Thursday, September 3, 2009

30/2009 - Dream 84, Sparks 79: Shooting Isn't Everything

Climbing a mountain.

As we headed into the final games of the season, we had clinched a postseason berth, but were looking to improve our seeding. Things looked promising. We had two games left and one of them was against the Atlanta Dream, an expansion team that had won only three games all season. We all had that one listed in our “win” column to take into the postseason with us. Atlanta apparently had not gotten the memo. They beat us on our floor, to record their fourth and final win of the 2008 season. What is it with Atlanta?

- Kathy Goodman, Los Angeles Sparks co-owner.

Goodman, in a post from her Los Angeles Times blog, tries to figure out why a strong team like the Sparks lost to Atlanta.

Parker ended up with another double-double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Leslie showed again why she could continue playing in this league for as long as she wanted to, scoring 24 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Tina Thompson shot 67%, and was two of four for three. Our field goal percentage was higher than Atlanta’s; we had more rebounds, more assists and more blocks. We had more of just about everything other than points. What is it about the Atlanta Dream that gets us so frustrated?

We had 16 turnovers, which turned into 14 Atlanta points. Atlanta had seven turnovers. Even though we outscored them in the paint, 50-36, they killed us on the offensive boards, getting 20 second-chance points to our 11. Atlanta had twice as many steals as we did and we gave them the chance to shoot 28 free throws, but only got to the line 10 times ourselves. In the end, it was simple — they took better care of the ball; they got the rebounds that mattered, and their bench outscored our bench, 32-11.

Clearly, Kathy Goodman reads the box score as much as I do. She's already looking at shooting percentage, offensive rebounding, throw shooting. And turnovers. If there's someone who has a familiarity with Dean Oliver's Four Factors, it's Kathy Goodman. Let's see if we can take a peek at the Four Factors ourselves.

Field goal percentage: Los Angeles definitely had the lead here: 45.9 percent to 37.7 percent in terms of field goal accuracy. If we look at effective field goal percentage - counting 3-pointers as 1 1/2 field goals - then Los Angeles has 48.6 percent accuracy and Atlanta has 41.2 percent accuracy. The Sparks clearly lead, and this puts Atlanta behind in the chase.

Turnovers: Atlanta has a big win in this column, with six turnovers compared to 16 from the Sparks. The turnovers created all sorts of chances for Atlanta to score, and Atlanta actually ended up with three more field goal attempts. That might have been the difference.

Offensive rebounds: Atlanta led here 12 to 11 in offensive rebounds, but only had a 26.6 percent offensive rebound rate. Los Angeles had a 28.5 percent rebound rate. Atlanta did not kill the Sparks on the offensive boards, it's merely that Atlanta was more likely to turn their offensive rebounds into baskets than Los Angeles. Both teams were able to "pick up" offensive rebounds at about the same rate.

Free throw visits: Goodman noticed it right away: Atlanta went to the line 28 times, and Los Angeles only went 10 times. Both sides shot about 70 percent, and Atlanta picked up 13 more points from the free throw line (20-7).

What's the conclusion? Having a better field goal accuracy does not necessarily mean that you're going to win. It helps a lot; Oliver gave field goal shooting as much weight as the other three factors combined. However, a team that can shoot baskets but can't rebound, can't hang on to the ball and has a trouble with fouling is going to make a lot of those wins very close ones, and some of those wins into losses.

(* * *)

We'll take a look at the Los Angeles Sparks.

Lisa Leslie: In what might have been her final game against the Atlanta Dream, she scored 24 points on 10-fror-18 shooting. Six rebounds. 12 first quarter points alone.
Tina Thompson: 19 points, 6 rebounds.
Candace Parker: 15 points, 14 rebounds. A great game for Parker, but she fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Betty Lenoox: 23 minutes, 1-for-7 shooting and she was held to 2 total points.
The Los Angeles Bench: 10 points. 4-for-16 shooting. One of Los Angeles's biggest problems: the bench didn't show up.

And now, to look at the Atlanta Dream:

Sancho Lyttle: 14 points, with 7-for-11 shooting. 7 rebounds, and 4 steals. Two blocked shots. I'm going to name Lyttle the Dreamer of the Game above....

Iziane Castro Marques: I'm sure aa lot of Iziane's fans are saying, "Iziane turned it on in the final minutes - why isn't she the best player of the game?" Well, she shot 9-for-22. All in all, her 27 points came from 26 shooting attempts. (9-for-22 in field goals, 4-for-4 in free throws). It's efficient shooting, but not superlative shooting. She turned the ball over 3 times as well. And as we said earlier, shooting isn't everything.

Lyttle had four offensive rebounds, and second-chance points were critical. Iziane only had zero offensive rebounds. No taking away from Iziane's game, but I have to give it to Lyttle, who followed a 6-steal game with a 4-steal game.

Ivory Latta: Latta was a lot of help. She had 9 points and 3 assists. Her +14 in raw plus/minus was far above any other player's raw plus/minus. When Meadors put Latta in for Lehning, it picked up the Dream.

Michelle Snow: 12 points, 6 rebounds. Snow went 6-for-8 from the free throw line.

Erika de Souza: 5 points on 2-for-9 shooting, with 4 personal fouls. Her seven rebounds managed to bring her game up to a so-so game.

Jennifer Lacy: 2-for-6 shooting. She had 4 offensive rebounds, and oddly enough, no defensive rebounds. 12 minutes of play.

Coco Miller: 3 points on 1-for-5 shooting. Miller had 5 rebounds, and a couple of assists. You usually don't see Miller pick up a lot of rebounds.

Angel McCoughtry: Surprisingly, the Dream won without a really effective contribution from McCoughtry. (Maybe Los Angeles spent too much time worrying about McCoughtry and not enough time worrying about anyone else.) 2-for-8 shooting and only 1 rebound from McCoughtry.

Shalee Lehning: In the last three games Lehning had played, two of them have been nothing to write home to Kansas about. This game wasn't as bad for Lehning as the Detroit game, but she was held scoreless and only played 16 minutes.

Armintie Price: Price had a couple of points. 0-for-2 in shooting, but amazingly hit a couple of free throws. (She is 52.8 percent from the free throw line as a shooter.)

So who is Still Snoozin'? Really, no one. Lehning and Price didn't do great, but I don't feel they really put us behind, either. It was a great, amazing win for Atlanta and let's keep this going in Sacramento tomorrow night. Remember, Friday and Saturday are back-to-back games, so this is going to be tough. Sacramento will want this win, so we should want it just as bad.

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