It's surprising what a difference a few weeks can make in terms of a team's fortunes and play-off hopes.
Okay, okay, one of those two losses happened last night to the New York Liberty — 72 – 77 — but it was an illustrative loss, and adds an "if only" factor to the team's narrative this year.
Take a look at these "if onlys" ("if onlies?" "if only's?" No, that last one is definitely wrong. You don't pluralize with an apostrophe).
"If onlies." It's "onlies."
Let's take a look at a few of the "if onlies" that kept the Fever from beating the New York Liberty.
- Shavonte Zellous, one of the WNBA's leading scorers, went 2-13 in field goals, and 0-6 in 3-pointers, with another 4 points in free throws. She scored 8 points, when her average points-per-game is 15.3. That missing 7 points puts the Fever ahead, 79 – 77.
- Erin Phillips, Jessica Breland, and Layshia Clarendon average 7.8, 4.4, and 4.2 PPG respectively. Last night, they scored 6, 2, and 0. One extra basket from each would have made the score 78 - 77.
- Jasmine Hassell, same story. She averages 2.1 PPG, and scored 0 last night. She continues to hesitate with shots, choosing to pass rather than shoot. I hope she develops some confidence and knows that people aren't going to yell at her for missing. Swap out her missing points with Breland or Clarendon's missing ones, and we're still at 78 – 77.
- My daughter continues to impress me with her basketball knowledge. "Lin Dunn put Phillips and Clarendon in because they're defensive players," she told me last night during the 3rd quarter. (I had no idea that this was a strategy at all!) The score was 42 – 33 at the end of the half, and the Liberty were in the middle of a 10-0 scoring run in the 3rd. Dunn rested Catchings and January, and went on defense. If they could have prevented two field goals and one 3-pointer in the 2nd half, the score is 72 – 70.
I don't say this to point fingers or be an armchair coach, but rather to find the optimistic hope in this loss.
I'm a big believer in motivational speakers and trainers who urge people to "do one more." One more sales call, one more meeting, one more hour of working. It's that one more that puts us ahead of the competition.
I'm hoping for the "one more" from the Fever (all the while knowing they work their asses off, and they want to win more than the fans want them to), and seeing the "if only."
Sports are a matter of the ball falling one way and not the other. One inch one way or another, and a ball goes in, or bounces off the rim. Many times, that makes all the difference.
"If only" Phillips, Breland, and Clarendon had one more field goal each. "If only" Zellous had an average night. "If only" the defense could have stopped one field goal and one 3-pointer in the 3rd quarter.
And yes, sports are a litany of "could have beens" and "if onlies." But this is where we should put our hopes. We're not resigning ourselves to losses, we're surprised by them. We're buoyed by those "if onlies."
Because on another night, Phillips, Breland, and Clarendon match their average, Zellous does her thing, or the defense stops 6 or 7 points from going in, and the Fever are in 3rd, ahead of 8–9 Washington.
This is a hopeful loss. This is a surprising loss. I'm happy about that.
Because it means the Fever have a reason to be optimistic about the playoffs, and that we could see a repeat of the 2012 championship.
Because it means once Katie Douglas is back on the floor, the Fever will be unstoppable.
If only she'd get better soon.
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