Dream went 0-for-2 on their end of quarter shooting and the Shock led the battle of ineptitude 15-11.
The Dream's first quarter free throw shooting? 3-for-8. Their field goal shooting was 4-for-18. (Detroit's was only 6-for-18).
16. Since both teams were having bad games, it was now time to bring out the mascots for Mascot Mania!
Here were the mascots:
Homer, the mascot of the Atlanta Braves. He appears to be Mr. Met's second cousin. I'm sure a lawsuit is forthcoming.
Thrash, the mascot of the Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL. According to Wikipedia, "he is an anthropomorphic brown thrasher, the state bird of Georgia."
Harry the Hawk, the mascot of the Atlanta Hawks. He's also a part time loan-collector.
Star, the hardest working mascot in the WNBA.
Freddie Falcon, the mascot of the Atlanta Falcons. He was just glad to be indoors. There also seemed to be his hydrocephalic cousin, Big Fred, some sort of huge inflatable mascot that could barely move. Poor guy.
I was surprised not to see any of the college mascots - it could be that college simply hasn't started yet and Buzz and Pounce, the mascots for Georgia Tech and Georgia State, were still vacationing in Aruba.
17. The free-throw-shooting woes of the Atlanta Dream continued. Erika de Souza went back to the line, and missed one of her two free throws. We had still not found a spot in the game where the Dream could hit both of their free throws.
18. Detroit, however, could hit their free throws with a bit more regularity. They managed to hang on to a 2-4 point lead early in the second quarter. Jennifer Lacy was given her attempt to hit a pair of free throws. Like everyone else on the Dream, she missed one of them.
19. How bad did it get. Snow raced to the basket and fired point blank. The ball made it to the top of of the rim, rolled along the side and rolled right back out again. I looked at my friend and I said, "this is what you get for missing the last two games".
20. With 4:51 left in the second, Detroit had a 25-19 lead. Finally, with 4:02 left in the half, Sancho Lyttle made both of her free throw attempts, breaking the curse. Detroit was now over the limit in fouls, giving us a chance.
21. Iziane Castro Marques missed a 3-pointer and then inexplicable committed a foul in the backcourt for her second personal. We couldn't catch a break at all, and the refs weren't helping.
Example: the play-by-play at 2:14 would simple read: "Lehning Turnover - Traveling". Here's what actually happened. Castro Marques had the ball and made a sweet bullet pass to Holdsclaw. Holdsclaw found Lehning just a few feet away from the basket with no defender. Holdsclaw passed to Lehning, who made the lay-up attempt....
...and then got the call. I almost shouted, "Hey ref! You have to move your feet to get a traveling call!" But WNBA refs play by different rules.
Meadors said a few words to the referee about that bullshit call. The result was that Meador got a technical foul. Meadors, however, was right - that was the worst call that I've seen a WNBA referee make this year.
22. Deanna Nolan was just killing us with those mid-range jumpers. She was shooting from the left side of the basket, where Iziane Castro Marques was just not playing defense. Detroit had built up a 33-25 lead with 2:02 to go....
23. ...then Coco Miller off the bench hit a 3-pointer and Lyttle hit a jump shot. Taj McWilliams got a traveling call and with 44 seconds left, Shalee Lehning got the layup to bring the score to 35-32 Atlanta! It would stay that way, with the Shock taking a 3-point lead into halftime.
24. Despite one of the worst halves of WNBA basketball conceivable, the Dream fans were still in it. I keep telling myself, "you know, those fans who come to those games, they have more heart and soul than anyone." (Take that, Seattle!) We didn't have a single Dream starter in double-digits and we had used every player off the bench except for Armintie Price. But the fans were still cheering the Dream, because they were our players.
25. The half-time entertainment was two-fold - the mascots played a game of basketball against a team of preteens. The mascots needed to cheat to win, and I saw Homer actually remove his giant Atlanta Braves hat and put it back on! (Your move, Mr. Met.)
26. The Dream were 7-for-14 at the free throw line in the first. They shot 34 percent from the field. The hope was that the second half would be better than the first.
27. With the start of the third quarter, Atlanta began to rise from the coffin. An Erika de Souza drive off an assist from Holdsclaw brought us to within one point, 37-36.
Afterward, Taj McWilliams got right in referee June Corteau's face. Whatever she said, Corteau didn't like it and McWilliams got the technical. Chamique Holdsclaw was given the free
throw for the technical, she sank it, and the Dream were tied for the first time since the first quarter.
28. Watching Cheryl Ford for the Shock play made me sad. She's wearing a big metal brace on her knee and her mobility is non-existent. She's become a stronger version of Katie Mattera.
29. Detroit took its lead back, but with Erika de Souza making two free throws for the first time in the game, it looked like the tide was starting to turn. Castro Marques made a layup that put us back up 45-44. However, Detroit kept sending us to the fre throw line, and The Claw hit four free throws to put the Dream up 49-45 with 5:03 left.
The Shock were now over the limit in free throws for the quarter. Holdsclaw's last two free throws were actually two out of three - the Shock had fouled Holdsclaw while she was trying to make a 3-pointer.
30. The Jumbotron panned over to Rajon Rondo of the Celtics. He must have looked at himself and that first half of play and said, "why am I here?"
31. The game then slogged down into another one of those dead zones that make you long for a bratwurst and a soda. The Dream were up 56-50, and Shavonte Zellous scored the final basket of the third quarter to let the Dream take a four point lead into the fourth, 56-52.
32. During the short break between the third and fourth quarters, the mascots thrilled the crowd with their attempts to dunk off a trampoline. I think the only two mascots that got dunks were Harry the Hawk and Star - I think they've both done this kind of thing before.
The Dream had gone from 7-for-14 free throw shooting to 19-for-28 shooting - the Shock sent Atlanta to the line 14 times in the third quarter, and we hit 12 shots.
33. Detroit, however, was not out of it yet. That shot by Zellous to finish the third? That was the start of a 9-0 run by the Shock.
Lyttle took a shoulder to the ribs during the run and writhed on the ground in agony. Erika de Souza picked up two fouls within a minute of play. Detroit now led 59-56 with about 8 1/2 minutes left.
34. It was Angel McCoughtry who turned it around for the Dream. She scored the next basket for Atlanta to close it to 59-58. On Detroit's next possession, Katie Smith raised the ball in the air - but McCoughtry grabbed the ball from over Smith's head, and raced down the court by herself for the easy layup. The Dream were back in the lead 60-59.
Smith followed with a 3-pointer. McCoughtry answered with a 3-pointer, the first one she's hit in a long time.
35. Thursday's competitor on the iPod Challenge: Iziane Castro Marques, who sings a butchered version of "I Will Survive", losing her grasp on English grammar in the process. However, the ticket holder playing the game won it.
36. Tied at 65-65, Iziane Castro Marques hit a 3-pointer that put us up 69-68. However, within just 40 seconds, Taj McWiliams made a jumper and Deanna Nolan stole the ball from Castro Marques, leading to another Detroit score. Detroit now led 69-68 with about 4 minutes to go.
37. Shalee Lehning and Katie Smith had been battling all night - the young rookie vs. the grizzled vet. Smith committed her fifth personal foul, sending Lehning to the line to shoot a pair of free throws:
Nailed 'em The Dream led 70-69 with 3:57 left. The Dream continued their run on a pair of free throws by Holdsclaw and a 3-pointer by Castro Marques. The Dream had gone on a 7-0 run to lead 75-69 with 1:55 remaining.
38. ...and it swang back in the other direction. Lyttle made a bad pass after a pair of Nolan free throws that lead to a Shavonte Zellous layup. With just 1:13 to go, the Dream only led 75-73.
The ball would be in Atlanta's hand, with every possession critical. Holdsclaw made a jumper that put the Dream up 77-73 and brought the entire crowd to their feet. Unfortunately, Nolan would score in the next 15 seconds and it was a 77-75 game with just 40 seconds left.
39. Then, Detroit's luck seemed to run out like the sand in an hourglass. The Dream held the ball to the 23 second mark, when Katie Smith committed her sixth personal foul, fouling out of the game. The Dream had the ball back and could now begin running the clock down.
40. Spotted in the crowd - Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. You shouldn't be surprised to find her at a Dream game, since both Amy and Emily grew up in DeKalb County, Georgia. Suffice it to say, she got a great reception.
41. Iziane Castro Marques miraculously manages to get the shot off before time expires! There is only 7 seconds left on the clock when Iziane shoots, and even though she misses the shot, Sancho Lyttle gets the rebound.
Alexis Hornbuckle is forced to foul to get the ball back.
...and then, inexplicably, Detroit head coach Rick Mahorn wanders out of the coach's box. How far was he out of the box? I thought he was going to substitute for Deanna Nolan. Detroit had been riding the refs all night, and Mahorn was all but begging "please give me a technical."
He got one. Holdsclaw hit the technical free throw, Lyttle followed up with both of her free throws on the foul. And the Dream survived to win, 80-75.
Whew. We might, or might not, have a statistical post-mortem before the Storm game. We'll see.