Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Preach it! Atlanta is 2-0!
(Once again, great pictures from SportsPageMagazine.com!)
Ah, for opening day in Philips Arena. There’s nothing like sitting with a bunch of fans to remind you that basketball season is here. One can watch games on television, but no matter how loud I scream at my TV my chances of catching a thrown T-shirt are zero.
1) Something different in the air…starting out with the choice of music. The warm-up music has gotten a little more “poppy”. In the last two years, the warm-up music was by a lot of obscure (to me) rap artists. (The good thing was that the music was so catchy that I wanted to look up who the performers were. How else would have I have discovered Soulja Boy?)
The first song pounding out of the speakers was the inescapably catchy but auto-tuned “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus of all people. Funny, when I think of Miley Cyrus I don’t think of WNBA warm-up music. “Telephone” by Lady Gaga also made an appearance, which begs the question: do the players pick their warm-up music or is it someone else?
2) Jordan showed up from the “Armed With a Dream” program. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the Dream has teamed up with the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta (through Aaron’s Inc.) to wear the name of a patient at Children’s Hospital as a stick-on tattoo. Jordan, the honoree for this game, was rocking a mini-Dream jersey and was walking the court and surveying the 2010 Atlanta Dream.
3) The staff seems to be a lot more polite than usual. Maybe it’s just because of the first home game, but DAMN they were on the ball.
4) There were a few fans sitting in the upper bowl. I thought that the goal for the 2010 Dream was to have everyone sit in the lower bowl of Philips Arena to increase the intimate feeling. I guess season ticket-holders just like their seats.
5) The Aaron’s Inc. name is on the court.
6) With ten minutes before tip-off, the crowd is rather thin looking. There were some traffic issues, definitely – I saw more than a few orange cones on my way to parking – but I thought we’d really have a better turnout.
As it turned out, announced attendance was 7,337 – not a sellout, even under the guidelines of WNBA sellouts. My wife thought that with the following day a school night, that really kept a lot of families from attending a 7 pm Sunday night game. I agreed, but now I’m really rethinking that. What other sport would make such an excuse? Just remember, if you don’t show up, the only thing the bean counters will conclude is that no one cares.
7) Nerae Bailey – forgive the spelling – was the National Anthem singer. I was distracted, but she seemed to do an okay job.
8) And now, it’s time to announce the players. We had DJ-E doing…something…and as the players came out onto the court, there were literally fireworks. As in big explosive BOOMS! with a cascade of sparks from the sky!
My God! I thought this game was taking place in Poland, where they know how to celebrate women’s basketball! That got the crowd up on their feet, and fast! More, please! It was going to be a party atmosphere.
9) We got a guest appearance from WNBA President Donna Orender. Supposedly, she was supposed to be at a season-ticket holder function but didn’t show. Apparently, she made it to the game just in time to introduce new Dream owner Kathy Betty.
Betty thanked our new sponsors, Aaron’s Inc. and Coca Cola Enterprises. She then introduced the Dream fans as the “12th Player”. My question is that is the WNBA roster expand again, will the fans lose their “12th Player” status?
10) The starters:
Atlanta: McCoughtry, de Souza, Castro Marques, McCoughtry, Lehning
Indiana: Catchings, Sutton-Brown, Douglas, Hoffman, Bevilaqua
11) The Dream come out of the gate fast, perhaps fearing more fireworks. The first quarter will set the tone for the rest of the game – a very close game, with neither team separated from the other by more than a couple of baskets.
The Dream set an athletic pace, and manage to build a momentary 10-4 lead. I was watching Iziane Castro Marques, who was matched up against Tully Bevilaqua. By this point in the game, Tamika Catchings hadn’t yet scored and if the Dream could keep that from happening we had a good chance of winning. Angel McCoughtry was a real problem for Indiana as they tried to move the ball without her getting her hands on a pass.
12) Halfway through the first quarter, the game shifted back in the direction of Indiana but the Fever could never go up by more than a basket.
Regarding Iziane Castro Marques – if she wants to shoot, she’ll shoot and defense be damned. I watched her go one-against-three, driving to the bucket for a basket. A friend of mine said, “Izi’s going to shoot, and she doesn’t care.”
13) Entering the game around the end of the first quarter – Armintie Price and Brittainey Raven. Raven officially enters the WNBA record books as this is Raven’s first WNBA game.
14) First quarter stats were a pretty even match-up. Both teams shot equally well. Atlanta had more rebounds, but Indiana had eight assists to the Dream’s three.
15) For the entire second quarter of the game, the margin of any team’s lead would be no greater than three points – a single WNBA basket. Alison Bales, in her second game since the end of the 2008 season, got a piece of a block. She blocked the shot, passed the ball to Kelly Miller, who was fouled by Jene Morris. Miller would hit both free throws and tie the game.
16) However, the Dream often found themselves trying to grab a greased pig of a ball. The glittering diamond for the Dream was Armintie Price, who scored back-to-back baskets – she was in top form during this game – and found herself alone again in the back court when the Fever called a quick timeout to keep Price from scoring six straight points on them. Price single-handedly turned a 23-22 deficit into a 26-23 lead.
17) For a few brief moments of the second quarter, both Alison Bales and Erika de Souza were on the court. Big athletic women who can move (well, Bales can move some of the time). The thought of both Bales and de Souza had to be giving Indiana fits.
One of the reasons that Bales is so dangerous is that despite being a 6’7” big woman, Bales can actually hit a three pointer. An equivalent height in the NBA would be 7’1”. Indiana left Bales alone behind the arc, and Bales calmly set up and sank a 3-point shot that restored the lead to Atlanta again, 33-31.
Of course, Tully Belivaqua answered with a three of her own and Atlanta was down again.
17b) During a commercial break or timeout or whatever, the Dream had a celebrity dads three-point contest. One participant was Roi McCoughtry, Angel McCoughtry’s father. The belief was that Angel inherited her athletic prowess from her father, but if I recall correctly Roi McCoughtry was a forward at Coppin State and looked positively awkward trying to sink a 3-pointer. He managed to sink one, but he definitely had both feet on the boundary line, turning it into a long two.
I suspect daughter could beat dad in a 3-point shooting contest.
18) The end of the second quarter marked both sides swapping pairs of free throw attempts, with players usually hitting just one of two and not breaking the logjam. With the Dream up 37-35, Indiana’s last shot of the first half came on a 3-pointer by Katie Douglas – a shot that required a lot of passing by Indiana just to set up as McCoughtry was on the prowl. Douglas’s score puts the Fever up 38-37 at halftime.
19) McCoughtry had been missing for a big stretch of the second quarter. Only at halftime did I learn where McCoughtry had been. Apparently, she had taken an elbow to the face. She lacerated her lip, and the resulting injury required three stitches. (Marynell Meadors would later say five stitches but everyone else says three.)
Of course, athletes suffer injuries like this all the time, but if I had taken an elbow to the lip that required three stitches, I’d be squalling like a 3-year old girl, and you better believe I wouldn’t be back on the court. All together now: WNBA players are tougher than you are, Pet.
20) Halftime stats had both teams shooting evenly: Indiana 46 percent, Atlanta 44 percent. The Dream had 11 turnovers but also 18 overall rebounds to Indiana’s 14. There wasn’t much room in the box score anywhere for one team to gain an advantage.
Ebony Hoffman led the Fever with 11 points and Tamika Catchings had 10. Erika de Souza and Armintie Price had eight points each, and Kelly Miller had four first-half assists.
20b) One thing I noticed a couple of times – Douglas wanted to sneak up behind Lehning a couple of times and strip the ball from her. She almost succeeded. Lehning better learn to watch her back.
21) Halftime entertainment was from some performers named…Craig? I don’t really know how that’s spelled. I don't know what Craig? is all about. It seemed like a whole lot of dancing, but nothing really spectacular. Then again, I wasn't paying attention, trying to get updates on McCoughtry’s injury and answering questions from people who wanted to know the truth about Holdsclaw’s holdout.
22) In the third quarter, for the first time since the first quarter one of the teams managed to pull out in front by four points or more. Unfortunately, that team was Indiana. Ebony Hoffman hit a mid-range jumper, Tammy Sutton-Brown scored from point blank range, Catchings hit a jumper and before you know it, Indiana was up by five, 44-39.
Erika de Souza still looks beat. Didn’t someone at the Painel do Basquete Femenino Blog say that de Souza looked overweight? I don’t think that’s it, but she looked tired. She was fresh enough to score off a backdoor pass from Iziane, but when Izi missed her fourth three-point attempt of the night, Meadors decided she didn’t like what she was seeing and called a time out.
23) One problem was that Angel McCoughtry couldn’t get her shots going.
24) Indiana was charged with a 24-second violation this quarter. Remember that.
25) Both Angel McCoughtry and Sancho Lyttle went to the line for two shots, each hitting just one free throw. If Lyttle had hit both the Dream would have tied the game, but the miss of the second shot left the Dream behind 44-43.
Ebony Hoffman followed up with a long two-pointer just inside the arc. Tamika Catchings would hit a mid-range jumper to put the lead at five.
Shalee Lehning got the ball inside, but instead of taking the shot – which she should have done – she dished the ball back out to Iziane Castro Marques, who never met a shot attempt she didn’t like. Her 3-point attempt was an airball.
Ebony Hoffman would be fouled by Erika de Souza on the next possession. Hoffman sank both of her free throws, and the Fever led 50-43, the biggest lead of the night.
26) With Izi helpless from long range and with McCoughtry adding another 3-point airball, it was up to Alison Bales to hit the Dream’s second three-pointer of the night to bring the Dream back to 50-46.
27) It was about this time that Price really went to work. I was surprised at how aggressive and athletic Price was. When Price was one-on-one, she was…unstoppable. This was the Armintie Price that everyone thought would come out of the 2007 draft. She basically willed it in, picked up a foul from Allie Quigley, and got the free throw to close the score to 50-49.
28) With less than three minutes left, McCoughtry was called for a foul and spent some time jawing with the referee. I was later told that you don’t really feel the pain of stitches in your lip until the next day.
29) The Dream then gave up the next five points. Part of the problem was that the Dream were over the limit in fouls. Indiana got to the foul line for two visits and hit three of four free throws.
The only highlight of the last couple of minutes was Price scoring on a breakaway, all along on Indiana’s side of the court. Price almost closed the gap to one point on a long buzzer-beater that was marked as a 24-second violation. Briann January ended the quarter by making the final shot, and Indiana was up 58-55 going into the last quarter.
The Dream’s shooting had slipped to about 40 percent by this time while Indiana still held strong at 45 percent. The rest of the box score was the same old log jam.
Ebony Hoffman had 17 points for the Fever, with Catch right behind at 16. The Dream’s scoring leader was…Armintie Price with 13. Kelly Miller has six assists at this point in the game.
30) And then, suddenly out of the sky, hundreds of dogs appeared…. It’s Dogmaggedon!
…no, you’re not reading science fiction. It was the Aaron’s Inc Dog Drop! Several miniature Lucky-the-Dogs – the mascot of Aaron’s Inc. – parachute dropped individually from the roof of Philips Arena down into the stands.
The crowd absolutely ate it up. I loved it. It was just a great reward, and it got the crowd in a fantastic mood for the fourth quarter.
31) A side note: my wife and I have Comcast, which uses a DVR system. The box that allows us to change channels also has a hard drive that allows us to record shows for later viewing.
However, there can be…delays between our box at home and the home Comcast server located down in the depths of Mordor. Every hit pause on your DVR and then be unable to play anything for five minutes? That was the Indiana Fever during the entire fourth quarter.
32) To describe the fourth quarter would be like trying to describe the moon landing with the introductory vocabulary list of Let’s Learn English Significantly! used in Japanese grade schools. The only vocabulary that comes to mind is that from Doctor Who, where temporal mechanics are described as “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff”.
Suffice it to say, the Fever just…stopped. Paralyzed. Immobile. Oh, Atlanta wasn’t doing anything either for long stretches of the fourth quarter. You’d look up at the scoreboard and see a 58-56 Fever lead and then you’d come back two minutes later and it would be 58-56 and there would be a timeout or someone would ask you for the popcorn, and you’d look at the score later and it would be the same one – 58-56. I almost thought I was in the movie Groundhog Day and expected to hear “I Got You Babe” playing over the speakers at Philips.
Even I don’t know what happened! And I was there!
32) During the approximate five minutes of time-lock, the Dream were just all over Indiana defensively. They acted like that little sister with you in the back seat who keeps going, “I’m not touching you!” while violating every other boundary of social distance. Indiana looked completely flat, like the older brother remaining perfectly still, trying not to be provoked into something stupid that would earn a smack on the back of the head.
33) An Armintie Price drive was negated on a foul by Briann January that, in my opinion, would have resulted in a basket.
Price had at least three shots taken away from her. One on a buzzer-beater that didn’t beat the buzzer according to the refs, that Briann January foul and a later shot that rolled around in the rim before being coughed out by the basketball goddesses.
34) During Slow Time, Indiana had not one, not two, but three 24-second violations. Over a minute of that Slow Time was caused by Indiana just not doing anything. If the plan was for Indiana to hang on the ball for long enough for the Dream to make a mistake, that plan wasn’t working.
35) While the Philips Phaithful hoped for someone (preferably the Dream) to score, we got our first Karaoke participant – Armintie Price, jamming to “Proud River”. For those who don’t know, Price is really cool up close and personal.
In the house, undoubtedly listening to karaoke – Steve Smith of the Hawks. We were glad he was there, but I’m sure everyone at Philips was wishing he would have been on the court in an Eastern Conference Finals game. Maybe next year.
36) About the crowd – it wasn’t a big crowd, but it stayed until the end. The crowd was in a better mood that I’ve seen in a long time. Everyone was happy. No one was sitting on their hands. The joint was jumping. I think the crowd’s energy was contagious – a positive for the Dream and a negative for the Fever.
37) At 5:15, the logjam was broken. Erika de Souza took a shot and missed it, but got the tip-in on her own offensive rebound. The game was tied at 58-58.
38) Armintie Price was still performing magic tricks. I’m sure there are better 1-on-1 players in WNBA history – but for this game, at least, Armintie Price is the best 1-on-1 player I’ve ever seen in a game.
Chamique Holdsclaw beats you with her timing. Price beats you with her lateral movement, able to go either direction in a flash and able to twist her limbs in such a way that there’s a free path from her release to the basket. Amazing.
Price picked up the foul on the drive. She hits one of two free throws and the Dream lead 59-58. It is the first Atlanta lead since late in the second quarter.
39) The Fever answers back on a Catchings jumper. Brittany Raven takes the second shot of the night from her that I thought was badly timed – the kind of shot that has no prayer of going in.
Raven might not have figured out how to shoot in the WNBA, but you can’t doubt her work ethic. In my last game writeup I complained about how Lehning would stand around in the back court. Raven, needing to make it to the other side of the court to assist defensively, simply took the long way around, following the path of the three point arc.
40) We have less than three minutes to go. Indiana, the defending Eastern Conference Champions, have been held to two fourth-quarter points.
The Dream does its “Cam Dance” feature to the tune of the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Apache”, a crowd pleaser. An eighty-plus (?) year old woman in a white shirt hiked up to her rib cage does a handkerchief dance that wins the Cam Dance competition in a rout.
41) The Dream manage to force a turnover. McCoughtry hits a long two-pointer to give Atlanta back the lead, 61-60. With less than two minutes remaining, the Fever bring the ball back across the court…slowly….
…too slowly. EIGHT-SECOND VIOLATION. Dream ball. The crowd goes wild.
42) Brittainey Rave attempts another 3-pointer – and once again, misses, but gets her own rebound. Alison Bales manages to sink the jumper for Atlanta and the score is 63-60.
One minute left.
44) Indiana tried in vain to tie the score. They worked the clock as much as possible. Ebony Hoffman tried a 3-pointer and missed, and Atlanta got the ball with
37 seconds left. This time, it was Atlanta's turn to work down the clock.
Unfortunately, Tamika Catchings showed why she's a great defender. She stole the ball from McCoughtry and attempted a 3-pointer...and missed. Team rebound to the Dream.
45) The Dream crowd is kicked into frenzy as “Apache” plays once again, with video clips of the Rockin’ Granny of Atlanta.
46) Indiana has to foul. With 8.8 seconds left, Kelly Miller comes to the line for two free throws. She manages to sink both shots giving the Dream a 65-60 lead with a few seconds left.
Katie Douglas sinks the lay-up at the other end three seconds later. 65-62 Atlanta. With just 4.2 seconds left, Indiana has to foul again on the inbounds and hope that Atlanta misses both free throws.
47) The Fever foul McCoughtry. If McCoughtry sinks one free throw, the game is pretty much over….
…McCoughtry…misses the first one. But she hits the second. 66-62 Dream.
In the brief amount of time left, Indiana can’t do anything. The final buzzer sounds, McCoughtry embraces Price and this game is in the record books.
(* * *)
Wow. What a game! I really feel pity for anyone that missed it. I know, maybe a game on Sunday night would be impossible for a lot of out-of-towners. But Tina Charles and Connecticut come to Atlanta on Friday night, so you don’t have any excuse to miss that one.