L.A. Sparks must break through the glass ceiling by Clay Kallam
Though a lot of the conversation about how Game Four turned on some strange calls by the officials, really the story was the same that it’s been the entire series. And that’s the first of our Three Points …
1) Rebounding: Shortly after James Naismith hung up the first peach basket, a coach was heard to scream “Screen out, for God’s sake.” That hasn’t happened all that much for the Sparks, as Sylvia Fowles is simply dominating the paint. Candace Parker (more on her later) is overmatched in this regard, and the 6-5, strong, talented, Fowles is at the peak of her powers.
Minnesota has 40 offensive rebounds and 103 defensive rebounds in the four games so far: Los Angeles has 110 total rebounds, and has a deficit of 25 when Minnesota misses a shot.
L.A. won Game Three 92-75 thanks in great part to a 29-24 edge on the boards. In Game Four, which the Sparks lost, Minnesota had a 41-25 advantage, and that overcame a lot of flaws in the Lynx game.
So it’s really pretty simple: If Los Angeles is to claim the WNBA title Thursday night, the Sparks must get to the boards, and equally important, keep Sylvia Fowles off the offensive boards. If that doesn’t happen, in front of 12,000 screening Minnesota fans, this game could be a rout.
2) Candace Parker: One of the most enigmatic players in the WNBA, or in all sports for that matter, Parker has enormous talent that shows up sporadically. When she plays well, she’s tremendous. Sure, she’s never been a great defender, but she’s a shot blocker, she is long, she’s agile, and properly motivated, is at least slightly above average on the defensive end.
On the offensive end, she has it all. She can shoot threes (though she hasn’t been that effective in this series), she can score inside, she’s a great passer, and she can basically score from anywhere on the court.
But as Rebecca Lobo hammered home in Sunday night’s loss to Minnesota, Parker needs to be more active, and needs to take advantage of mismatches on the block. This, however, points to probably Parker’s biggest weakness: She does not like physical contact.
She’s not alone in this, as many players don’t really like to get down in the paint and bang with the big bodies, but Parker needs to do that for L.A. to win. She especially needs to do that on the defensive end, and she is matched up with Sylvia Fowles, who has been on a mission since this series began.
For L.A. to win, Parker needs to commit to being a physical presence in Game Five at both ends of the floor. She needs to take advantage of mismatches on the block offensively, and she needs to block out Fowles on every possession. Of course, she won’t win every one of those battles, as Fowles is a beast, but she has to give Nneka Ogwumike a chance to rebound. If Fowles gets past Parker, she’s going to get offensive rebounds, and Minnesota will take advantage of those multiple opportunities.
Parker has most likely been unfairly vilified throughout her career, as people tend to judge her by what they perceive as her potential rather than her production. But an unbiased look at what she has accomplished reveals a player who’s as good as anyone in the world when she’s playing well – and she’s still pretty good even if she’s not totally engaged. But at this point, in Game Five of the Finals, nothing less than complete engagement will do.
3) Officiating: Fans always complain about officials, no matter what the sport, no matter what the gender. But it’s true WNBA officials are probably a cut below officials at most levels, in part because of the league’s commitment to female officials.
The problem isn’t that women are incapable of being good officials – there are many outstanding female officials at all levels – but that there is just a smaller pool to choose from. Here’s the math: If there are 10,000 male officials, the number of officials in the 99 th percentile is 100. If there are 1,000 female officials – and if you look at the overall picture of basketball officiating, there are about 10 males for every female – the number of officials in the 99th percentile is 10.
But the WNBA is committed to having as many qualified female officials as possible, so the result is that to get as many as they can, they dip lower into the pool, percentile-wise, than they do on the men’s side. Again, this is no knock on the outstanding female officials out there, it’s just that the reality is there aren’t as many of them.
In an ideal world, the NBA and WNBA have exactly the same pool of officials, and they would be rated according to their ability from one to however many there are. Some women would be in the top 20, and some wouldn’t. At that point though, the best officials, male or female, would be working the key games in both leagues. (If the NBA rating of officials is unbiased, then the fact that a female official only worked one NBA playoff game gives you an idea of where things stand.)
Of course it’s not going to change, and it’s not going to happen at the lower levels, where you never see females do boys’ state championship games, but yet they’re good enough to do girls’ state championship games, but it’s important to remember that the number of available candidates has a huge impact on the quality the number of quality officials available for any particular game.
Hopefully it won’t matter in Game Five, and regardless of who was officiating, fans would complain, but a game decided by the players rather than the whistles would provide a much better ending to what has been a pretty good 20th season for the WNBA.