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July 31, 2005 vs. Los Angeles Sparks

Final score: Storm 77 – Sparks 72 (W) (14-10)

Attendance | 10097

Anthem Watch | A marching band. Someone in the trumpet section was straining to hit the high note at the end, but otherwise it was very marching band-y (that's not necessarily a bad thing).

Fan Psyche | Paddles... charging... CLEAR!

Game Highlight | Betty hitting that supa-clutch three at the end.

Halftime | The marching band doing their thing, only without a lot of marching.

SF.O Keyword of the Game | OG SPRAKS*

Game Photos

How was it that the Sparks kept this game as close as they did? The Storm dominated in rebounding including 14 offensive rebounds, shot 37 free throws compared to 12, had one more made three-pointer and had more steals. Statistically, this should not have been decided in the final minute of the game. But decided in the final minute it was, threatening to cause 10000 simultaneous heart attacks.

Looking at the stats, it's hard to believe how it seemed that the refs were so horrible. They called twice as many fouls on LA and they did on Seattle. LA was in the penalty in the second half with nearly 13 minutes left in the game. Yet with all the missed calls, screwed up out-of-bounds calls, incorrect travels, non-call travels (Whitmore, I'm looking at you), and looking for the side line ref to make a call for the blind and dumbfounded baseline ref, I can understand why Coach Donovan got that technical called. Yes, the Sparks had more fouls called on them, but the refs were still making glaring and insane mistakes over and over and over again. Kurt didn't make a call in Seattle's favor until sometime in the second half.

With 44 total fouls called, this was another game where neither team was able to get into any kind of consistent flow. Every couple of possessions, there was either a foul or a timeout stopping the game. Coach Donovan kept the starters in for a long time to start the game, and then started switching people out in a rapid succession. That too seemed to contribute to the Storm being kind of choppy.

There was one stretch during the first half when the Storm had four rookies and LJ out on the floor. I'm not sure that we've seen that before so early in a game with the score as tight as it was. Vodo, Suzy, Tanisha and Zara were out there with LJ for a few minutes of game time — long enough for the Storm offense to go flat and the Sparks to climb back from being 4 or 5 down to taking the lead by 4 or 5. Coach Donovan quickly yanked all the noobies and put our starters back in. Except for that stretch, the bench got very little playing time.

Suzy came back in later, but wasn't hugely effective. Chelle, on the other hand, came in and had some significant minutes. She was scoring, getting rebounds, disrupting passes and brought some much needed energy in to the Storm's game. This was by far Chelle's best game of the season and was closest to how she performed at the end of last season. Her shot was again looking very smooth and she seemed to be moving around without the stiffness and pain that she had with the earlier back injury. She did miss two free throws at one point, but got the rebound and hit a jumper to get the two points. Of course, the jumper was farther back than the free throw line. Even after the made basket, Coach Donovan could only shake her head.

Betty came up huge in this game, even though she was visibly in pain from the tendonitis in her right forearm/wrist. A few of her shots were way off, but she hit the big ones when it counted, especially that three with something like 30 seconds left to give us a 4 point lead. I don't know if it was a drawn up play, but Sue drove into the lane with the ball and the defense started to collapse on her. She passed it out to a waiting Betty who was completely unguarded. She had time to set herself and then launched the shot. Of course the place erupted when that one went in.

She almost negated that hero shot next time down the floor when she turned the ball over to Holdsclaw with 12 seconds left and a 2 point lead. The shot clock was off and all she really needed to do was do the clock burning keep away thing and let the Sparks foul. Instead, Betty came up the floor and drove towards the basket. The Sparks shut her off and she got stuck. Maybe Betty was trying to force them to foul her, but because of her drive and the fact that the refs weren't calling what she was looking for, Betty had no place to go. She tried passing the ball back out to LJ and Holdsclaw intercepted it. Somehow, I didn't see it because the team was all up off the bench (and had been since about the 3 minute mark), Sue snapped the ball out of Holdsclaw's hands and saved the game. You know that if LA had gotten the ball down the court, one of them would have hit a three or something and taken the game. As it was, they had to resort to fouling and the Storm made their free throws to push the lead into two possession range.

Like I said, 10000 heart attacks.

LJ, Sue and Janell also came up big tonight. LJ got off to a very slow start and was getting pummeled inside every time she touched the ball. All of her shots were in the face of at least two Sparks defenders and, in the first half anyway, she was getting hacked left and right with no calls. In the second half, she was camped out at the free throw line and got her double double one free throw at a time.

Sue had a great shooting night, complimented by 7 assists and 3 steals. Without Teasley and with Dixon being a pale shadow of her former nasty self, the Sparks guards weren't much to look at and Sue was in control most of the time.

Janell once again was the beneficiary of all the attention LJ was getting. She had a whopping 7 offensive rebounds (several of them were LJ misses in the bruising face of the Sparks' defense) and either put the ball back up for a layup or got fouled in the process.

Our starters accounted for 90% of the game, not something that the Storm can do every game. For this game, we needed the starters to carry the load. Because of LA's injury history this season, their bench has been getting more playing time than they normally would and outplayed our bench. Since our bench wasn't getting it done, Coach Donovan didn't screw around and called upon the starters to stay in there for most of the game.

Before the game, a couple people asked me what I thought was going to happen. I said that I thought the Storm would win because they knew they needed this win to make a statement and to keep their playoff fate in their own hands. Five or six weeks ago, I think the Storm would have lost this game. They simply weren't playing as a team and didn't have their hearts in it. Now they do and now they are finding ways to win games regardless of what the refs do or who the opponent is.

Now it's time to really see who this team is. 6 games on the road and 4 at home. 7 of those are against western conference teams who are trying to either hold on to playoff position or get into the playoffs. The Storm have their playoff fate in their own hands right now and are positioned to dictate not only where they end up but potentially who gets into the playoffs with them.

It only gets harder...

Other Notes:

During pregame warmups, Zara, Macchi and Masciadri had a little Italian confab with hugs all around.

While the Sparks were going through their oddly regimented stretching routine, The Diva was right in front of us. I noticed her personalized Nikes (gold and white with "LL 9" across an ankle strap). I told her that her shoes were pretty cool, and tried to do it with as sincere a delivery as I could because I honestly thought they looked pretty cool. She thanked me. I turned to Angie and said, "I feel dirty."

Doppler was ganged silly stringed right at the start of the game. He was so coated in the stuff that you could hardly see his red pelt.

Howard was at the game and was up and yelling at the refs like crazy at the end of the first half.

Foam Finger Guy was back in his normal spot, although he didn't have his thundersticks. He seemed to be doing his normal shtick though, so I don't know whether leaving the thundersticks out of the equation was all that he needed to do or all he was willing to do. I talked to a couple staffers about him and didn't get any new info (because they didn't know what the deal was). They said they'd check and let me know.

*OG SPRAKS. So there was a group of Sparks fans sitting in the middle section across from the scorer's table and about halfway up the lower bowl. They had "GO SPARKS" spelled out one letter on a square and each was holding up a letter. The funny thing was they kept spelling it wrong. First it was OG SPARKS. Then it was GO SPRAKS. The benefits of an LA public school education I guess.