Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Former Connecticut player Iziane Castro Marques wishes she were back in Brazil.
(Picture above comes from Chuckarelei's gallery at SportsPageMagazine.com.)
Yesterday, I spent most of the day counting the minutes to Atlanta-Seattle. I have two cats who are not Atlanta Dream fans - yet - and I wondered how much of my time I'd have to spend corralling one or the other of them.
Maybe I should have spent the time with the cats instead. The Dream lost 90-72 on the final game on their four-game road swing. Don't let the score fool you - that could just have easily been 100-72 if the Storm wanted it that way. The Storm got into the car, climbed into the driver's seat, and simply zoomed off into the distance leaving Atlanta to chase behind like a dog after a car.
1) You'd think that Key Arena would have been packed to the rafters, but I was surprised. The crowd was what I'd call "average to good" without having any other standard by which to measure. I wonder why? Was there some sort of NBA game on to compete?
2) ESPN2 started with a look into each team's locker room. Generally, there's not a lot to be learned from these visits. Locker room talk isn't like that of Vince Lombardi even in the most dramatic of situations...you might learn a little bit but it's usually a pedestrian reinforcement of points the players should already know.
For Brian Agler of Seattle, the emphasis was to put pressure on Atlanta's passers. Meadors was committed to the transition game: "They can't defend what they can't catch." Agler wants to deny the transition game; Meadors wants to emphasize it.
3) There was some brief discussion of Chamique Holdsclaw's departure, a loss that seems like it happened a year ago instead of a month ago. The motto of the Dream players? "Play on" - Holdsclaw never showed up in training camp and the players simply assumed that she'd never be back and prepared for the post-Holdsclaw era. Wise decision.
Regarding the Holdsclaw hullabaloo - fans thought that, "yes, this is it, Meadors has let another player go and is destroying the Dream." I am inclined to invoke a rule called "Stengel's Law" after Casey Stengel of the New York Yankees.
Stengel's Law: On any team, 20 percent of the players love the coach. Another 20 percent of the players hate the coach. The other 60 percent of the players are indifferent - they just want to play basketball.
Most likely, the bulk of Atlanta's players stayed out of the Holdsclaw brouhaha - they would have played ball with Maddie (the Liberty mascot) if you could get her into a Dream uniform. Meadors also seems to have mastered the Corollary to Stengel's Law: The secret to a long life as a coach is to keep the 20 percent who hate you away from the 60 percent who are indifferent.
4) Atlanta starters: Lehning, Iziane, McCoughtry, Lyttle (Sancho, not Camille), Erika
Seattle starters: Bird, Wright, Little (Camille, not Sancho), Cash, Jackson
5) Seattle in dark green, Atlanta in home white. I've not seen enough games to know if this is a general rule for Storm games.
6) And the game is underway! It took a few glitches - a Sue Bird overthrow to Lauren Jackson, followed by a travel by Erika de Souza - before some points were put on the board with a pair of free throws by Jackson. 2-0 Seattle.
7) Shalee Lehning had two quick turnovers - she turned over the ball, but Erika de Souza saved the first turnover when Camille Little made a bad pass. Then Lehning got the ball back and turned the ball over again. Egad. Lehning followed her two turnovers with a blocking foul shortly thereafter.
8) Almost immediately, one could tell that something wasn't quite right. It seems that the Dream were relying on bank shots instead of jumpers, trying to play pool against the Storm instead of basketball. Part of the problem was that the Storm were all over Angel McCoughtry. Lauren Jackson stripped the ball from Iziane Castro Marques...when it's usually the other way around.
9) The announcer said something to the effect that "Iziane Castro Marques is an eight-year player out of the University of Connecticut...." To which I replied "say what?"
I've got a post percolating in my head regarding the relative value of WNBA coaches. Part of that post is the idea that WNBA players are relatively "finished" when the arrive to a league in that their game is pretty much what it's going to be forever. However, I think the only coach that could make Iziane stop shooting is Geno Auriemma, who would cause Iziane to return to Brazil when Geno benches her and Iziane refuses to return late in the second half of a UConn-Rutgers game.
10) As we approached the halfway point of the first quarter, the Storm were up 7-4. The Dream had five turnovers, and Sancho Lyttle had picked up her second foul. I wasn't worried about the second foul, as in a lot of games it seems that Lyttle picks up two quick personal fouls. (The five turnovers, on the other hand....)
11) Meadors to a referee: "They're pushing us into the screens!" The refereeing was...pretty bad. Not the worst I've seen, but bad nonetheless. If we had lost by six or less, we might have been able to blame the refs for the loss, but in this case, it wasn't the refs that did us in.
12) The Dream then went on an 0-8 cold shooting streak. Seattle increased its lead to 12-4, taking advantage with a mini-run. Kelly Miller came in and took a 3-pointer that a blind man could see wasn't going to fall.
13) The supporting cast of the Dream was switched out. Price came in. Leuchanka came in. But the supporting cast wasn't the problem. The problem was McCoughtry taking crazy shots. McCoughtry would find herself double (and maybe triple-teamed once or twice) and simply fail to kick out, trying a bank shot that was destined not to go in. She started cold, ending the quarter 1-for-8 from the field. She hit a 3-pointer later in the quarter to close the score to 15-9, but Swin Cash followed with a rolling in shot at the end to finish the quarter with a 17-9 Storm lead.
14) It could have been worse - the Storm only shot 37.5 percent from the field (6-for-16) but the Dream only shot 18.2 percent in the first quarter (4-for-22). McCoughtry was 1-for-8 and Iziane was 1-for-5. When the two hottest shooters on your team are 2-for-13, you know it's going to be a looooong night. Swin Cash and Lauren Jackson had seven points each.
Meadors told her team that "we're not pushing the ball". But as we'd found out, that was easier said than done....
15) McCoughtry appeared to calm down at the beginning of the second quarter. She got a steal, and a pass to Yelena Leuchanka closed the gap to 20-13. She followed with a travel call, but the Dream would get the ball back and Kelly Miller would find that 3-pointer to close the score to 20-16.
It could have been 20-18 if Armintie Price was not mugged by the Storm on the way to a drive. It was clear that Atlanta had finally picked up the aggressiveness they needed. Would Seattle wilt like so many other teams?
16) The Dream were on their way to a 11-2 run of their own. McCoughtry drove to the basket. Leuchanka banked it in past Lauren Jackson. McCoughtry hit a fade away prayer and the score was tied, 22-22.
17) Seattle surged ahead. The Dream were determined to get that three pointer against a determined Storm defense, and missed a couple of attempts. That misguided agression let Seattle score the next six points. Kelly Miller got another 3 pointer to fall and it was back to 28-25 Seattle.
Erika de Souza, having two personal fouls, returned to the game. Almost immediately after her return she was tagged with a third personal foul. By this point of the game, Erika had zero points.
18) With With the score 30-27 after Iziane hit a shot just as the 24-second clock expired, it looked like Atlanta would hang around for a while, never more than a basket or two away from Seattle.
Then...the Lauren Jackson show started. Jackson hit a three, and Iziane and McCoughtry couldn't answer. McCoughtry looked clearly frustrated. Jackson got loose near the basket and the Storm were up now by ten points, 37-27. The half ended with a pair of Jackson free throws
What happened? Jackson scored nine of Seattle's last 11 points. Swin Cash and Tanisha Wright pretty much had McCoughtry wrapped up with a bow, and the Storm took a 39-27 lead into halftime.
19) Seattle was shooting 50 percent compared to just 29.3 percent by the Dream (12-for-41). This surge in scoring was caused by Lauren Jackson...who now had 18 points after her mini-explosion at the end of the first half. Camille Little had eight points, and Swin Cash had seven.
McCoughtry had gone 3-for-14 in the first half and had seven points to show for it. When Kelly Miller and Yelena Leuchanka are your second leading scorers - six points each - it's not a good sign. Lyttle and de Souza had been negated by foul trouble. Kelly Miller's six points came from 2-for-4 shooting, each shot from behind the 3-point arc.
20) Chantelle Anderson officially weighs in on Atlanta coaching. From Twitter:
@MissChantelle I love how Marynell acts like she's the coach when it's really Carol Ross.
21) Even after a dismal first half, the Dream hadn't had the fight beaten out of them. Not yet, anyway. A 3-pointer by Lehning finally got the Dream back to within single digits, 43-34.
It was then that the announcers began to talk about an "old style point guard" or "old fashioned point guard" when they talked about Lehning. It's a meme that I've picked up on. "Lehning is an old style point guard."
The announcers helpfully provide a definition. That is, an old style point guard is looking to distribute during the first seventy percent of a possession and looking to score during the final thirty percent. That would mean that an old style point guard only looks to score during the final seven seconds of a 24-second possession.
I'll have to run some numbers to see which WNBA players are "old style point guards". My suspicion is that Lehning's so old-style she predates Naismith.
22) An interesting announcement: Shalee Lehning, Angel McCoughtry and Sancho Lyttle have been named Atlanta Dream team captains. Lyttle is a surprise; McCoughtry and Lehning are certainly not. Lehning and McCoughtry (writers of several Beatles songs) can definitely lead a team in the charisma/management sense of the term.
24) The Dream were at least keeping it interesting. McCoughtry closed it back to within single digits again with a 3-pointer to close to 47-39. She would have to do it alone for a while, because we were halfway through the third quarter and Erika still hadn't scored.
25) We were still managing to stay within about 10 points of Seattle. Lauren Jackson hit a bucket midway through the third quarter to put the Storm up 51-40. It was Jackson's 20th point of the night.
The game was getting a little bit weird, though. Lehning had the opportunity on a drive to the basket. Iziane passes to Lehning, Lehning is shooting at point blank range - and misses. I've seen it more than once in Lehning's career.
Yes, I'll get five mail messages that say that Lehning can shoot and that Lehning just doesn't want to shoot and that that missed gimme was an aberration. So I won't go there, for now. I will say this - Lehning is definitely no finisher. You give Armintie Price point blank range and it's two points, for all of Price's other perceived failings.
26) Lehning, however, might have just gotten hacked. She gets a visit to the free throw line for two shots.
The camera pans to Marynell Meadors talking to Iziane Castro Marques on the sideline. Meadors tells Izi, "We get two shots and the ball." This is incorrect. This hypothetical four-point play becomes a one-point play when Lehning hits the first free throw and misses the second.
27) A Sancho Lyttle jumper beings it the closest we've come in a long time: 51-44 with around four minutes left in the third.
28) 3:31 left in the third. Erika de Souza picks up her fourth personal foul. I hope that she found some coffee in Seattle that she liked.
29) The Smart Play Highlight: Lehning picked up a steal from Lauren Jackson on a drive - which is rather amazing given the difference in height and how smart and accomplished Jackson is as a player. Later, when Wright tried to drive to the basket, Lehning planted herself perfectly and Wright was charged with the offensive foul.
30) The score was down to seven points again, 53-46. McCoughtry was being defended with the same fiery intensity that she was being defended in the first quarter. And then...
...for some inexplicable reason, the Dream decided that they'd play zone. And leave Lauren Jackson out on the perimeter, challenging her to take 3-point shots.
Swish! Storm 56, Dream 46.
Swish! Storm 59, Dream 46.
There were less than two minutes left and the Dream had gone from a three basket deficit to a six basket deficit, all from two shots by Lauren Jackson. It was a mistake that the Dream wouldn't recover from. The Storm finished the third quarter with an 8-2 run and led 61-48 going into the final quarter.
31) Seattle was shooting at 51.1 percent, thanks to Lauren Jackson. The Dream had managed to crawl into mediocre territory - 35.7 percent shooting. However, in offensive rebounding - Atlanta's major strength - the Dream actually fell behind Seattle due to the prolonged absences of Lyttle and de Souza. Yes, they had two more offensive rebounds overall at this point, but the Storm was winning the battle of the glass on the Dream's end of the field.
Jackson had 26 points. Little had 14. McCoughtry had finally crawled up to 16 points, but when you take a lot of shots to do it and when the Storm are pulling down the defensive rebounds the points McCoughtry was putting on the board weren't making the Dream stronger.
32) There was still the slim chance of a Dream comeback in the fourth quarter. A couple of minutes passed, however, and the Dream were no closer than they were at the end of the third. With the Storm up 67-55, Jackson got the ball again, hit the basket and then picked up a foul from Armintie Price.
And one. Storm up 70-55. And then Bird found Jackson for the three pointer. 73-65. But that's okay? McCoughtry would answer with a 3-pointer, right?
Nope. Abrosimova got the rebound, Cash drove to the basket and it was a 75-55 game.
33) With the Dream down by 20 points and 5:58 left in the fourth, Meadors released the franchise...Brittainey Raven! Raven scored six points in the final quarter (and three personal fouls) but it was against Seattle's second string.
34) For the rest of the game, I had one single hope - not to be utterly embarrassed. There's not much to say, I simply defined in my own mind what "utterly embarrassed" meant, which would be not losing by twenty points.
With 49 seconds left, Svetlana Abrosimova hit a pair of free throws. 90-67 Storm. It looked like the Dream were going to go home whippped.
However, Kelly Miller saved the game for us - or at least for me, anyway. Miller hit two free throws after a foul by Ashley Robinson. Leuchanka stole the ball from Abrosimova, Bales made the pass and Kelly Miller hit the three pointer with 20 seconds left to keep the Dream from losing by twenty on the road.
Storm 90, Dream 72. Game over, and thank goodness. More on the game later, just to help us all forget.