Monday, August 24, 2009
Old meets new.
It's odd that I've been to about 20 or so Atlanta Dream home games - probably more - but have never been to a major college basketball game. I'm not going to put down Georgia Tech and the fine work they do - I see a lot of Tech games - but they can't fill the rafters at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and that's a shame. Atlanta has a great women's team of its own and it's just being ignored. (The local media probably isn't much help, but I don't want to turn this into an ongoing rant.)
I've never been to, say, a Tennessee game. I'm sure that they have packed crowds. I've never been to one, but after attending the Dream/Sparks game, I understand what the charm is about. It was almost like attending a Tennessee basketball game. The intensity both of the crowd and of the players was phenomenal. It might have not been the best WNBA game I've ever seen, but it's one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had at Philips Arena. If you didn't see this game - you missed a good 'un.
1) I could guess that this was going to be a hot ticket. Marynell Meadors appeared to be entertaining visitors from the bench, or just schmoozing patrons. During practice, the team was working on free throws, and they should work on free throws. At least Jennifer Lacy was.
2) On the other end, Vanessa Hayden was working out with I think Bruce Deziel, the Sparks conditioning coach. This is the first time I've actually seen someone other than the Dream run serious drills before a game started. Most of the times, the visiting teams are involved in an unfocused shootaround, or someone like Becky Hammon will work on her 3-point shooting. The Sparks were clearly doing a perimeter shooting drill.
Carol Ross, meanwhile, continues to work with our post game. We might not hit a lot of 3s, but we hit a lot of 2s.
3) B-Money was back. I saw Betty Lennox embracing Jen Lacy on the Dream side of the court. There aren't a whole lot of people left for Lennox to say hello to - Lacy, Castro Marques and Latta are the sole survivors. Lennox, however, seemed like she was in a good mood, even giving Michelle Snow a hug.
4) I managed to catch a Mystics #23 jersey in the crowd as the gates opened - this was Holdsclaw's first number when she was with the Mystics. Talk about your throwback jerseys.
5) Then, the gates opened and a flood of...orange entered Philips Arena. I saw more Tennessee gear that you could have sold in a life time, even if you opened up a garage sale in Knoxville. It was a suburban, middle class crowd that skewed older - the kind of people that could take the time to make it all the way to Atlanta for a Dream game. The joke being that you could have walked from the upper level down to center court on the heads of those wearing Tennessee gear and your feet would have never touched ground until you hit the sideline.
6) Of course, there were other jerseys - Candace Parker's #3, in both home and away versions. I saw at least three such jerseys. Some people aren't only team fans, they're player fans. (A Candace Parker Tennessee jersey would have impressed me more. Then again, I've never seen a North Carolina Latta jersey, either.)
7) Walking around on center court - Ron Terwilliger, owner of the Atlanta Dream. He had a beer in his hand. Seeing the crowd, he must have been happy. Drink up, Mr. Terwilliger!
8) The anthem was sung by LaToya Jones. It was a good performance, although I think it was a little long.
9) Game time. Of course they were going to lower the lights and pump Philips Arena full of 120-decibel noise. The crowd could have eaily matched that.
Getting huge cheers were Candace Parker, obviously. Lisa Leslie got huge cheers - the crowd knew it was her final appearance. (Unless we meet in the finals.) Michelle Snow? Big cheers too, being a Tennessee alumna.
However, Ivory Latta also got hugh cheers. Erika de Souza also got a huge response from the crowd. Maybe Lady Vols fans know their WNBA better than I thought they did.
10) Chamique Holdsclaw was announced along with the reserves. She got big cheers - but I could tell by the way she moved that she was virtually crippled. She was just hobbling out there, not limping but clearly not at full speed and with an awkward half-jogging gait.
We need The Claw. Meadors would decided not to start Holdsclaw, a wise move. Give that knee all the time in the world.
11) Starters for Atlanta: McCoughtry, Lyttle, De Souza, Castro Marques, Lehning. This was McCoughtry's second start of her career.
Starters for Los Angeles: Milton-Jones, Thompson, Leslie, Parker, Harrower. I looked forward to a Milton-Jones/McCoughtry matchup.
12) The game started out good. Tina Thompson made a bad pass, McCoughtry got the steal and went to the other end of the court by herself. 2-0 Dream.
13) Los Angeles, however, decided to put the screws to us early. They went on a 10-0 run, marked with a couple of 3-pointers by Thompson and Parker.
It was almost comical at times. Lehning thought she had an open drive to the basket, only to find Parker at the other end. Our distributor-style point guard found no one to distribute to and an ugly surprise at the end. Lehning might be good, but Lehning vs. Candace Parker is a mismatch. You can guess how that possession ended.
McCoughtry's initial solution was to just shoot over Los Angeles's height. But L. A. has a lot of height. Her jumper, arced too high, fell short.
14) Now I know where those Latta cheers are coming from. One gentleman had a sign that simply read: "LATTA!" I guess when you say Latta, you've said it all.
15) During this awful run, the entertainers for the Dream went to the audience to ask them trivia questions. The first one: "Which city is the #1 ozone-polluted city?" There were three choices, one being Los Angeles. Of course, the fan got the answer correct. The theme of "torment LA" had been established.
16) We had a hard time getting traction. Lehning would beat Kristi Harrower one possession and Lyttle would be stripped by Harrower the next. McCoughtry missed an open look shot.
At that moment, the announcer pointed out the presence of Pat Summitt in the front row. Summitt stood, and the crowd stood and applauded. Finally, they were applauding something that wasn't L. A. scoring.
17) Iziane Castro Marques sensed that we were falling behind. Usually, when it looks like we're getting buried, Iziane figures, "hey, if we're going to lose I might as well score 30 points". (The "Izi effect".) She brought us back up to within 3 points, 18-15.
It was then that Michael Cooper decided to bring Betty Lennox in. You remember "B-Money! Cha-Ching!" which was the old announcement whenever Betty Lennox scored? Well, when Betty Lennox scored the announcer said, quietly, "Betty Lennox". Sic transit gloria mundi.
18) I believe I said earlier that the key to the Dream winning is that our bigs - Lyttle and de Souza - intimidate the hell out of anyone trying to play them off the glass. De Souza has that spin move that's just fatal. Unfortunately, the likes of Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker are very hard to intimidate and they begin to push the Dream off the glass, since it's really the only game we've got.
The Sparks went on a 13-2 run, interrupted only by a McCoughtry basket. Latta came in for the helpless Lehning, but that didn't help. Betty Lennox hit a couple of threes. Armintie Price came in, made a bad shot, and committed a double-dribble. (I think jaye might be right when he said that Price watches her own dribble.) By the end of the quarter, the score was 30-19. With Betty Lennox's three to start the second, the Sparks would be up by 14 points.
19) I thought the place was looking pretty full. A friend and I were talking about attendance and I said, "you know, this might be the best turnout we've had since Camp Day".
20) Ivory Latta vs. Shannon Bobbitt - a matchup for the ages. It's the first time I've seen Latta matched up with someone who was smaller than she was.
The first time Latta had the ball, she lost it. Then she hit a 3-pointer. Then another 3-pointer. Then she got the foul from Shannon Bobbitt and sank two. In 90 seconds, Latta had scored eight points.
21) Some high weirdness - Michelle Snow taking a 3-point shot from the top of the arc and having it clank off the rim. The temperature must have risen 10 degrees as Pat Summitt's heat vision bored right through Snow.
22) Iziane, on the other hand, kept the hot hand and showed Atlanta "what would the Atlanta Dream be like if they had a consistent 3-point game?" I think the answer is "unbeatable". Castro Marques began to dig the Dream out of the hole all by her lonesome. She hit a 3pointer, then later sank two free throws off a foul by Delisha Milton-Jones. Then, when Lisa Leslie missed a layup, Castro Marques hit another 3-pointer eight minutes later. The gap was down to six points, 43-37 Los Angeles.
23) There is one thing that Los Angeles can do that really impresses me - it is their ability to pass the ball. When they decide that they want to pass it, not only can they pass it with precision but their height is absolutely a killer. If they find Leslie or Parker with a lob pass, not only can either of those players bring the ball down but a smaller player can't stop them. Lyttle and De Souza can't do that since they are the targets of passes from shorter players.
24) I got to see a Georgia Tech commercial at the game! Huzzah! And guess who was at the game? Head Coach Machelle Joseph and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. (But where was Georgia State? Why didn't you represent?)
25) With 2:22 going in the first half, Lacy hit a 3-pointer to close the score to 45-40.
26) An amusing sequence:
01:55 Castro Marques Rebound (Off:0 Def:2)
01:51 Castro Marques Layup Shot: Missed
01:50 McCoughtry Rebound (Off:1 Def:1)
01:48 McCoughtry Putback Layup Shot: Missed
01:47 DeSouza Rebound (Off:2 Def:2)
01:47 DeSouza Putback Layup Shot: Missed Block: Parker (2 BLK)
01:47 Lacy Rebound (Off:1 Def:3)
After four Dream players got their hands on the ball, Lacy finally got the foul, hitting one of two free throws. It was now 45-41. Los Angeles was over the limit in fouls.
27) McCoughtry was going to the boards as hard as anyone else, but she couldn't get the shots to fall. During the last 1:15, the Dream missed four shots - although one was a desperation time-expiring shot with Angel McCoughtry playing 1-on-3. The half ended with the Sparks leading 47-41.
28) Halftime: The big spectacle at halftime was the awarding of an Atlanta Dream jersey to Pat Head Summitt. This brought the crowd on their feet. Coach Summitt's number in the Dream pantheon is #1000, or "1K". Summitt is the only NCAA basketball coach in Division I (male or female) to win 1000 games.
29) The Atlanta Dream instituted a new program, modeled after the successful "Cash for Clunkers". It was called "Cash for Cluckers" and featured Atlanta Dream mascot Star and two fans, one wearing a Dream shirt and the other wearing L. A. colors. The game was to see who could act the most like a chicken. Each fan would be blindfolded and begin imitating corn-eating fowl. The winner got a prize.
The joke was that as the Los Angeles fan started her chicken dance, the Atlanta fan's blindfold was removed and she and Star sat down and ate popcorn. Silly Sparks fan! You got punk'd! (I suspect, however, that this was not an actual Los Angeles Sparks fan. Maybe the SparksFO will plan revenge.)
30) A lot of the fans disappeared at 1/2 time. Why? The Lady Vols were out in the lobby signing autographs. I don't see why they left, since I suspect that most of these fans have enough Lady Vols signatures to fill a family bible - "The Gospel According to Pat".
31) The Dream had been held to 5 rebounds in the first half and only shot 38.9 percent to the Sparks's 46.3 pecent. We were losing the battle of the boards. On the other hand, we went 5-for-8 from 3-point land.
32) Lyttle, after being held scoreless in the first half, got her head on straight. She scored the first four points for the Dream in the third, beating Parker one-on-one for the second basket. It was now a two point game, 47-45.
33) Angel McCoughtry was the participant in the iPod Challenge. Her task was to sing "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child. She substituted a few Dream-centric lyrics and sang something which only had a slight resemblance to Destiny's Child and a stronger resemblance to a cat in a blender.
34) The Dream brought out the Sugar Hill Gang song "Apache" to move the crowd. Usually, we don't get to hear "Apache" until the fourth quarter. Maybe both teams were playing so hard that it seemed like 40 minutes.
35) The T-shirts the Shooting Stars Dancers were wearing under their red zip-ups? They read "BEAT LA". The announcer tried to get a "BEAT LA" chant going, with limited success.
36) The Dream were finally fighting back on the boards, not assuming that LA would fold. Iziane hit a 3-pointer to close the game to within one, and with 6:50 left, McCoughtry made a layup that returned the lead to Atlanta, 52-51.
37) The next minute or so categorizes Los Angeles's temporary third-quarter meltdown:
Quinn Foul : Shooting (2 PF)
Leslie Foul : Loose Ball (3 PF)
Harrower Foul : Personal (1 PF)
Harrower Foul : Shooting (2 PF)
Leslie Foul : Offensive (4 PF)
Leslie Turnover : Foul (2 TO)
Iziane hit another 3-pointer. McCoughtry hit a jumper with 5 minutes left. The Dream were up 58-53 and the attendance was announced....
...11,304! A sell-out crowd! The announcer played another fourth quarter staple, "YMCA".
38) Los Angeles woke up. For the rest of the quarter, it was very intense and Los Angeles closed to a one-possession game. Latta was in the game but it seemed that the Sparks had figured out Latta. With 30 seconds left, Noelle Quinn hit a pair of free throws to finish the third quarter with a 63-63 tie.
The Dream announced Iziane Castro Marques as the Player of the Game with 23 points. My friend and I rolled our eyes. They play four quarters. I don't know if the DFO remembered that, but I'm sure that the Sparks did.
39) The "BEAT-L-A" chant came back, but in the fourth quarter, Los Angeles started with a 10-4 run. Thompson was left wide open on a jump shot. Michelle Snow threw up an airball and it seemed like Atlanta was regressing. Latta picked up her third personal foul - why, I can't figure out because I don't think she was doing anything wrong.
With 6:08 left, the Sparks had a 75-67 lead. The trivia people went out in the audience and asked which city had the worst traffic: Atlanta, New York, or Los Angeles? Can you guess the answer?
40) The Dream had an advantage - Lisa Leslie had picked up her fifth foul. The question was if the Dream could make up the deficity. Los Angeles began to push the Dream back off the boards again.
Time was starting to run out. Down 81-73, Lyttle, McCoughtry, Castro Marques (from three), and Lehning all tried shots - but the Sparks closed the basket. An Iziane Castro Marques brought it to a two-possession game, 81-75, with 1:58 left.
41) Unfortunately, Erika de Souza and Ivory Latta committed three personal fouls each in the fourth quarter. With 49.2 seconds left, Atlanta was already over the limit. This began what I call the Long March to the Payback Bar. Atlanta would foul, and try to force the Sparks to flinch at the free throw line.
The Dream sent Parker twice. They sent Milton-Jones, Lennox, and Thompson once. Ten free throws...and the Sparks hit nine of them. The game had bogged down so much that one fan screamed at the referees, "Are you getting paid by the hour?!"
42) With 13 seconds left, Thompson hit two free throws to put the game effectively out of reach, 89-82. Six seconds later, Mccoughtry hit a jumper - her 20th point - to close the gap to 89-84 with 7 seconds left. So Parker got sent back to the foul line, and as before, hit both shots.
McCoughtry hit a final 3-pointer with 2 seconds left to close the Dream to 91-87. But the Dream couldn't come back. Our 3-game win streak was over.
(* * *)
After the game, Pat Summitt spoke to the collected crowd. It was a short speech - maybe 3 1/2 minutes or so. She talked about the need to support the WNBA and women's basketball, and by extension, the Dream. I fully concur.
Whew. I feel like I just played the game. The statistical post-mortem comes later.