Eric Thibault’s All-Star Blog
Note: Due to the technology issues of a new computer and the technology incapacity of the person operating it, this journal entry was posted a little bit behind schedule. The actual writing, however, took place at the time of the event.
7:09 - Welcome to your WNBA All-Star running diary!
7:11 - We are kicking things off with a performance by Aly and AJ. I have no idea who they are, but I'm told that they are "Hollywood Recording Artists." Oh. And by the sounds of things, they do that song that is on all of the WNBA commercials. I know, because it is permanently seared into my brain. The girls do seem to have some musical talent, and if anything, I can say I saw a concert at the Garden.
7:13 - Starting lineups, Western Conference first. Lisa Leslie and Dawn Staley get the loudest ovations.
7:15 - And now for the East...featuring coaches Mike Thibault, Scott Hawk, and Bernadette Mattox! Becky Hammon is on crutches again, and still manages to get the most screams - I guess there are a few New Yorkers in the building. Ex-Liberty forward Tamika Whitmore also gets a nice ovation. Margo Dydek, my "X-Factor" for tonight's game, is announced as a starter. Well done, Large Marge. Nykesha, KT, Taj, and Lindsay also get a warm welcome.
7:21 - We just had the National Anthem and I took a quick look around - not quite a sellout here at the Garden, but well over 12,000 are certainly on hand. Tamika Catchings is being honored for receiving the most fan votes - despite the boot on her foot. I'm trying to figure out how the Sun can move the Fever up on the schedule to, say, this weekend.
7:25 - And we're underway! The East loses the tip...not a good sign, considering we had about a 9-inch height advantage. The West immediately scores on a Lauren Jackson putback, but Beard answers at the other end.
7:28 - Not a great start for the Sun, er, East. KT misses a 3, Lindsay gets it stripped, and Marge misses a jumper. Fortunately, KT is there for the putback.
7:31 - Back-to-back 3-pointers for Katie Douglas, and the East has a 14-11 lead. I have to say, nothing beats the Garden in terms of coolest place to watch a game. It may not be the nicest, fanciest, or roach-free arena, but there is a mystique about the place. And the in-house organist is awesome. Reminds me of Wrigley Field.
7:35 - During our first timeout, I realized that the TV monitor next to me is about 7 seconds behind the action. Better keep my eyes on the court.
7:37 - A questionable foul is called against Taj, who is guarding Lisa Leslie. NO RESPECT FOR THE SUN! NONE!
7:42 - The first quarter is over, and it has been the Tamika Whitmore show for the last couple of minutes. She scored the last 5 points for the East to cut the deficit to 1 at 28-27. Entertaining game so far.
7:46 - Um, I think Lisa Leslie just air-balled a free-throw. Wow. Then again, she's the league's Most Valuable Player at this point in the season, so we'll let it slide.
7:48 - The organist treats us to a rendition of Van Halen's "Jump" after a Katie Smith-Cappie Pondexter tie-up. I wonder where that ranked on the list of priorities for a new MSG organist. Probably right behind "da-da-ba-da, da-duh, CHARGE!" It's an extensive list.
7:53 - A nice mug shot of Mike Thibault on ESPN, looking sharp in a suit. He must have received fashion tips from his family, that's my guess. In other news, the East has gone ahead, 37-36. Fast paced and lots of scoring, just how we all want it.
7:55 - An unbelievable performance by the dancing "Lil' Torches," some of the stars of yesterday's blog. Brought the Garden crowd to its collective feet.
8:00 - Hey everyone, it's the Washington Koala Bear! Don't act like you're confused!
8:01 - Large Marge with a thunderous blocked shot, followed by a Katie Smith 3-pointer, and the East has a seven point lead!!! Things are looking good. I must say, having two point guards who can distribute the ball (Whalen and Staley, and Bird when she's on the court) really helps the flow of the game. Hence the high scoring.
8:06 - It's halftime, and it's the best possible scenario for the East. A 49-40 lead, and the ability to put the ball in the hands of trusty guards like Whalen, Beard, and Douglas. If we (notice how I now use "we" instead of "East") keep the West from heating up behind the 3-point line, I think we'll hold on.
8:27 - Halftime is officially over, which was highlighted by what I believed to be a Ben Gordon sighting (I'll have to get confirmation later). The All-Decade Team ceremony was also well done - Cynthia Cooper easily received the biggest round of applause...most of the crowd gave each player a Standing O.
8:32 - The East has come out on fire! The lead is now 15, and we show no signs of stopping. Is it a coincidence that three Sun players are on the court? I think not.
8:36 - Liberty greats Rebecca Lobo (also a Sun legend, I believe) and Theresa Weatherspoon are honored during a timeout. Weatherspoon is probably the most popular player ever to don a Liberty uniform, because of her scrappiness, defense, passing, and half-court heave against the Comets. Not, however, because of her jump-shot.
8:40 - It's a shame Deanna Nolan plays for Detroit. She's far and away one of the game's most explosive players.
8:41 - Some sloppy play from both teams, reminding me vaguely of a New York Knicks-Toronto Raptors type of struggle. I think some leftover Knicks karma in the building is rubbing off.
8:43 - Lindsay Whalen with a couple of buckets! The play of DJ Whay has been key to this East Explosion. We now lead by 23! Twenty-three! That's Jordan's number, not surprising since we are at the Garden.
8:45 - This is a smackdown of epic proportions. We are ten minutes away from the East's first ever victory in the All-Star game, and it appears that the Connecticut Sun will be a main reason why. Excellent play in quarter #3 from Ford, Smith, and Whalen. The crowd, as predicted, is noticeably pro-East.
8:52 - To start the 4th quarter off horribly, the crowd has started the wave. I hate the wave only slightly less than I hate the "YMCA." Don't ask me why, since I do like the "Sweet Caroline" gimmick at Red Sox games. Just an ingrained dislike I guess.
8:55 - Every sign points to the East scoring 100 points. We have 85 with seven minutes to go, are not slowing down at all, and now have all four Sun players on the court. I believe this is the best possible lineup in the league, but that's just me.
8:57 - Another monster block by Margo, which warrants a replay from ESPN. WNBA, be prepared to see a lot of that over the next two months.
9:02 - Donna Orender is interviewed on ESPN. She reminds us that it's the league's 10th Anniversary. I had no idea. Maybe they should put the Anniversary logo right on center court, that would be really neat.
9:04 - My MVP vote right now would go to DJ Whay, with KT a close second. They can't rob the Sun of the award, can they?
9:06 - Coach Thibault takes out all of his Sun players after a very successful night. The lead is currently 92-69 with 3:11 to play. It's officially time to tire out the Detroit and Indiana players.
9:08 - Katie Smith hits another 3, which could possibly steal some MVP votes. That would be a travesty, since Whalen has primarily been the one who has dished it off to her. Actually, a quick look at the box score makes me change my vote to Katie Douglas. She now has 16 points, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds, and kept the East in the game when the West came out firing in the first quarter. As long as we keep it in the family, I don't care who brings it home.
9:13 - I'm not feeling a dunk tonight, and I'm not too disappointed. This league doesn't need that extra bit of flair to have success. Well, never mind. Michelle Snow throws one down. And here's Nolan for a try at the other end.......BACK RIM!
9:16 - And that's the final buzzer - East wins 98-82! Nolan's dunk would have made it 100. Word on the street is that Katie Douglas will be MVP...I'm out to see what happens.
It's been fun...special thanks to Sarah Emmett, Bill Tavares, Martin Sumners, and Rachel Manke for making this work.
Until next time,
Eric “Coach’s Son” Thibault
Allllllright and we're back with edition three of this rambling unofficial All-Star blog. As of now, I'm seated in the media area of Madison Square Garden, five tables back from the court. I'm on the endline next to what I believe is the West's bench.
I'm sure I will be booted from this seat and sent up to section 105 within no time. I just took the "Guest" bus through the wet and crowded streets of NYC, and arrived just as the doors were opened. To clarify, the "Guest" bus is not some exclusive means of transportation. Anybody could walk over to the Hilton Hotel and catch a ride. Basically, "Guest" is a nice way of saying "not important enough to warrant your own bus." And I guess that's fair.
Here's a quick update on what has happened since the East's practice yesterday afternoon:
1. My laptop and cell phone ran out of battery.
2. I mingled with some of the league's finest at some "Welcome Reception" at a pier on the Hudson River. I chatted it up briefly with Diana Taurasi and Katie Smith (being sure to point out that she killed me in the 3-point contest), talked with ESPN Producer Phil Dean, and then rattled off movie lines with Lindsay Whalen. You guess which of those activities had the best result. All in all, a fun night and a way for everyone to feel important and included.
3. It started raining in the city. Basically, nobody can move anywhere because of all the taxis that are in use. It took a solid half hour for us to make the 9-block trip from the hotel to MSG. Not too fun, but you wouldn't know it from the huge crowds still walking around in Times Square.
As the Garden begins to fill with New Yorkers that want to actually see some good basketball played in this arena, I think it's time to make some predictions for this game, as well as for the rest of the season. Here's how I'm breaking down tonight's action.
OFFENSIVE FIREPOWER: The West clearly has the advantage here, with Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Seimone Augustus, and Lisa Leslie all coming off the bench. They also manage to throw Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, and Sheryl Swoopes out there. Not too shabby. Because of the injuries, the East's best scorers are now Alana Beard, Katie Smith, Deanna Nolan, Katie Douglas, and Tamika Whitmore. Still a strong group, but not quite as deep offensively as the West.
DEFENSE: I think the East clearly has the edge. Douglas, Beard, Cheryl Ford, Taj McWilliams Franklin, and Margo Dydek are all great defenders, which should help to neutralize some of the West's offense. The East, however, will not look to make this a slow-down, grind-it-out game, much to everyone's relief.
COACHING: Um, better not comment here.
MENTAL EDGE: Unfortunately, I think the West's history of victory and their health outweighs the East's underdog mentality. I hope I'm wrong, as the crowd would most definitely get behind the East if it was a close game.
My Sensible Prediction: West 94, East 80
My Wishful, What-I'm-Going-To-Root-For Prediction: East 85, West 82, with a Katie Douglas 3-pointer at the buzzer to win it.
My real hope: that the East scores 100 points. I don't know if this is the year to do it, but it will happen soon.
As for the rest of the year, I see the Eastern Conference playing out like this:
7. Liberty - assuming Hammon has to miss a few games - if she's OK, they will finish 5th.
Sun over Mystics, 2-0
Shock over Fever, 2-1
Sun over Shock, 2-1
In the West:
6. Silver Stars
Honestly, I have no clue about the West.
My gut feeling is that Los Angeles will advance through the playoffs, making it a third different opponent in three years that the Sun will face in the Finals.
Once we get there, I think a 3-1 series win will do. And the Sun will be champions.
The players have now taken the court, and I'm going to go prepare myself for a running journal of the game. I have to say, the East looks focused. Put me down for a Wishful, What-I'm-Going-To-Root-For result. I'll be back after the game.
Posted Tuesday, July 11, 9:32 pm
And we're back at Madison Square Garden, which is always full of a variety of sights, sounds, and unfortunately, smells. The arena does give a great chill factor - to enter, you have to walk right by a poster recognizing the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali fight that took place here in 1971. Pretty cool stuff.
Featured in today's practice will be the entire starting lineup for the Sun - Lindsay Whalen, Katie Douglas, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and Margo Dydek will all be in uniform, while Nykesha Sales will have to sit out with an injury. I was able to say hi to all of them, and Taj welcomed me with a jab to the ribs. In other excitement, I was able to get a credential so I could mill about the arena and walk directly past the security guard that yelled at me earlier. I didn't even say anything to him - revenge is a dish best served cold.
A main theme of this practice seems to be the injured feet/ankles/achilles heels. The list of victims includes Becky Hammon (ankle - crutches and brace), Tamika Catchings (achilles - protective boot), Nykesha Sales (achilles - boot), Alana Beard (ankle, though she's good to play), and some coach named Mike Thibault (foot - boot).
Despite all this, everybody seems happy to be here, and the East is intent on bringing home a victory. Finally. To start things off, a shooting contest is underway. On one team are Tamika Whitmore, Deanna Nolan, Candace Dupree, Katie Smith, and Taj, and on the other team are KT, Lindsay, Beard, Margo, Cheryl Ford, and Tangela Smith. Lindsay's team won, prompting her to run back and forth and catch passes like a wide receiver. She's a Minnesota Vikings fan, so naturally she dropped a couple.
The big question seems to be this: will there be a big dance party at center court? The West team gave it a try, with marginal success. They had to pull out some fans and have them give it a go. I think the East can fare much better, mainly because they have Margo Dydek, dancing machine. We'll have to wait and see.
Here's something I thought was very interesting - the number of all-stars from each Eastern Conference team represents where that team is found in the standings. Connecticut has 5 players, Detroit has 3, Indiana has 2, and then Washington, New York, Chicago, and Charlotte all have 1. Symbolic? I think so.
As I check out my surroundings, I notice that esteemed WNBA.com blogger Matt Wurst is sitting directly behind me. I'm thinking about turning over my shoulder and shooting him a "two can play this game" look, but I'll let it slide. After all, it's not like he's from Detroit.
I have also decided that New Yorkers might be some of the most knowledgeable basketball fans in this country. They seem to know every player, and don't say stupid things like "Wow, Margo Dydek is tall." I guess this appreciation for the game makes up for their loudness. Somewhat.
After a brief run through of some plays for tomorrow night, we have another shooting contest. Obviously, the keys to this practice are conditioning, conditioning, and conditioning. The players are simply exhausted from all this strenuous shooting, then spotting up, then shooting again. I'm tired just from watching. Katie Smith makes a 3-pointer, which would have been useful about 2 hours ago when I picked her to win the 3-point shootout. Thanks so much, Katie.
And now, the always crowd-pleasing half-court shot. It took the West about 15 shots to make one earlier today (Diana Taurasi was the eventual winner) - hopefully the East will have a little more success.
(Here I take a 5 minute break because some guy holding a camera wire stands right in front of me.)
Wow, no shots made. But wait...the injured Tamika Catchings steps up...and it's in the air...and it has a chance...and IT'S GOOOOOOD! Glad that's over. Now it's time for a little question and answer session...which leads to a Margo Dydek dunk, bringing the house down. Hopefully she'll do it tomorrow night for a TV audience. Practice is wrapping up, and it's about time for me to leave. And yes, the East certainly has better dancers. I'll send in the grand finale tomorrow night after the game, and be sure to tune in on ESPN, it should be a good one. Go East!
Posted Tuesday, July 11, 3:30 pm
Hey there Connecticut Sun fans! For those of you who don't know me, and that's pretty much all of you, I'm an official member of the Connecticut Sun...family. Mainly, I just hang out behind the Sun's bench and give out high fives and yell at referees during home games. Yep, I'm really important. I also consider myself somewhat of a budding journalist, which is why I'll be writing in periodically during the All-Star festivities. That, and all the players are too busy with different activities - I'm pretty much the only one available.
So I'm coming to you live from courtside at the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden. No, no, I'm not a credentialed member of the media - I had to survive your average New York mob to snag some prime seats. Right now, we're kicking off the "Dribble, Dish, and Assist Challenge," featuring Seimone Augustus, Cappie Pondexter, Deanna Nolan, and Sue Bird. Augustus leads things off with a time of 38.1, which isn't bad considering she struggled with the jumpshot. Cappie Pondexter followed with a 39.0 and Deanna Nolan turns in a 40.8, good for last thus far. And now the NYC favorite, Sue Bird. There's some sort of Connecticut connection there too, but I just can't think of what it is. Anyway, Bird turns in a 29.2, easily the best of the first round. That's why she's the defending champion of this event.
It's time for the finals of this event: Augustus vs. Bird. Augustus has to go first, giving the veteran Bird the advantage. Why Lindsay Whalen isn't in this event is beyond me. I guess they don't think one of the league's best passers and dribblers would be good at...um...passing and dribbling. Augustus leads off with a near-perfect 28.something, much to the surprise of the audience. Bird struggles right out of the gate, missing a layup and then missing the first pass attempt. And just like that, we have a new champion. Congratulations Seimone Augustus! Sorry the Sun beat you in your WNBA debut.
Now it's almost time for the 3-point shootout, featuring your own Katie Douglas and Lindsay Whalen. Everybody in Camp Connecticut is disappointed that Margo Dydek wasn't invited to compete in this thing - the All-Star center can certainly shoot from long range. Rounding out the field of shooters are Diana Taurasi, Katie Smith, Mwadi Mabika, and Dawn Staley. I can't believe what I'm typing, but I'm picking the Shock's Smith, who has a quick release and doesn't waste too much effort in her stroke. I'll gladly be wrong, however, if it means a KT or Whalen victory. Even if our girls don't win, they can take a look at the Eastern Conference Standings and immediately feel better.
Shooting first is the self-proclaimed underdog, KT Douglas. After only 3 points through two racks, things looked shaky. She then got hot, similar to the Sun's second half comeback against Phoenix. She made the next 3 "money-balls" and finished with a total of 16. That should be good enough to advance (three players move to the finals), assuming that everyone else doesn't just shoot the lights out. Up next is Mabika, who turns in a score of 17. Yikes. Now KT is gonna have to sit tight and hope she can hang on. DJ Whay is up next, and throws a 13 on the board, which isn't bad considering she didn't finish the last rack. That most likely won't be good enough to advance, but you never know.
We now take a break to watch the "Lil' Torches," the New York Liberty's young dance team. Joining them near the court is the Washington Mystics' mascot, a panda bear. Now I've been to D.C., and have come to the conclusion that this might be the single strangest mascot choice in the league. I haven't seen a squirrel in D.C., much less a panda bear. Unless the Mystics have a sister team in Thailand, I don't like the choice.
It's back to the competition, and Staley posts a 19. That puts my pick to finish last in first place, one of the many reasons I am not a Las Vegas oddsmaker. Reason #2 is my pick to win, Katie Smith, who scores a 12. This is the bizarro 3-point shooting contest. So KT's fate rests with Taurasi. If Taurasi scores less than 16, KT advances. And she puts up a 7! Seven! Siete! Not good enough! Scotty B tells us that Douglas, Mabika, and Staley advance, which keeps the Sun represented in this contest. We take a quick break for a t-shirt toss, which allows the girls behind me to shatter my eardrums with their screaming. Fantastic. New Yorkers at their best.
KT leads off the finals with a 16, which gives her a chance. The lady next to me guarantees a Mabika win, but the west-coasters just can't handle the Garden. Mabika turns in a 14, which puts the contest in the hands of former Olympic flag-bearer Dawn Staley. Can I root against a WNBA legend? Sure I can. 4 points through 2 racks...8 through 3 racks...13 through 4 racks...14...15...17. She wins by 1 stinking point. Unbelievable. Staley was the fan favorite, so everyone here is happy. Except me. I came to win.
Alright, I'm checking out for now. I'll have more from the East's practice later today, and then after the game tomorrow. Hopefully the injuries to Nykesha Sales, Becky Hammon, and Tamika Catchings won't keep the East from picking up its first-ever victory.
Until next time,