Disclaimer: The following is a highly biased account of the August 7, 2011 Lynx at Sparks game from the perspective of a Lynx fan who at the time of writing this is running on approximately 10 hours of sleep in the past 3 days and who has had way, WAY too much Red Bull in order to compensate for said sleep deficiency. You have been warned.
I now present to you, after 712 miles driven and 15 hours in the car (thanks, accident on hwy 152)..
…the Lynx at Sparks Game Report!
In which Ticha Penichero receives a new middle name, a conversion to Whalenism is made, and Seimone Augustus hits the o-boards.
I attended this game as the guest of a very wonderful friend of mine and her equally wonderful L.A.-based crew. In true L.A. style, my friend had connections, and we got good tickets for free. When I met up with the group before the game, I discovered that the tickets had been provided by one of their friends who was a Sparks staff member…and no one had told said Sparks staff member that I was a Lynx fan. Oops. When meeting the staff member (who shall remain anonymous for protection), my friends valiantly made a heroic but ultimately unsuccessful attempt at disguising my Brunson jersey. I thanked the staff member, and received a limp handshake and a look of extreme pity in return. The staff member then moved away while making a show of wiping off the hand I shook. Most excellent!
The Sparks were having a special “Gospel Night”. The gospel choir was excellent. However, I will second my friend on the rest of the celebration: “I would say something about this dancing…except that they’re dancing for Jesus and so I guess that makes everything OK.” Amen.
My stalking skills are poor, so I did not rush to the court and jump around in an attempt to let the Lynx know how awesome I was that I was braving a hostile arena to cheer for them. I did have to answer repeated questions from Sparks fans as to why exactly I was cheering for the Lynx.
Fortunately, the game started off with a Lynx scoring explosion, after which the questions regarding my jersey ceased.
I’m not sure what is up with the Sparks’ floor, but it appeared to be extra slippery as a couple of the Lynx players went sliding around in the early going like I did the one time I wore Chuck Taylors to a broomball game. (Never. again.)
Rebekkah Brunson had clearly been made one of the defensive points of emphasis for the entire Sparks team for this game. Keeping her off the glass was the focus, and she would frequently find herself not just double-teamed, but completely surrounded by yellow jerseys. Normally, Lynx rebounding goes something like this: Taj scoops up everything within her bubble. Brunson scoops up everything else (including several completely ridiculous rebounds per game that she really has no business getting to where you have to rewind and see it again). If there’s much left out there after those two snag everything they can, it’s usually Maya Moore, recently moved from the college 4 to the pro 3, who keeps her eye on the glass.
So what happens when that doesn’t quite go according to form for stretches of the game?
Well, hello Seimone Augustus! So nice to see you!
With Brunson being kept further away from the glass on many possessions, a big hole opened up for Augustus to step into the paint and help pick up the slack. ‘Mone had a season-high 7 rebounds, 4 of them offensive (tying her career high for o-boards).
As an aside: this reminds me that I recently had a circular conversation with a friend regarding ‘Mone and o-boards (as part of a longer story) that went something like this:
Friend: Augustus doesn't o-board.
Me (shining my Lynx homer badge): Dude, ‘Mone doesn't have to o-board. She is a guard. It’s not her job. She has Brunson to o-board. But if she needed to, she would TOTALLY o-board.
Friend (with facts on his side): She’s never been an o-boarder. When has she o-boarded? Not even in college. She DOESN’T O-BOARD.
Me (trying to either blind or hypnotize him with the now-shiny Lynx homer badge): ‘Mone doesn't HAVE to o-board. SHE IS A GUARD. It’s NOT HER JOB. But she WILL o-board when she needs to.
I would like to take this opportunity point out that Seimone Augustus does, indeed, o-board when she needs to (and has opportunity to). See? SEE?!?!?! Thank you. And now back to your regularly scheduled programming. :P
Since ‘Mone decided to get crazy and o-board for the Lynx, Ticha Penichero decided to get even crazier for the Sparks and score, and not just a little bit, but kind of a lot, actually, with a three-ball and everything. She finished with 16 points to go along with her 7 assists and was generally awesome and better than you.
Dear Los Angeles Sparks,
You are so much better with Ticha Penichero on the floor. You really are. Maybe I haven’t watched enough of your games, but I find this Tolliver/Penichero substitution pattern to be completely incomprehensible. Meanwhile Noelle Quinn has started every game yet contributes just over 2 assists and 5 points on average. I love Noelle, but...really? That’s start-worthy?
Let me break it down for you:
Noelle Quinn: NOT a point guard. Not assisting. Not scoring much either.
Kristi Tolliver: NOT a point guard. But scoring quite a lot, actually.
Ticha Penichero: POINT GUARD, and not only that, one of the most mind-bendingly talented passers the game has ever seen.
Therefore, your starting lineup at guard should be: Tolliver (at shooting guard) + Penichero (at point guard). Yes, on the floor together. Simultaneously. Really. Noe can take a break on the bench. (It’ll be OK. I promise the world won’t end.) Then you can sub her in for either Tolliver or Penichero (in case you have a moment where you forget what you’re doing and decide you hate assists again), or even get crazy and sub Lacy in at the point.
But for Sparks’ sakes START TICHA PENICHERO. Assists are good. Sharing is caring.
Trust me. You’ll thank me later.
Monarchs (RIP) fan forever and point guard aficionado
That having been said, it appears several of the Sparks had butter on their fingers since a number of Ticha Should-Be-Starting Penichero’s generally stellar passes were mishandled. Either Ticha was just a fraction off or people just didn’t have their eyes open and their hands up. I suspect the latter, given that Los Angeles with Tolliver and Quinn as a starting guard duo seriously lack in the assist department in general, and aren't even on the waiting list for the OH MY GOD DID YOU SEE THAT?!?! Assist Club of which Ticha Should-Be-Starting Penichero is a founding member. It doesn’t take long for everyone else on the floor to stop hoping they will ever get the ball at all, much less receive a pass that 99% of the people on the planet wouldn’t even dream was possible.
Notably, with Ticha out there for 36+ minutes, the players who got involved in scoring for the Sparks were the posts: Milton-Jones with 18, Thompson with 17, Lavender with 11 and Hoffman (also charged with the major defensive duties on Brunson) with 7. With a primary Tolliver/Quinn backcourt, it seems to me off the top of my head (I’d have to crunch the stats) like one of the posts has also maybe had a big night, but the others haven’t gotten involved. Penichero still found room to score 16 of her own while dishing to the posts, meaning there would have been room for Tolliver to get her average 12 and still have high production straight across the board from the post.
(OK, seriously, people, there has to be some reason I’m missing the desperate need to have Quinn as a starter for L.A. because the Tolliver/Penichero backcourt seems far too obvious to have been overlooked. If you have the answer to this puzzle, would you please let me know, because, really, what the heck is going on there?)
While the Sparks bench doghouse and substitution pattern is an ongoing mystery, the normally relatively straightforward Lynx bench turned into a puzzle temporarily against L.A. Perhaps the ailment that afflicts the Sparks is catching, but whatever the reason, the Lynx bench which is somewhat positively productive in limited minutes, opted to add only 5 points and 3 rebounds while contributing 10 of Minnesota’s 25 fouls. With the bench suddenly on a walkabout, the Lynx starters all needed to log over 30 minutes to shut the door on Ticha Should-Be-Starting Penichero and Company. Candice Wiggins--who has been on fire from 3 of late--contributed no points and racked up 4 fouls in short order. Jessica Adair looked somewhat confused and came back out of the game almost as soon as she went in. Alexis Hornbuckle and Charde Houston contributed exactly the same number of fouls as they did points.
In fact, fouls were the story for much of the game. Both teams average in the lower half of the WNBA in team fouls per game, but no one would have known that in this game as frequently as the whistle blew. There was much confusion in the stands after each foul, since no one could figure out what had happened. The calls were not so egregiously wrong as to be booed, but the “let them play” philosophy seemed to have been thrown out the window for the night. Accordingly, the game lacked in flow for huge stretches, which didn’t benefit either team. It did, however, provide the fans with ample opportunity to check Facebook updates. Phones started popping out of pockets and purses like clockwork after every whistle as the game wore on.
Attempting to keep the action on the floor interesting for us, and not to be outdone by Penichero in the battle of the point guards, Lindsay Whalen had another stellar night. Ticha played at a pretty high volume, but Lindsay went one louder, finishing with 8 assists to Ticha’s 7, and 24 points.
Whalen’s performance won over a Sparks fan among my companions, who promptly converted to Whalenism midway through the game…
Whalenism (noun)\ˈhwā-lən-i-zəm, ˈwā-lən-i-zəm\
A religion originating in the Minnesota region, founded on the life, teachings, and basketball playmaking skills of Lindsey Whalen. The religion teaches that winning is a moral imperative and that one can reach the status of winner through a judicious combination of assisting, shooting, and rebounding.
…and like a proper Whalenite started spouting proclamations of Whalen’s greatness at every opportunity.
Whalenite (noun)\ˈhwā-lən-īt, ˈwā-lən-īt,\
A convert to or adherent of Whalenism, displaying devotion often to the level of zealotry (for example, creating long blog posts containing complicated mathematical formulas to prove Whalen’s greatness and attempt to convert others).
This led to me and the Whalenite routinely high-fiving throughout the rest of the game, over the head of a Die-Hard Sparks Fan friend who was not amused:
DHSF (glaring at newly minted Whalenite): WHY are you suddenly cheering for Minnesota?
Whalenite: Are you even watching this game? Whalen is going OFF!
DHSF (ignoring the glory of Whalen): You’ve never even set foot in Minnesota in your whole life!
Whalenite (at a loss): But...I’ve been to St. Olaf!
DHSF (with a dismissive wave of the hand): Okay, Rose.
Ultimately, however, the Whalenite was rewarded for his conversion with a Lynx W. Despite the Sparks concerted efforts, the Lynx were simply unstoppable. Brunson still got loose for 7 boards and 12 points on the floor (with 6 more from the line for good measure) even with all the extra attention. Whalen was cool and decidedly in command, and Augustus put on a clinic of how to be dangerous in every way from everywhere on the court. Sparks fans were left to wonder what their team needs to do in order to win, and this Lynx fan headed home happy enough to survive a 2 1/2 hour accident delay on hwy 152.