Friday, September 30, 2005
Of interest to Storm fans...LJ is cleared to play in the Canberra Capitals first game today. The results should show up here later on.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
I didn't get to post yesterday as I spent the day fixing my formulas. I finally have my numbers lining up with the examples from Dean Oliver's book. The analysis isn't any different as the changes were minor and the change from year to year was even more minor. The difference is my level of confidence in the calculations.
The Value of Statistics
Not everyone cares about stats. Even the people that are interested are not always sure what the statistics are telling us. Frankly, the numbers are useful when looking backwards at trends and identifying traits like consistency. There are some cases where they might help in a predictive fashion, or show something surprising to us, but they don't win games or build championship teams. I happen to be a person that likes numbers, and loves basketball, so it is natural that I will play with statistics. There are NBA teams that utilize statistical analysis tools like WinVal to evaluate players (Dallas Mavericks) and teams that use statistics to help prep coaches for upcoming games (Seattle Supersonics), and Dean Oliver, who I keep mentioning, consulted to the WNBA public relations director to help them with marketing. There is growing interest in exploring how statistics can help team management and coaches to strengthen their teams and improve their edge in games, but it is still a young field. I am just interested in seeing what the numbers say and whether they give me any interesting ideas or insights. The most difficult part of statistics in basketball is the impact of teamwork on numbers. The formulas that I am using TRY to share contributions across teammates and include the intagibles as much as possible. The people who developed the formulas have put a great deal of thought combined with huge amounts of research into the existing numbers to try and find ways to include teamwork in the equation. I expect that to continue as more analysts leverage the existing work and take it even further.
2005 Storm Offensive Statistics
All of my numbers are produced by applying the formulas laid out in Dean Oliver's book Basketball on Paper which is published by Brassey's, Inc.
The first number that I want to look at is the number of possessions. This attempts to understand how many possessions. In this case, the number tries to account for the number of possessions that we can credit to a particular player, including their scores, their missed shots, unrebounded, missed free throws and turnovers.
|Player||2004 Poss.||2005 Poss.||Change|
|Player||2004 Floor %||2005 Floor %||Change|
In terms of effectiveness, it looks like the starting guards and small forward position were the biggest drops, other than the bottom of the bench. The top of the bench showed improvement as did the center position. Burse really stepped up her game this year, and Suzy is proving to be a more effective backup for either post position. I expect the Storm to look for further improvement from Izzy at the SF and to seek a more effective backup for the point. Tanisha is clearly a keeper. She, as a rookie, and one who started the season poorly, still comes out as an improvement for the bench's backcourt. I believe we should look forward to great things from Tenacious Tenisha in 2006. Simone really improved her effectiveness in limited minutes. You can't teach that...I think she will earn her way back next year if she wants to do so.
The final area that I looked at was the points produced per game with their scoring possessions. Oliver claims that his formulas take away credit for scoring that comes easy for a particular player and gives more credit for scoring that is difficult for a particular player. Different types of scoring are weighted differently based on how the player performs overall.
|Player||2004 PtsPr/G||2005 PtsPr/G||Change|
I am left surprised. The loss of points is mostly spread across the starters, with the bulk of the loss at the forward spots. I suppose that while Lauren had more possessions and was more effective with them, her big drop in three point shooting is what hurt her numbers. If her three point shot had been there this year she would have been much higher. The Storm are growing their depth, with more points coming from their first two positions off the bench. Simone improved her game, but doesn't shoot the three like Chelle does, so her point contributions are lower. Unfortunately my answer for the drop in offensive rating goes back to the first statistic, individual player offensive ratings. Sue, Betty and Izzy were simply not as effective overall on offense as Sue, Betty and Sheri were last year. They demonstrate the big drops in rating, with only some of their production offset by the improvement at the center position and off the bench.
Sue shot a lot less from 3 point range this year. She took 43 less 3 pointers, and only 32 less total shots. She shot 44% from beyond the arc in both years, she needs to look for her shot more. She also went to the line a lot less. She took 85 free throws in 2004 and only 69 free throws in 2005. She shot 86% from the line both years, she needs to be more aggressive going to the basket. Perhaps the back to back broken noses have made her more tentative, unfortuately she can't be, they need her to attack on offense, that is what drives the Storm's offense.
Betty's drop was purely in her shooting percentage. She took less shots but also made less of them. She dropped from 42% shooting on 2004 to 39% shooting in 2005. She did get to the line more and improve her shot selection from 3pt range. She needs to get her jumper back for 2006.
Izzy is young, and the coaching staff gave her a list of things to work on in the offseason. She has great speed, and can shoot from midrange and long range. She is taking the offseason to work on that list, and I look forward to her further improvements in 2006.
All in all, I think the Storm remain one of the top teams in the League and are poised to challenge the Monarchs and the Sun to reclaim their title in 2006.WNBA
Monday, September 26, 2005
After some initial errors, I believe my numbers are looking more solid for individual offense. I am working from the ratings formulas in Dean Oliver's book. His system attempts to adjust player contributions based on team contributions. For example, an assisted basket is credited partially to the the player scoring, and partially to the person assisting. Since a number of players and their roles in the rotation have changed, I list the comparisons here based on the number of individual possessions that were computed. I drop the players with the least minutes that were cut during the course of the season.
(edited 9/28/05 to fix numbers based on formula repairs)
Player in Rotation
|2004 Off. Rtg||2005 Off. Rtg.||Change|
Of interest to me here were the big drops in ratings from Sue, Betty and the transition from Sheri Sam to Izianne Castro Marques. Sue took and made a lot less shots (2's and 3's) and free throws this year than she did in 2004. Betty just made a lot less 2 point shots than she did in 2004. She took 12 less shots but missed 49 more than she did last year. Izzy simply didn't shoot as much as Sheri, but her percentages from the field and the line were lower as well. The real hurt for the SF slot was the significant reduction in rebounding and assists. Sheri had almost twice as many offensive boards and assists in 2004 as Izzy did this year.
Though Kamila was my favorite player while she was in a Storm uniform, Janelle was an offensive improvement over her. She took only 2 more shots in 2005 than Kamila did in 2004, but she hit 33 more of them. She also got to the line more, though she shot a lower percentage. Janelle also proved to be a marginally better offensive rebounder than Kamila, but was not as savvy a passer. She outboarded Kamila by 16 but got 32 less assists.
The bench, overall, was an improvement on the offensive end of the floor for the Storm. Suzy proved a better reserve for the post than JB did last year, clearly JB benefits from the consistency of starting. Suzy took and made more shots than JB did last year, and she made less turnovers. JB was a better offensive rebounder but Suzy is a better passer. Zara did not step up as much offensively as Tully was able to do, but we all knew that already. Tanisha essentially filled in exactly in her rookie year, offensively, for Adia Barnes. Tanisha took and hit more shots and provided more assists, but Adia was a better rebounder and turned the ball over twice as much. The good news, is that Tanisha should turn the ball over less as she matures, and we have already seen what confidence has done for her shooting percentage. The reversal of minutes for Simone and Alicia was great for the team. Alicia's shooting dropped off this year...she took more shots and her shooting percentage suffered. Simone took less shots and made about the same number as last year. She also turned the ball over a lot less. From the bottom of the bench, Michelle Greco was much more efficient with her shot selection. She took less than Natalia, and made more.
Tomorrow I will look at possessions and scoring possessions which will show us Floor %, or how often a player scores when they are trying to score, and Points Produced per Game, which is the relative amount of points which can be attributed to an individual player with weightings for assists and offensive rebounds being distributed among the players on the team. This is where I believe we will see the impacts on the team which led to an offensive drop overall for the Storm this season vs. last season.WNBA
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Based on the ratings formulas from Dean Oliver that I talked about earlier, I ran the numbers for the whole league this season. This gives me a chance to take a look at the best offenses, defenses and the best teams of the season. The averages for the league let me see how individual teams compare the the rest of the league. We can also see if the numbers tell us anything interesting about the state of the league from a performance standpoint for 2005.
There are no big surprises here, though from the looks of this list, Detroit went to the wrong team for a trade intended to help their offense. Katie Smith is a great scorer, but Minnesota wasn't much more effective than Detroit at the offensive end of the floor in 2005.
|Offensive Rating||Compared to League|
The league is averaging an Offensive Rating of 97.13 or around 97 points scored per 100 possessions. In the middle of the pack offensively are Washington, Los Angeles and Sacramento. Connecticut, with little surprise, is the leader with New York, Seattle and Houston setting the offensive bar. Charlotte, Detroit and San Antonio take up the bar at the other end of the spectrum. There is a 13.33 point spread between Connecticut and Charlotte, leaving the best and the worst of the league, both in the eastern conference. As far as offense goes the teams were fairly evenly divided between the east and the west as far as 2005 was concerned.
There are few surprises here except to say that league needs to beef up its defense. Granted, Sacramento clearly skewed the statistics, but there are only four teams playing above average defense...that is a little scary.
|Compared to League|
With the exception of the Lynx, the top 8 defensive teams were all playoff teams. The Liberty were the only team at the bottom of the defensive pack to make the playoffs, and did so purely on their offense. The league average Defensive Rating works out to be 97.19 or holding your opponent to an average of 97 points per 100 possesions. Average defense for 2005 turned out to be the defense of Minnesota, Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston and Phoenix. Defensively, the Sacramento Monarchs are in a league of their own. Detroit, Indiana and Connecticut round out the best defensive teams in 2005. San Antonio sets the bar for the worst defense in the league with Charlotte, New York and Washington keeping them from being too lonely at the bottom.
Best Teams of 2005
Now we know who dominated each end of the floor in 2005. The real question, however, is who put it all together to produce the best floor game of the season. We can all guess who the top two teams are...we just saw them battle it out for the championship. Who else deserves a nod, and who needs the most work for 2006?
|Rating Differential||Compared to League|
What did it mean to be average in the WNBA in 2005? It meant you were the Phoenix Mercury or the Los Angeles Sparks. Clearly, however, it shows Phoenix's final breakdown as they are the only team with a positive differential that did not make the playoffs. Two teams, LA and Detroit, made the playoffs with negative differentials. The Monarchs, Sun and Fever represent the defensive stalwarts on the best of 2005. The Sun also represent the offensive standouts among 2005's best, joined by Seattle, New York and Houston.
The Storm and the Comets join the finals competitors among the top teams with Indiana and New York closing out the leaders. New York's offense kept them on top, while it was Indiana's defense that did it for them. San Antonio and Charlotte sit alone at the bottom, with Minnesota Washington and Detroit rounding out the worst teams of the year. Detroit is continuing its freefall after winning the championship two years ago. Perhaps they will fare better with Katie Smith (should she re-sign) and a healthy Swin Cash (we wish you the best Swin!).
What does it all mean?
Mostly it means that Charlotte and San Antonio better do more than look forward to allowing the expansion team of the Chicago Sky set the bar for the worst so they can climb the stack a little. They were both just plain bad this year, at both ends of the floor. They need to pick one end and build up some strength. Sacramento and Indiana have made the top of the pile by virtue of their outstanding defense. Seattle, New York and Houston got their through their offensive strengths. Connecticut is the ONLY team in the league showing true balance in 2005 and placing in the top 5 of both lists. They look to be the favorite in the east once again given their youth and balance. If Indiana adds some offense in the off season, or New York adds some defense, they could give the Suns a challenge. I look to Seattle and Phoenix to rise in the west based on their youth and for Sacramento and Houston to decline as their stars age. However, Seattle and Phoenix will need to make some defensive improvements to have any further success while I bet Tina, Sheryl, Ticha and Yo have another year or two in their tanks. Much remains to be determined for 2006, with the expansion draft tapping teams talent base, and additions or losses that may arise through the upcoming 2006 draft and free agency period. I look forward to what could be a very interesting off season.
It will take a few days, but I will tackle individual player offensive ratings for the 2004 and 2005 seasons to see if I can learn anything about the Storm's drop in offense this season.WNBA
Friday, September 23, 2005
Women's Hoop Blog points out an excellent rebuttal to the morons I mentioned the other day from ESPN and Sports Illustrated, this one from another ESPN writer, Graham Hays.
He agrees that whining over the advertising of the league is a load of crud without ever actually naming the moron himself.
Way to go Graham, and way to go ESPN Page 2 for publishing both articles.
I finally got the statistics into my spreadsheet for the finals...I also ran the 2005 playoff totals and got a few surprises...
|Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Differential|
No big surprise there, it was the Playoff totals that were interesting to me.
|Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Differential|
Thursday, September 22, 2005
The fast approach of Hurricane Rita has me scrambling at work more than usual as some of my team, and many of my friends and coworkers are based in Houston. I will run the numbers on game four and the Finals in general as soon as I can.
Storm Individual Offense and Defense
Once I look at the finals I want to take a look first at individual offensive ratings from the 2004 and 2005 Storm seasons and see if I can gain any statistical insights into where the Storm suffered on offense this year compared to last year. The defensive analysis will take longer, but I am particularly interested in those numbers.
The New Name
We knew they weren't defending it anymore, but now the title has officially passed hands. As a result I have changed the name for the site. I am still debating merging my basketball thoughts into a single site, merging my upcoming thoughts for the NBA season here, but I have not been able to commit either way. I struggle with dilution of content vs. ease of only writing for one blog. I am wishy-washy here....I still have a couple of weeks before NBA training camps open, so I will keep mulling it over for a little while longer.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Idiots like Bill Simmons and Jay Mohr are why this basketball fan writes a blog for his local WNBA team. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, gentlemen, and here is mine.
I am a HUGE NBA fan. I think half the players (if not more) are idiot goons who wouldn't have a chance in hell at holding down a job in the REAL world if they didn't have amazing athletic gifts that led wealthy owners into throwing money at them to further reinforce their lack of ethics, responsibility or desire to be a better person. That said, I love the game of basketball and I sit (or stand and scream until my throat is raw) in awe when I see hard working, talented players do things that ordinary mortals cannot dream of doing.
I have been an NBA ticket package or season ticket holder ever since I earned enough money doing my job in the REAL world to be able to afford to do so. I have been watching them on TV since Bird and Magic were battling it out in Boston Garden and nobody had any idea they might want to be like Mike. I have thrown my hard earned money into the league's coffers in various seasons to feed my basketball addiction for NBA League Pass and for NBA Audio League Pass. I have played in as many as four NBA fantasy leagues simultaneously to the point where I forget which players are on my team in any the leagues. I scour the net daily for new articles on the league, watch summer league games, USA Basketball in Puerto Rico and Indianapolis, watch SportsCenter and NBA TV.com just for updates, often on games I already watched or attended. Hell, I record the games I go to see live so I can watch them when I get home! During basketball season I seldom get to bed before 1am, because I have to watch all the games I recorded on my DVR while I was spending quality time with my family. I post regularly in season and out of season on one or more NBA focused discussion boards. I write emails to journalists when I think they write an article that is actually interesting or different. I spend money on season preview issues from ESPN, Slam, The Sporting News and others. I probably play at least 5-7 hours of NBA Live every day on my PS2, and have been doing so since NBA Live 1999. I even have NBA Street 2 (which I almost never play). I actually look for the updated rosters for download as soon as a trade is made. I am sitting around now checking the EA Sports web site every week to see if they have announced the release date for NBA Live 2006.
I am not a "casual" NBA fan. I am a fanatic, the kind of fan that lets the league not only suck up my hard earned cash, but attracts the corporate sponsorships and advertising revenue that really fills their pockets.
I also love the WNBA. I don't love it in the same way, or for the same reasons. For these guys to say that is "unwatchable" or that it is comparable to "a good intramural game at a Division 2 college, only if nobody could jump or dunk" is just plain ignorant. Frankly I think baseball is a slow, plodding sport that I could barely watch even when the Mariners were closing in on 116 wins a few years ago. I cannot even DREAM of watching a baseball game on TV or ever listening on the radio. I actually enjoy football if I can fast forward to watch only the few seconds the ball is in play. I fall asleep playing golf, so forget about actually watching someone else play the game. I will watch maybe one tennis match every couple of years, and I am glad the Olympics are only once every four years since, other than basketball (women's AND men's) I watch maybe an hours worth of events, unless my wife gives me the whole patriotism spiel and I watch an extra 20 minutes one night.
No one tells me I have to watch it. I have to sit through all the annoying "lesser" sport highlights when I watch SportsCenter. I actually tolerate this. I realize that my severe basketball addiction doesn't leave room for other sports. I realize that there are fans for these other sports. I don't waste my energy writing about how annoying it is that I have to see their ads or fast forward through their highlights.
Mohr actually rants for two pages on a sport he has only been to see one time. Dude, you are a moron. That is like me writing about the quality and value of reality TV shows based on the one episode I watched of Survivor in its first season on the air. Earn your paycheck writing about something you actually have knowledge of rather than entertaining a handful of moronic readers by making fun of something that just isn't your speed.
At least Simmons seems to possess some knowledge of the subject he chooses to write about. However, what the hell are you whining about? You are upset that Stern wants to expand his revenue potential by tapping a market in which he sees some potential? Come on, I think Stern knows a little more about how to run his business than you do. The league has flourished under his leadership, and he has always taken a slow and methodical approach to capitalizing on future trends. His investment in the "internationalization" of the NBA is just starting to pay dividends, not only in the international talent in the league, but in the revenue potential overseas for the people in the business of basketball. He has made strategic investments overtime that are opening up new revenue streams. He is doing the same thing for women's basketball. There is an international market for corporate sponsorship that funds women's teams overseas. Title IX has opened opportunities for women atheletes that are really starting to gain attention now even 35 years later. Men's basketball was played below the rim and with much less athleticsim when it started. I believe that the WNBA is actually further along at this 9th year of its life than the NBA was in its 9th year of life. Why should you care that Stern and the NBA are eating the losses as the build the league? It is their money, and I doubt that Stern is doing it out of the goodness of his heart. The man sees money in it down the road, and he wants to be the one to reap the most benefits when it is available.
Good for him.
By the way...this NBA fan didn't make it to see the Seattle Reign play when they were the pro women's hoop team in Seattle, but as a Sonic fan, I did decide to catch a Storm game. It wasn't a great game. There was this blonde kid from Australia that seemed interesting. and the crowd was into it, even though the home team was pretty bad, so I saw a couple of more games, too. The next year they got a champion point guard out of Connecticut, so I decided to see a few more games, and they were actually quite good. I ended up catching most of the season. That growth continued until now I almost as big a fanatic about this league as I am about the NBA. I am even more of a fanatic about my home team...as much as I am about my home team for the NBA. The NBA's marketing of the WNBA doesn't work for you? So what? The Christina Aguileira and Pink ads from the past two years didn't really float my boat for the NBA either. All articles like yours do are keep a handful of potential fans from taking in a game that just might hook them...or might not.
Why don't you earn your paycheck writing about something you actually care about and to which you can contribute interesting ideas and insights rather than spending your energy complaining about something that you won't remember you wrote about next week?
Ok, I'm done...I have some stats to look at.
A strong second half start from 2005 Finals MVP, Yolanda Griffith (14 pts, 10rbs) leads the Sacramento Monarchs to victory in the WNBA's first best of 5 finals series and brings the first professional sports championship to the city of Sacramento.
Connecticut refused to give up in this series, and they took this game to the wire, capitalizing in the waning minutes off of Sacramento's inability to execute offensively. Unfortunately Connecticut lost their cool in the last 1:24 and it cost them their chance to take this series back home to Mohegan Sun to try and leverage the home court advantage they worked so hard to earn this season. Taj McWilliams-Franklin launched an ill advised three and the Sun started fouling like the game was down to 30 seconds.
Still, the fact that they managed to fight every game to the last few possessions given that they really and truly did not have Lindsay Whalen available demonstrates their heart and their depth. 2006 teams best be wary of these Connecticut Sun. Lindsay is their engine...she moves the ball up court keeping teams on their heels, and she gets to the free throw line anytime her team finds their offense sputtering. She couldn't play her game though, not with a fractured bone in her leg, and a sprained ankle to boot. Having seen what they did without her, I am not as sure that Sacramento wins this series as I was before it started.
Yo, Yo, Yo Baby
I am so happy for Yolanda Griffith. She is such a class act, and she earned every square inch of this championship and this Finals MVP award. I hope she comes back next year...but she could walk out on top if she wants to do so. What a performance. I even had my 18 month old son chanting Yo, Yo, Yo on Sunday. I wish I had been able to watch this game with him as well, but duty called me to the Bay Area. I actually missed the whole first half of this game...I will have to watch the recording tomorrow. I will take a look at the numbers and take some time to think about the rest of these two teams tomorrow, probably posting on Thursday morning.
Another Season Ends
That is it. The last game is played. Another season has passed by. It was a tough one for Storm fans coming off the 2004 Championship run, but it leaves us with a lot to look forward to in 2006. It was awfull hard watching the purple and silver confetti fall and seeing someone other than Betty, LJ or Sue accept that MVP trophy. I hope the players were watching. I hope they felt those pangs even more than we did. I hope they are ready to come back and fight their way to green and gold confetti falling down on 17,000 screaming fans in Key Arena this time next year.
We must now suffer through the longest offseason in pro sports (if it isn't really, it sure feels like it). We have some new drama this year with the expansion draft coming up to put the first players into the new Chicago Sky's uniforms, but that will only leave us wanting more. Thankfully college hoops and the NBA are getting closer, the ladies' male counterparts hit training camp at the end of October.
If you are a Storm fan, then do check out the Sonics if you have not seen them already. Howard Schultz and his management team have made the conscious effort to build a team that embraces responsibility and sportsmanship as well as talent. They overachieved last year with teamwork and effort while teams with arguably more talent struggled due to lack of teamwork and work ethic. Neither the team nor the fans present the family like atmosphere found with the Storm and its fans, but they play an exciting style of basketball and they will be defending their Northwest Division Title this year. Check them out, and I'll see you there.
Monday, September 19, 2005
If we thought last years Lisa Leslie MVP was a sham, because of her better rebounding numbers and 2nd half performance...this year is even worse of a sham. Lauren Jackson appears to be considered either one of the top two players in the league, or not worthy of consideration by the voters. I can't really believe that voters from the "unbiased" media who want their candidate to win would really leave the chief competitor off their ballots, but the voting results are somewhat odd.
Media are asked to vote for their five top candidates in order. Points are awarded in higher amounts for higher placings. Swoopes was able to overcome LJ's higher number of 1st place votes by her higher number of overall votes and the heavy weighting of votes for her in the middle of the pack. What is remarkable to me is that at least some voters did not even consider LJ as a top 5 candidate. I realize that at least the Sacramento broadcast team falls into that category, but are they the only two missing votes, or are there more?
I am glad that Tamika Catchings is so highly recognized and managed to take the number three position...she is a solid all-around player who I expect to keep getting better. I agree with the overall top 5 vote getters, though there is no reason at the bottom of the pack that Lisa Leslie outscores Chamique Holdsclaw who out-played her La Diva teammate all season long.
2005 ALL WNBA Teams
Storm fans can at least take solace in their dominance of the all first team. Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson join Swoopes, Yolanda Griffith and Deanna Nolan on the all first team. I like this grouping, though Catchings is hurt by her position being ousted by Swoopes and Jackson. Catchings, clearly one of the top 5 players in the league is relegated to the second team with Becky Hammon, Diana Taurasi, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and La Diva, Lisa Leslie. Here Holdsclaw is pushed off the team by Taj and Catchings by nature of position, leaving the less deserving Leslie to make the team over her more deserving team mate. I appreciate Lisa's abilities, talents and her contributions to the game...I still think Holdsclaw played better this year. The talent at the two forward spots in the WNBA is clearly the strength of the league. The guards are getting better, and dynamic players like Taurasi will help in that respect. It is disappointing not to see Lindsey Whalen make the list, but I am not sure who I would take off to make room for her. I would happily bump Leslie to make room for Michelle Snow, another deserving candidate at the center position. Nolan is the only representative from the East on the first team, with the East dominating the second team.
WNBA Finals Game 3
I hate to say it, but I think Coach Thibault cost his team this game. I love Lindsay Whalen's game, but she is hurting her team on the floor right now. I am not just refering to her 5 turnovers, and 25% shooting in the game. I mean that the rest of the team is not playing well when she is on the floor. It is obvious to those of us watching that she is more than a step slow on defense, she can't get her legs under her jumper, and she can't convert when driving to the basket. She needs to contribute in other ways. Her teammates, however seem to be expecting her to play like she is 100% when she is on the floor. When she is out of the game there is motion in their offense and help on defense, when she is in the game they all wait for Lindsay to initiate the offense and leave her alone on defense. Coach Thibault left her in the game too long, and it really cost them, leaving them a double digit deficit in the second half. As soon as he pulled her the team made a run and got within 2 points. It was just too late and Sacramento regrouped, tightened up defensively and began to score. This game was not really all that interesting until the last five minutes of play. The highlight up to that point was Katie Douglas tipping a Monarchs pass right into a surprise Coach Thibaults face. This, unfortunately, appeared to knock some sense into him as well as knocking off his glasses and giving him a gash on the bridge of his nose. Whalen did not return, and I don't expect to see her in the starting lineup on Tuesday.
Griffith and McWilliams-Franklin put up another excellent game in this years finals. Yo won the scoring duel at 19 points to Taj's 16, but Taj led the rebounding battle 13-11 and the blocks battle 3-1. They were both very efficient from the field, but Yo got to the free throw line 4 more times. Powell was a factor hitting 4 of her 8 threes, but hit her first 3 in the first half of play and was mostly absent for the rest of the game. Kara Lawson was shooting well, hitting both her 3's and going 4-7 from the field. More impressive she showed some additions to her game on some drives to the basket. Nykesha Sales looked like she was going to get hot and try and take over the game, but with no one else contributing while Taj was on the bench, Sales 1 on 5 offense just couldn't overcome the deficit.
Game 4 is on Tuesday...but I will be on the road and won't see it until late Wednesday...so my thoughts will have to wait until Thursday morning. I expect to see another close game leading to Sacramento's first franchise title. I don't expect to see Whalen start, and I doubt that she will even play. It is do or die for Connecticut, but I don't think Sayles and McWilliams-Franklin can overcome the Monarchs on their own in Arco Arena in an elimination game.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Thank you, Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Thank you, Nykesha Sayles. Thank you, Katie Douglas. I'll even throw a thank you to Brooke Wyckoff. I said yesterday that I would be disappointed if the Sun came out flat and without heart last night. I said that the Sun needed stronger post play. I said that someone needed to step up off the bench.
What a game! It was thrilling right up to the last two minutes of overtime when Sacramento Coach John Whisenant virtually conceded the game by pulling his stars. I found myself cheering for the Connecticut Sun last night, not because I actually want them to win this series, but because I wanted a contest. They gave me, and the rest of the WNBA fans watching last night's game on ESPN2 that contest.
They didn't just make this one game a contest, they set the tone to make this series a contest. They played hard, they played with heart, and they had to have put a question in the minds of the Monarch's players and coaching staff. The league could not have asked for a better battle, and I can only imagine that it will help sell tickets and advertisements for next season.
Taj answered the brilliance of Yolanda Griffith in Game 1 with her own brilliant performance in Game 2. She dominated inside from the outset, and after a brief rest at the end of regulation, she came out aggressive in OT, and outplayed the exhausted Griffith for the last 5 minutes of game time.
Her determination was clear. In stark contrast to the previous evening, Taj took 11 free throws herself, the entire team only took 10 on Wednesday. Connecticut Coach Mike Thibault showed that it DOES pay to complain long, loud and hard about the officiating. Sayles and Douglas managed to deliver again, adding 35 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 6 steals between them. Finally, Brooke Wyckoff added 9 points off the bench and hit the clutch three pointer that sent the game into OT. Rookie guards Jennifer Derevjanik and Jamie Carey played a solid floor game, contributing 6 points, 8 assists, 2 steals and only commiting 4 turnovers between them. Neither was spectacular, but they didn't need to be, they just needed to be solid, and that they were. Coach Thibault made the decision to use a zone every time Ticha Penicheiro was on the floor, and it worked, forcing Coach Whisenant to use Kara Lawson at the point, and limiting Ticha to 15 minutes of playing time, 0pts, 0stls and 2 assists. This helped Sacramento's scoring, but hurt their defense and limited their offense. Sacramento's marriage to the "white line" defense also was the primary reason Nicole Powell left Brooke Wyckoff open for the game tying shot.
Thibault and the Suns made their adjustments after Game 1, and it paid off for them. It is now time for Whisenant and the Monarch's to make their adjustments. The Suns showed them that they can play defense, rebound and run their offense without Lindsey Whalen. They showed the Monarchs that they can WIN without Lindsey Whalen. It is now up to Sacramento to show the Suns that it just isn't the same game in Arco Arena.
I still think the Monarchs win this series in four games. I am now confident, that all four of them will be brilliant to watch.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
This game was everything I thought it would be and then a little bit more. It was bittersweet to be watching a WNBA Final in Connecticut and not seeing Seattle in their road greens, but there was little time to think about what might have been even before the ball was tipped up.
Lindsay Whalen decided to play on her gimpy leg despite the pain and swelling once it was determined that she could not cause further damage to the injury by playing. She felt that the combination of fluid drainage, acupuncture and other treatments had her in playing shape, but could she still operate against Sacramento's high intensity defense?
I was convinced that Sacramento was going to win this series in 4 games. While the team's seasons were very similar, with Connecticut achieving homecourt by a one game advantage, and their point and rating differentials for the season virtually identical...it has been playoff performance which, in my mind, has separated these two teams.
Both teams offensive ratings are up from the regular season, and they are both allowing more points defensively. Whatever happened to slowed down, half court offense with more physical defense in the playoffs? What has been true for the NBA, does not appear to be playing out for the WNBA. Sacramento's defense has slid by 6 points per 100 possessions compared to Connecticuts slide of 5 points per 100 possessions. On the offensive side the Monarchs are up 10 points per 100 possessions and the Sun are up 7 points. That says to me that the Monarchs are playing better basketball in the playoffs, even if only a little bit better. The reason that little bit matters is that their roster hasn't been 100% up to this point, and are only getting closer to that 100% mark with every game. Connecticut has been at 100% throughout the playoffs, and now have the offensive engine operating at less than 100%.
The Monarchs backed up my feelings and assumptions with their play, and in my opinion, the Sun, in the end, lost due to Whalen's injury. The game came right down to the wire, as expected, but the Sun were unable to take advantage of DeMya Walker's mistake in the waning minutes, when Lindsay Whalen was unable to hit a wide open jumper that would have tied the game in the last seconds of regulation. Sacramento had one more shot in them, Connecticut did not.
I thought Whalen looked adequate at the start of the game, and then started to look in form midway through the second half. She wasn't ever fully herself, however, she barely took the ball to the basket, and when she did she seldom hit layups she would normally knock down. She had no jumper all night long. Her weakness allowed Sacramento to steal home court.
Sayles played like she did in games 2 and 3 of last years finals. I think she saved herself for this series, because she played like a different player last night. She missed a lot of shots, going 7-17 or 41% from the field, but every shot she hit was amazing and came at critical moments.
Katie Douglas shot much better, going 6-10 or 60% from the field, but they were the only two showing up for the Suns in the end. Whalen and McWilliams-Franklin seemed to disapper offensively...Whalen shot 33%, and McWilliams-Franklin shot 67%, but only took 6 shots all night. Connecticut had absolutely no inside game, with 6th man Asjha Jones adding only 2 points and starter Margo Dydek doing little other than taking up space in the lane.
Sacramento was brilliant down low with Yolanda Griffith dominating every aspect of the post on both ends of the floor. She was the overall leading scorer with 25 points and 9 rebounds. They had a solid outside game as well, and they spread that scoring around. Sacramento's bench outscored Connecticuts bench 21-8. No one off the Sun's bench scored more than 2 points.
It remains to be seen how last nights play will effect Whalen's injury, and whether swelling will limit her play or keep her out of tonight's second game of the back to back. I don't think she can bail Connecticut out here. If they are going to win tonight, they need more offense and more defense out of their post players. Taj needs to call for the ball down low, and Dydek needs to be more aggressive under the basket. Most important for Connecticut is going to be their bench. Asjha Jones needs to contribute more scoring, and someone else needs to step up off that bench and help Sayles and Douglas who are doing everything they can to save this series.
If the Sun players don't look beyond tonight, they have a chance to win the game. If they look ahead like I am, however, they will see that they don't have a chance to win a game at Arco. They worked so hard all season to win the precious home court advantage they felt cost them the Finals last year, and they gave it away last night. I won't be surprised if they don't have any fight left in them. I will be disappointed, because another game like last night will be great for the fans and even better for the league, but I won't be surprised.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
I really expected these finals to be a closely contested battle between two rather evenly matched teams. I fully expected Sacramento to pull off the finals victory and earn Yolanda Griffith her championship, but I gave Connecticut a chance to pull off an upset.
Without Lindsay Whalen, though, I think the Sun don't stand a chance. Their backcourt is young, and inexperienced leading me to believe they can't withstand the pressure of the Monarchs defense. Whalen is their offensive engine, and her fearless determination to get into the paint is what drove their victories throughout the season and in both rounds of the playoffs. She was spectacular in round one, and in game two of the second round.
These two teams led the league in both scoring differential and offensive rating differential, with the Monarchs having the slight advantage in the ratings department.
|Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Differential|
|Points Scored||Points Allowed||Differential|
The point differential has "determined" the WNBA champion, but in this case leaves them tied. With Whalen this series would be close. The Sun hope to have her back for Game 3. If she isn't able to to make it back, the series won't be close...it will be over.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Houston vs. Sacramento
It was strangely satisfying to see Houston get a little of their own medicine. It was somewhat sad to see Sacramento do what Seattle should have done in their Game 2 against Houston. Sacramento really controlled this game from the outset...with amazing shooting from Kara Lawson and solid interior play from Yolanda Griffith and Rebecca Brunson. DeMya Walker came in off the bench for her second game back from injury and showed she is working her way back to form. She even gave us a little of the standard whining at the officials we are so familiar with.
Each team had three players in double figures, with Houston's star veterans, Swoopes (24), Thompson (13) and Arcain (14) leading the way, and Sacramento's stars Griffith (19), Lawson (18) and Walker (13) cancelling them out. The difference came from the Monarchs bench, with a surprise performance from rookie Kristin Haynie showing an array of drives to the basket and jump shots to add 8 points and an assist in her 14 minutes of play.
Surprisingly missing were 1st time all star Michelle Snow (4pts 3rbs) for the Comets and hero of Game 1 for the Monarchs, Nicole Powell (3 pts, 13% shooting). The Monarchs played so well that Coach Whisenant never had to play the injured Ticha Penicheiro.
Offensive Rating: 103.72
Defensive Rating: 94.55
Offensive Rating: 108.78
Defensive Rating: 96.57
Tomorrow I will take a look at the WNBA Finals and what the season, playoff numbers are as well as take a look at the matchups between these two teams.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Indiana vs. Connecticut
I did better with my game charting for this game. I got the first 10 minutes of game time in 40 minutes. I would have done even better but twice my DVR locked up while either fast forwarding through commercials or rewinding to catch a play, and I lost 5-10 minutes each time. By the end of my charting I was writing down numbers without pausing, only getting stuck when offensive rebounds starting happening and things got fast, furious and confusing. I can tell that the practice is helping. I will just have to keep at it. I wish the coverage was better so I could see jersey numbers more clearly...may have to have my wireless laptop next to me to check player numbers...or write them down before the game starts.
Indiana did everything they could in this game...I couldn't believe they managed to force an overtime. It was a great game overall. I thought Whalen was "back" after her less dominant performance in Game 1. Sales was again disappointing, though she was strong from long range, going 3-3 and hit her shots at key moments. Dydek was not noticeable other than her two blocks to start the game and her scoring/rebounding in the OT period. Catchings was back in form, but it was not enough to win the game for the Fever. Natalie Williams was brilliant in the last WNBA game of her career. Farewell Natalie...your team will definitely miss you next year. I really like Deanna Jackson...she really stepped up her game in the playoffs...we should see more from her next year.
In the end it really boiled down to efficiency and team play. The Sun played 7 players, and 5 of them scored in double figures, with Sales close at 9. Indiana played 8 players, but only three hit double figures with Kelly Miller the only other one close at 8 points.
NOTE: I finally found the error in my formula for Connecticut's Round 2 Game 1 numbers and fixed it. Their offensive rating was even more stunning...they had an offensive rating of 120.13 creating a differential of +19.08. When you bring both series together they fall closer to Earth with a 112.02 offensive rating and a +12.78 differential.
I'll cover Sacramento and the Western Conference Finals tomorrow.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
I have been in a lot of discussions about the defensive drop in the Storm this year so I decided to run some of Dean Oliver's formula against the past four years of team statistics for the Storm. I want to dive into the individual player statistics next, but, frankly...I'm not that far along in the book yet, and the formulas get very complicated when reviewing individual player defense, which is what I am really interested in. I can tell what happens to the team...but I'd like to see where the change actually occurs.
As a review, I am using the possessions calculation formula that looks like this...
Possessions = FGA - OREB/(OREB+DDREB) * (FGA-FGM) * 1.07 + TOV + 0.4 * FTA
DDREB refers to the defensive rebounds grabbed by the opposing team.
Once I determine the number of possessions for the Storm and their opponents for the season, I average the two together and then use that to determine the number of points per possession and the number of points allowed per possession. Finally I multiply those by 100 possessions to determine Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating numbers.
Here is how they come out...(updated 9/12 to reflect formula errors)
|Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Differential|
So what does this say to us? The first surprise to me is that the offense actually dropped this year. The second is how strong the differential was back in 2002, which was Lin Dunn's last year and the first year the Storm made the playoffs. Obviously the strong defense last year separated the championship team from the rest of the teams. That differential has been the biggest factor in the championship and determined the finals winner in almost every season of the leagues history. I believe there may have been one year where the #2 team differential wise won.The difference in the defensive rating between 2005 and 2003 is fairly small, meaning there must be some key piece unique to 2004. Strangely enough, Sheri Sam is the only person unique to 2004. Burse and Lennox stayed in 2005, and Tully and Kamila were there in 2003. That said, either Sheri was a much more important defensive element than anyone understood, another player rose or fell enough defensively to swing the numbers, or a number of players moved up or down enough together to swing the numbers. (The difference is not so small after all now that the formula is changed. 2005 has the worst defensive rating for the Storm in the past 4 years.)
This is where the individual defensive ratings would be interesting to look at. I guess that I have some reading and some numbers crunching to get cracking on.
Friday, September 09, 2005
I switched from my well loved Tivo and DirecTV service this fall. I wanted HiDef, and after a lot of research I decided that Comcast was the better way to go. For a list of reasons I won't go into here (this blog is about basketball after all), I still believe it was largely the right decision. That said...
This is the SECOND time in the playoffs that my new Comcast DVR has burned me. I configured TODAY to record both the Sun/Fever game on NBA TV AND the Monarchs/Comets game on ESPN2. I confirmed that they were both set up. For some reason the blasted piece of scrap metal with a Microsoft brain AGAIN got the first game and didn't record the second game. There was no reason that I could find for this to happen. Nothing else recorded last night, at least that I could find, so I don't believe there was a conflict. I miss my Linux driven Tivo, and its recording history log that ALWAYS told you why it didn't record a program. To top things off, the stupid machine hangs so much it is a royal pain just to watch a show.
Needless to say...I missed the Sac/Houston game entirely. I have two kids to take care of...one who has homework to do, I just can't babysit the DVR all night...and I didn't get to finish watching the first game until 9:30 last night.
Sun vs. Fever
First of all...I have a newfound respect for people who chart basketball games. I did it (using my own improvised method) for the last eight minutes of the Storm's loss to Houston in Game 2 of the playoffs. Last night I tried applying Dean Olliver's system from Chapter 2 of Basketball on Paper to the Sun/Fever game. It is incredibly hard...and I have a blasted DVR. It is hard enough to read the players jerseys on the poor NBA TV feed, and get their numbers on the plays...but add in the two small children running around the room as I charted, and got 10 possessions charted in about 40 minutes. It was exhausting. I realize what a HUGE effort it is going to be for me to chart NBA defense this winter if I get the opportunity to do so. I am sure that it gets easier with practice, but I know now that I have to wait until the kids are in bed before I try to tackle charting again.
I'll start with my gut observations. Tamika's head injury cost Indiana this game, and probably the series. Indiana performed admirably in her absence, but was never able to get over the hump. She didn't start playing like herself until the last few minutes, and by then it was too late. Tully was amazing. She and Kelly Miller played 38 minutes of non-stop defense last night. Tully left everything out on the floor and played like a champion. Her stat line...
Frankly, I was underwhelmed by Lindsay Whalen and Nykesha Sales in this game. The only thing spectacular that I saw from Whalen was her rebounding effort (7). Tully managed to take her out of her offensive game...even when she got more aggressive in the second half. Perhaps I am expecting too much, but I thought she was brilliant against Detroit in the first round. I expect both Whalen and Sales to step up their games in Game 2. Taj McWilliams-Franklin looks like a different player with Dydek on the floor. She made me ask myself if she even played against Seattle in the finals last year...she was hitting everything from everywhere...ok on 50% from the field, but hit all 9 of her free throws. She was THE dominant force throughout the game. That may be all Margo was good for. It has been said a million times already, and it will be said a million times more. How can you be 7'2" tall in the WNBA and have 1 block, 5 rebounds and 6 points? Natalie Williams is a full foot shorter than Dydek at 6'2", and you can't dominate the center position in this game? I know that Natalie offers more bulk with her 210 pounds on that 6'2" frame, but she managed to get more offensive rebounds than you in this game. If this team ever starts to lose and Dydek doesn't take over, their failure to win the championship will rest 100% on her shoulders.
From a numbers perspective...(thank you Mr. Oliver)
Using a possession calculation from Basketball on Paper I calculated that there were 61 possessions per team. It is easier to use the formula than to count the actual possessions from the play by play, but I tested it out myself against the Storm playoffs, and it is fairly accurate. The possession calculation lets me determine offensive and defensive ratings.
|Rd. 1 Rating||109.70||107.66|
The offensive rating reflects points per 100 possessions. Both teams defensive ratings slipped considerably from their round one matchups where the Sun had a 94.63 defensive rating and the Fever had a 87.05 defensive rating. The Fever had the better round one differential at +20.61 with the Sun at +15.08.
Frankly, I don't think Indiana can recover against this Connetticut offense even with their vaunted defense. I think Indiana falls in a more closely contested game 2. Connetticut just seems to be getting better.
Monarchs vs. Comets
As I have already said, I missed this game, so all of my observations are based on the stats, with no gut feel from observing the players. I really thought Houston would take this game with Ticha Penicheiro out with a bum ankle. Nicole Powell seems to be living up to her MIP award, stepping up and hitting the big shot when her team needed it.
|Rd. 1 Rating||108.61||101.88|
It is clear that the Comet's lost this game on turnovers. The Monarchs actually improved their offensive efficiency with Ticha out of the game, though the return of DeMya Walker may have helped that somewhat. The Comets stayed close to their average, but were killed by their inability to handle Sacramento's defense and maintain control of their possessions. The Monarchs defensive rating for round one was 96.33 with a +12.27 differential compared to the Comets defensive rating was 93.77 but they only had a differential of +8.11. With or without Ticha, it looks like the Monarchs own this series. I won't write the Comets off just yet...not after the way they dismantled Seattle at home, but I now believe Sacramento takes this series in two games, not the three I originally expected.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Thanks to Kevin Pelton for keeping we Storm fans supplied with news. I am sure he knows we are suffering in the wake of Seattle's unspeakable loss to the not so evil, but we wish they were, Houston Comets on Saturday.
We are all still reeling, and to top it off there was no coverage today in any of our local papers. Kevin responds with three juicy articles answering our call for something, anything on our team.
He covers the FIBA World Championships and shares with us what Anne Donnovan has to say with regard to the potential conflicts.
Lauren Jackson, Suzy Batkovic, Sue Bird, Izzianne Castro-Marques, Natalia Vodopyanova and Francesca Zara are all expected to play for their national teams and Anne Donnovan herself is an assistant coach for the US team. Even Jessica Bibby (signed with the Storm this summer but sat out the season due to injury) if she decided to play for the Storm, may be committed to the Australian team.
He also shares with us coach Donnovan's thoughts on what the good things were from the 2004-2005 season. He hints at some potential veteran acquisitions that might boost Seattle back over the edge. He covered the collective bargaining agreement back in 2004, which tells us that the REAL veterans of the league have earned UFA or unrestricted free agency with 6+ years in the league. Look for the Storm to hunt for the right veteran to fill the void next season.
Finally, he covers the status of all the team's players, and talks about what the expansion draft could mean to the Storm next spring. He covers who is signed, which free agents are restricted and unrestricted and the fact that the league has yet to tell ANYONE what the rules of the draft will be. We could be faced with losing Betty Lennox, Simone Edwards and Alicia Thompson as unrestricted free agents if the Storm are unable to protect them and Chicago is able to draft them.
We will all have to stay tuned to the rules, but I doubt we will hear anymore from the league until after the finals in the next few weeks. In the mean time...thank you Kevin for being there for our needed fix.
Stats, stats, stats!
After dealing with several online vendors and their problems with backorders...I finally got my copy of Basketball on Paper by Dean Oliver. He only has a small section on the WNBA, but claims that this is due to the lack of statistical data for analysis and claims to be a big fan. Guess who he highlights (other than the DIVA), MVP candidates Sheryl Swoopes (claims she is overrated compared to Cynthia Cooper), Yolanda Griffith, Chamique Holdsclaw and he absolutely raves about a rookie from 2002 (he wrote the book prior to the 2003 season) named Tamika Catchings. He claims she may turn out to be the best player the league has ever seen. Sue gets a mention, only as a joke about Tamika taking the league by "Fever" since Sue took it by "Storm." Ha, ha, ha, Dean. Where are the stats on Lauren??? It was her second year in the league, but not her MVP year. I'd like to look at her stats. I have decided that this will be my mission for 2006. I will track the stats for the Storm as best I can and see what I can learn from applying Olliver's ideas to the Storm analysis and post them here.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Kevin Pelton may already be doing something similar...since he was charting defense for the Storm this year...but he can't share most of what he learns with the rest of us...since he works for the Storm. I have no such ties or restrictions and will continue to spout off anything I learn and share it with anyone who actually wants to listen.
Monday, September 05, 2005
I suppose the site name will have to change...they can no longer defend the title...and next year, well, frankly, they will have to regain their title next year.
I will drop pointers to interesting articles on the Storm and the rest of the WNBA here as the offseason progresses...and as hard as it may be, I will try to follow the rest of this year's WNBA playoffs and post my thoughts for those who are interested.
Jayda Evans wraps up her excellent season coverage of the Storm with a nice article on the team and coaching staff and forecasts for their future.
She sees the Storm keeping Sue Bird, Janelle Burse, Tanisha Wright, Izzy Castro Marques, Betty Lennox and Lauren Jackson. Her thoughts are that Suzy, Francesca and Vodo are at risk in the expansion draft which brings Chicago into the league and evens out the number of teams in each conference. The Storm are allowed to protect six players...I have seen conflicting ideas on whether they are required to protect unrestricted free agents like Betty and Lauren...if they aren't I am sure they protect Suzy and Vodo. Simone, like every season, may be gone next year...that will depend on her desire to remain and who comes to camp next season, as it always does. Francesca was a solid backup, but I am not sure that she will be kept as the Storm realized they needed a more veteran guard in the backcourt. I would not be surprised to see an offseason trade made by AD to shore up the strong backcourt trio of Sue, Betty and Tanisha.
One interesting note in the Times article today was Jayda's assertion that the Storm may lose one of their assistant coaches. I hope that means a head coaching opportunity is in the future for Jessie Kenlaw or Jenny Boucek. I think their excellent work with such a young team this season and the championship last year in addition to their tutelage under the BEST coach in the WNBA will earn them respect in the league. It would be good to see the league foster growth from within, particularly with women coaches. It is getting old seeing unqualified former NBA players getting the nod. There are openings in both Phoenix and LA, though I think Charlotte is committed to their experiment with Mugsy Bogues.
I will also be starting a blog on the Seattle Sonics season which will begin ramping up in the next two months. We are very fortunate to have excellent year round basketball between these two teams. With that in mind I don't expect as many entries in this blog during the offseason, at least until the draft.
Thanks to those of you who have been reading...it has been exciting for me to apply a little discipline and force myself to write these past few weeks about a sport and a team that I really love. I have been encouraged by the readership...representation by five continents is really impressive to me. You can use the ATOM xml link on this page to subscribe via an Atom reader or RSS reader which will allow you to receive notice of new articles during the offseason.
I am also looking for suggestions on a new title...please leave any ideas you have and I will try to have the site renamed by the end of September. Happy off-season everyone!
Sunday, September 04, 2005
This is not what any of us expected. I truly believed that there was no way the Storm could lose two in a row, in a playoff, in Key Arena. Boy was I wrong. In some way I wasn't all wrong, since the players that showed up to the arena last night barely seemed like shadows of the players we have watched all season. The loss to Houston at the last minute on Thursday seemed to have broken their hearts, their wills and fractured their unity. The crowd knew just a few minutes into the game that we were in for trouble.
Before the Game
I arrived at the game early with my 17 month old son. My wife was sick, and my eldest decided not to come to the game, so we had an empty seat. We got to the game quite early...and checked out all of the discounted merchandise from last year's championship season that was on sale. Unfortunately there was nothing there in his size, so we headed into the arena. We hit the Kid's at the Key line to buy him a $1.00 hot dog and a $1.00 PB&J as insurance...then headed to our seats. We watched the Comet's at shootaround...they seemed very focused. There was a pretty silly contest for dancing which the crowd gave the $100.00 win away through their applause. I am not sure why they picked the guy with the cowboy boots...he barely danced. We got some french fries and some water and settled in. The anthem was by a local gospel singer...a bit more traditional rendition and somewhat less inspiring than Thursday's by Pat Wright. The crowd gave a nice welcome to the Comets players and coaching staff.
There was very lazy defense by the Storm from the outset, and the Comet's took advantage. The guards scored off easy layups via backcuts and finding holes in the zone coverage. Sheryl Swoopes got started on her WNBA first playoff triple double ever pretty early with several assists.
Janelle did a solid job on Snow again, and scored well when she caught the ball down low. The Storm continued to dare the Comet's to shoot against their zone, and the Comet's continued to knock down EVERY shot they took. They were shooting well over 60% for the entire first half.
Any time the Storm looked like they were going to make a push Swoopes, Thompson or Staley would just shoot them down with a three pointer, a layup or a steal. The energy of the crowd was being sucked away. They had come ready, but the Storm players had not. I don't even think LJ's foul trouble actually had an impact. She was fouling out of frustration, but they weren't scoring anyway.
The Storm made their best run out of the half, LJ and Betty leading the way, but seemed to crumble when Staley hit a clutch three once the Storm had got within 10. They never made another run. Izzy seemed to be the only one playing hard after that point.
AD threw in the towel around the two minute mark and pulled most of the starters. The Comet's had been celebrating since the ten minute mark. LJ was emotionally overwrought on the bench. It was heartwrenching to see her. The crowd still rose to their feet for the last minute of the game and applauded the Storm. It was very hard watching them be forced to throw t-shirts to the crowd when it was obvious that they all wanted to go back to the locker room and absorb what had happened to them. Betty was the last to leave the court...she spent a long time hugging her brother on the baseline before turning to the fans and having her last moment with us.
AD told them after the game that she hoped they took this as motivation. The one solid thing about this season is that there will be no decimation to the core this year. LJ, Sue and Betty are under contract, and they will be able to keep Izzy, Tanisha, JB and Suzy if the players want to play. I believe that Zara, Chelle, Simone and Vodo will be forced to earn their way back next training camp.
The title is gone. Sacramento will likely dissect Houston easily in the conference finals. We'll have to see what happens in the east. Next year they need to come back, older, wiser, and ready to take back that title. We'll be ready to ride there with them.