Of the remaining games on the Tulsa Shock's schedule, Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Sparks appeared to be the unlikeliest opportunity to break their WNBA record streak of 20 consecutive losses.
Well, to everyone not on the team except perhaps Jessica Lantz, whose unabiding faith in her team is admirable.
The odds just seemed to be stacked so heavily in the Los Angeles Sparks' favor who are fighting for a playoff spot and seemed to have additional off-court motivation to win the game.
But while the Sparks losing this particular game 77-75 is surprising even for those who figured that even a blind squirrel has to find a nut sometime (as a friend of mine noted afterward), the way they lost isn't exactly shocking (please excuse the pun).
Key statistic: The Shock beat the Sparks on the boards when it counted
The most significant statistical factor for the Sparks' loss was that they got beat on the boards 33-27, but particularly on the offensive boards - although it was only a 12-9 margin, it also represented a 10% difference in offensive rebounding percentage. Unfortunately for them, that's nothing new even with Parker's return.
|8/16 vs. Dream||16.1%||26.5%|
|8/18 vs. Fever||19.2%||25%|
|8/20 at Lynx||17.9%||51.3%|
|8/21 at Shock||7.1%||17.9%|
|8.23 at Mystics||41.9%||50%|
|8/26 vs. Shock||30%||40%|
L.A. Sparks offensive rebounding numbers since Candace Parker's return.
That the Sparks are getting beaten on the boards isn't actually surprising - they're a below average offensive rebounding team for the season and allow the highest rate of offensive rebounds. But the numbers on those first few games are startling - particularly the meeting in Tulsa - because those are not only well below their average but also well below the worst rate in the league (San Antonio, 21%) and neither Tulsa nor Indiana are even above average offensive rebounding teams.
You often hear people say that rebounding is about effort and that's especially true with offensive rebounding - the Sparks are simply getting outworked in the paint, which is also why it's no surprise that they're last in second chance points allowed (13.32 per game) as well. What's worse is that they got beat especially badly with the game on the line in the fourth quarter - 38% - 14%.
And a team that is getting consistently outworked on the glass wants no part of Tiffany Jackson.
Shock statistical MVP: Jackson kills the Sparks with 7 offensive boards
Jackson finished with another double-double - 20 points, 11 rebounds - but no rebound was bigger than her rebound with 39.9 seconds left when she just seemed to elevate above a crowd of Sparks players to get a crucial rebound off an Amber Holt miss and draw a foul to get to the line herself and extend the Shock's lead to three.
Her 22.09% offensive rebounding percentage was naturally a game high, but so was her 57.14% free throw rate and those two free throws that came late in the game after the Sparks inexplicably allowed her to break their press, struggle to catch her, and then foul her 27.5 seconds left instead of finding a way to stop her were two of her biggest of the game.
Jackson was just more active, everywhere, than anyone else on the floor and she was unquestionably the MVP of the game.
But of course, it was Sheryl Swoopes whose big shot was the dagger.
Key player: Swoopes' clutch shot complements game-high 9 defensive boards
When Swoopes decided to return to the WNBA - to the Shock no less - typically cynical fans immediately wrote it off as nothing more than publicity stunt.
Too old, away from the league too long.
Well, she's found a rhythm under coach Teresa Edwards and her game-winning shot looked like the type of play a spry superstar on a four-time WNBA champion might have hit.
But while last second shots will always be the story of the game, again it was her rebounding that was more significant to the team's effort - it's rare to see a wing have a defensive rebounding percentage of 34.62%. Along with 17 points in 35 minutes, it was quite an effort for a player who many figured wouldn't have enough in her tank to make an impact.
Sparks statistical MVP: Delisha Milton-Jones leads Sparks with 8 rebounds
Parker has been playing MVP-caliber basketball in her return, but for whatever reason that didn't happen on a night she pledged to donate funds to the Alzheimer's Association for her performance.
Most importantly, she's been their only consistently strong rebounder in this stretch of 6 bad rebounding games - aside from Parker, they haven't had one reliable other player to get on the boards.
On first glance, this might look like a miraculous occasion for the Shock to have won a game, but upon closer scrutiny it's clear that the Shock just exploited a persistent weakness for the Sparks even if we didn't necessarily expect it to happen on Friday night.