Saturday, September 12, 2009
What's that I see in the stands?
Indiana was the first team to cross the finish line, but the runners behind the Fever were all bunched up. Atlanta edges out in front and manages to get across the finish line a split second before the other runners - if you want to stretch this analogy to excruciating proportions.
Here are my thoughts about the game:
1) I didn't see Connecticut working out much at all. They weren't even shooting until they were announced and came onto the court as a group. Maybe coach Mike Thibault was afraid that one of his players would break something.
2) There were a lot of young people in the crowd - they must have been waiting for the weekend. The problem that Atlanta has is that on Friday nights, the Dream have to compete with high school football.
It seemed that people were pouring in to Philips Arena throughout the game. I wonder how many of them were mistaken about the start time, believing the game started at 7:30 pm instead of at 7 pm.
3) Also noted: when the Sun ran out onto the court as a team, there was virtually no applause. The Sun would be receiving no Southern hospitality.
4) Someone was carrying a sign that read, "Happy Birthday Angel" - it was actually was McCoughtry's belated birthday, as her birthday falls on September 10th. Whoever made this sign had the right idea:
* Multiple colors were used
* Consistent font/writing
* The letters were large, at least an "inch thick" in dark, rather than light colors. This is the kind of sign you can read across the court. It appeared to be written on paper, which means easy transportation as the sign simply rolls up when not being used
If you're thinking of a sign, remember these tips.
5) This was "Fan and Military Appreciation Night" and an honor guard brought the American flag out to center court. Roselin J. Johnson sang the National Anthem. My understanding is that Ms. Johnson is a member of the Atlanta police force. She was very good; it might have been the best rendition of the National Anthem I've heard this year.
6) Before the game started, coach Marynell Meadors presented Angel McCoughtry with her Rookie of the Month award for August. There was another sign: "Congratulations Rookie of the Year: Angel McCoughtry".
7) There were two players showing up that I didn't expect to show up: one was Tamika Whitmore, who had been tending to her sick grandmother from what I understand. The other was Chamique Holdsclaw. Holdsclaw wasn't dressed for the game but her hair was in a bun and she was attired pretty smartly.
8) Atlanta starters: McCoughtry, Lyttle, de Souza, Castro Marques, Lehning. Holdsclaw was there to "shove" McCoughtry on the court, which is sort of becoming a tradition.
Connecticut starters: Jekabsone-Zogota, Gardin, Gruda, White, Whalen. No Asjha Jones.
9) In the first quarter, the game got started fast. It seemed like Atlanta wanted to run. Aside from a brief point where the Sun led 4-2 after a steal by Gardin and a basket by Whalen, the Dream took the lead. Sancho Lyttle picked up six quick points before four minutes had passed.
What I didn't like: Lehning made three bad passes in the first five minutes or so. If I recall correctly, all of them were overthrows. However, it only counted as two turnovers for Lehning as Lyttle tried to save one of those passes but Tan White fouled Lyttle when Lyttle was still (1/2) in control of the ball.
10) The Dream promotional staff decided to have a 3-point shooting contest. One of the participants was a young kid named Conor...
...and let me tell you, this kid was a freak. His tiny little body was just sinking 3-pointers left and right, absolutely killing them. It seemed that it took every bit of his strength to shoot from behind the arc, but he nailed shot after shot after shot. He was amazing. Hopefully, word has gotten back to the Atlanta Hawks.
11) Amber Holt hit a couple of buckets, and the score was 19-16 Atlanta. On Holt's second shot, Holt outraced Iziane Castro Marques to the bucket. It looked like Connecticut was going to make a game of it.
12) But then...no. Up 19-16, the Dream went on an 11-0 run. Shalee Lehning drove to the basket on a breakaway, scoring four seconds after an Erika de Souza rebound. Then, Erika scored on an assist by Angel McCoughtry.
And let's talk about McCoughtry and an amazing first quarter sequence. Up 27-16, Angel McCoughtry had what I call a "real steal" - not one of those steals which is nothing more than just catching a bad pass, but a steal where you break up the opponent's dribble. It's amazing to see McCoughtry get those steals, because McCoughtry is moving in the opposite direction and it ends on a "one-on-zero" break to the opponent basket.
So McCoughtry is all alone with the Connecticut Sun galloping behind her. Firing point blank - she misses. By that time, Kiesha Brown has arrived, but McCoughtry gets the offensive rebound. And then, she makes the basket, gets the foul and McCoughtry sinks the follow-up free throw. Steal + Missed Field Goal + Offensive Rebound + Field Goal + Free Throw. That's how you fill up a stat line.
13) Atlanta hit 13 of its 18 attempts for 72.2 percent shooting in the first quarter. They held the Sun to four total rebounds. (The Dream had 14). Clearly, the Dream had something to say in the first 10 minutes of the game, and they said it.
14) Connecticut went into the zone defense for the second quarter, and it seemed that Atlanta had trouble breaking through. The Sun scored the first points of the second quarter and trailed 30-21. The Dream had a hard time adjusting and made a couple of bad passes. One of Atlanta's problems was the outlet pass; there were at least three passes that ended up with turnovers (out of bounds, whatever) during the game.
15) Then, the Dream began to turn it up. McCoughtry got another "real steal" and would have had a basket if she hadn't lost her balance when in the middle of a Sun logjam of players. Ivory Latta came in for the first time and hit a 3-pointer. Ninety seconds later, Latta hit an underhanded layup to put the Dream up 43-27. It was all a part about an 8-0 run that gave Atlanta a 20-point lead, 47-27.
16) During the run, Sandrine Gruda earned a technical foul. Why, I have no idea. She had been called for a foul a few moments earlier, maybe she said something to the referees. Listening to the WNBA Live Access archive, Art Eckman provides no information - I don't think he even knew one was called.
17) With the score 47-31, a fan was quizzed on the Jumbotron and was given this question:
Which Atlanta Dream player is getting married next month?
a) Armintie Price, b) Ivory Latta, c) Shalee Lehning
The answer, if you didn't know, is "a". The fan answered "b". (The fan won the swag anyway.)
18) It seemed that we could do no wrong. Armintie Price - probably planning her nuptials - took the court. Up 49-34, Price had the ball, drove to the basket and got the defensive foul. Unfortunately, "Half Price" - she only hits 50 percent of her free throws - missed the gimme free throw. Price had five points before the end of the half.
19) Halftitme. The Dream led 53-36. Atlanta was still shooting over 50 percent, hitting 23 out of 40 shots. Lyttle had scored 14 points and Erika de Souza had 6 points and 7 rebounds.
20) The person wearing the pink Lehning jersey was back again. Hello!
21) I was very glad to see a commerical for Georgia State women's basketball. I think that as women's basketball fans, we need to support our local college teams and I recommend that you attend either a Georgia State game or a Georgia Tech game. I saw a lot of Georgia Tech games last year; Alexander Memorial Coliseum is a cool place to see a game.
22) With the season over, I think the Shooting Stars dancers - or was it the Dream front office workers - began giving out a lot of swag, whole boxes of it. They gave out a lot of water bottles - and pens? Were they pens? I never got a pen!
23) The third quarter started. Angel McCoughtry picked up her third personal foul early in the third quarter. Iziane Castro Marques picked up her first two fouls in the first two minutes of the third.
But we continued to roll. Lehning hit a 3-pointer to jump the score to 58-38. Ninety seconds later, Lehning hit another 3-pointer for her 13th point as Atlanta took a 62-41 lead.
24) Despite some lapses - Iziane attempting to drive 1-on-3 against Connecticut was one of them - the Dream maintained its 20-point lead and proceeded to extend it. It was then that I caught the Brazilian flag in the stands. I took a snapshot, and that's where the picture at the head of this blog post comes from. (Can you make out the flag?)
25) Cierra Burdick took part in a competition on court. A friend of mine - who has forgotten more about women's basketball than I've learned - pointed out to me that Burdick is a member of the USA's under-16 women's team that just won the 2009 FIBA Americas U16. Burdick will be eligible to play for a college team in 2011.
Here's her profile. The site says that she's considering North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Maybe she's thinking Tech or Georgia?
26) With 4:50 to go in the third quarter, de Souza picked up her 11th point. She now had a double-double. Lehning was already having a career high game. The Dream went on a 14 point run in the third quarter and with 30 seconds left in the third Atlanta led 78-46 - a 32 point lead that effectively ended the game before the fourth quarter had even started.
27) Someone told me that Ivory Latta would be playing in Turkey next year. I can't say who. So I'll keep an eye on Turkish news and see if I can't find out anything. Latta started the first part of the season in Turkey last year then transferred to Israel in mid-season.
28) Erika de Souza had 15 points and 14 rebounds. Sancho Lyttle had 16 points and 7 rebounds. Lehning was in double-digits. There really wasn't much of a point in playing the fourth quarter...but the players were pros, and that's what they're paid for.
29) Sure enough, the fourth and final quarter started out sloppy. Coco Miller turned over the ball on a bad pass to Erin Phillips - and then, immediately after, Ivory Latta was called for a foul despite that it appeared that Phillips drove into Latta.
Boy, did the crowd boo! Atlanta fans - we're up by 31 points with nine minutes left. Does it really matter if Ivory Latta gets a ticky-tack foul or not?
30) For almost three minutes, the Dream did not score. Not to say that the Dream weren't involved in the game. Erika de Souza was standing and waving towels from the bench.
When Jennifer Lacy was called for a foul with seven minutes left in the game, the boos just rained down. I guess a lot of the booing fans must have been 2008 season ticket holders - after 2008, we don't even trust the Dream when they're up by 30.
31) With 6:16 left in the game, Michelle Snow was called for a technical foul. I believe that she had fouled Sandrine Gruda while she was shooting but according to Art Eckman - and looking at the replay - Snow really didn't do anything to deserve the technical. Eckman stated that Snow didn't say anything that objectionable - it was most likely that Snow had been complaining non-stop and the ref just decided he had enough of it.
32) It was now time for iPod Karaoke. This time, however, there was no player to sing the song. Instead, they had one fan sing a song to another fan. The song was a song called "Bubbly" which I had never heard.
I don't like this development. I like to see the players do stuff, not fans.
33) During the back half of the fourth quarter, it seemed that Jennifer Lacy kept calling for the ball. Atlanta's lead was in the mid-20s because they really weren't shooting anything. The Dream couldn't get the ball in to Lacy - they wanted to give Lacy some points - but Connecticut wasn't going to let Atlanta do that. Lacy would go wanting.
34) With 3 1/2 minutes left, both teams went over the limit. However - thank goodness - neither team fouled for the rest of the game, preventing that inexorable March of the Free Throw Lines you sometimes see at the end of game.
McCoughtry got another steal and another "one-on-zero" drive. It was McCoughtry's 18th point.
35) With 49 seconds left, the Dream took their final shot of the game - an airball by Armintie Price. Angel McCoughtry would get the ball back from Anete Jekabsone-Zogota but they would work the clock down to nothingness. The ball was turned over on a shot clock violation.
With 17 seconds left, the Connecticut Sun had the ball back, but they weren't going to do anything with it. Erin Phillips dribbled down the remaining seconds...and the Dream were in the playoffs for the first time in their history!
It might be a while before we get a statistical post-mortem: the Dream take the court in Washington an hour from now.