Dana Squires blogs the 2011 Seattle
Storm season with photos by Toni Holm
August 28, 2011
We (Barely) Beat L.A.
Tied up at 63 with about a minute to go, Lauren Jackson misses a jump shot for the Storm. Swin Cash misses the next jump shot. At the other end, Delisha Milton Jones misses her jump shot for Los Angeles. Neither team can put the game away. The Storm have the ball at midcourt. "The play was set up for me to come off [a screen] and when I did they came at me. That's when I kicked to T [Tanisha Wright], said Sue Bird about the last seconds of the game. T had her shot blocked, but "luckily," Sue continues, "the blocked shot ended up in my hand. They came at me so hard, I just pump-faked and took the hit."
That hit by Kristi Toliver sent Sue to the foul line. "Those free throws for any player at the end of the game can be tough," she says. "It is just you and the basket." Sue hits them both giving Seattle the lead with 1.6 seconds on the clock. 'I'll take a win any way I can get it. Tonight it was free throws."
AUDIO: The free throws won the game, but the Storm would have preferred a bigger win. Seattle was up by eight when the fourth quarter started and again at the six-minute mark. L.A. kept chipping away. Sue Bird explains why and how L.A. came to tie up the game in the last seconds.
AUDIO: Swin Cash is in a shooting slump, missing shots, as she said,
that she could normally make in her sleep. Tonight she made some progress
- shooting 4-11 and even hitting a nice 3. LJ, on the sideline waiting
to enter the game, recognizing the importance of that shot going in for
Swin, began jumping up and down delightedly. Perhaps, we will look back
on this game as Swin's return from the shooting badlands. Swin comments.
August 23, 2011
Having Lauren Jackson back on the floor may indeed make all the difference to the Storm's prospects in the home stretch to the WNBA playoffs. No one doubts that LJ is a critical piece in the Storm puzzle. She proved it in her first minutes back Saturday against New York when she made the first five points of the game, and she proved it again tonight. "Lauren made a couple of Lauren Jackson plays - turnaround jump shots, drop steps, things of that nature," Brian Agler said. It sounds simple, but a couple of those LJ plays - a layup from a Sue bird pass, soon followed by a rebound - were the first nails in the San Antonio coffin. When LJ returned with a little over five minutes to go, the Storm defense kicked it up a notch, locked in, and .won the game. "It was big for us to get this one," Sue Bird comments, her eyes flashing back to the locker-room television where the last few seconds of the Phoenix-New York game were ticking away. Phoenix missed a last-second shot - making the Storm win all the sweeter. With a Storm win, a Phoenix AND San Antonio loss on the same night, Seattle moved up a slot in the Western Conference standings.
AUDIO: With LJ back in the lineup, Ashley Robinson has lost her starting position. She doesn't begrudge the loss and knows that she gained valuable experience - and confidence - in her 12-game stint as a starter.
University of Tennessee coach Pat Summit, the John Wooden of women's hoops,
announced today that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia.
Summit has always been a pillar of strength, as a coach, as a person,
as a woman. The fact that she is anything less than invincible is absolutely
shocking. Many players in the WNBA have some relationship with Summit,
perhaps having been recruited by her, played for her in USA basketball,
or like the Storm's Ashley Robinson, spent their college career under
A Crappy Game
"Definitely embarrassing," said Sue Bird in a subdued locker room, "That was a crappy game." That about says it all. "They pretty much did what they wanted with us," Katie Smith adds.
Atlanta seems to have Seattle's number. The Storm had lost badly just last week to the Dream in Atlanta. They were able to force the usually unflappable Sue Bird, and the team, into an unprecedented number of turnovers in both games. Ending with 20 turnovers in the game, tonight the turnovers increased by two each quarter (from four in the first, six in the second) until the third's eight, which combined with a complete meltdown where nothing was going Seattle's way . Passes were off, shooting was off, balls flew out of bounds from the Storm's usually capable hands, and seemingly all fouls were against Seattle.
The 92-63 loss to Atlanta came as a shock. Seattle is not used to seeing its Storm lose. After going undefeated at home in KeyArena last season, it is especially hard for player and fan alike. Just last week, the team was delightedly praising being back in the key. "This place is magical," said Camille Little. Since 2007, this was only the 7th loss at home.
"We're pissed at this one," Swin Cash commented.
"We know we could have done better. We've got
"It was a tough game," Katie says.
"We are going to be watching a lot of film," says Sue.
AUDIO: But let's look at the bright side. The Storm reserves were able to get a full quarter of game time, when Agler pulled the starters after the 3rd quarter. And uh, the starters got a rest. The true positive of this game was the play of Katie Smith on both ends of the floor. She scored a game-high 19 points. "I felt good," she says, but the true competitor in her adds that "I also let Izzy (Castro Marques) make a couple in my face that kinda ticks you off." What Katie doesn't mention is that those shots Izzy made were not easy shots - but then Atlanta was in da zone. Here she talks about the loss and what needs to come next.
BONUS AUDIO: Tonight was Sue Bird Decade Night celebrating her tenure with the Seattle Storm. As the best point guard in the country, Seattle came out in force to cheer her on - and to collect the newest Sue bobblehead. Brian Agler says he remembers his first game coaching against Sue before he coming to Seattle himself. He states that Sue was the more dangerous of the two in the famed Sue Bird-Lauren Jackson pick and roll, Sue being able to break down whatever defense was thrown at them. What else has he learned about Sue over the years?
August 11, 2011
Little Plays Big
Camille Little was back on track tonight when the Storm went up against the Tulsa Shock. Slightly off this season, Camille has been getting into foul trouble and missing free throws. Basically, she has just not been as effective as she has been in the past. Tonight, the 2010 Camille made an appearance again with her nifty post-up spin moves, three- or four-step power drives to the basket, big rebounds, and yes, defense inside. Camille has never been afraid to take a charge, a play that pumps up the fans and team alike. Tonight she forced two player-control fouls (yup, charges) on Tulsa players. Shooting seven of nine from the floor, four of five from the free-throw line, pulling down seven rebounds, and matching both Tanisha Wright and Sue Bird with a game-high three assists, Camille had a heck of a game. She even hit a three pointer!
Sue Bird hit a 3 ball on the first shot of the night. Next possession, Camille's shot was blocked by Kayla Pedersen, but she rebounded and made the put back. These two plays set the tone for the Storm and Camille's night - hustle hustle score score score, and the Storm went on a 14 to 2 run.
This was not a nail-biter. The Storm had it won after the first few minutes; the first half was a Storm basketball showcase. "Man, [the first half offense] was beautiful!" Camille said. About the second half she adds, "We were moving a little slower." However, There were plenty of great plays to make the night interesting. Unfortunately, when Sue Bird tossed the ball over her head to a dashing Swin Cash in their UConn days of old style of play, Swin and the ball didn't quite connect. Too bad; it was a highlight-film opportunity missed.
My favorite play of the game was less flashy. Ashley Robinson had the ball at the top of the key, faked a shot - shifting the defense her way - while Camille moved to the basket at the perfect time to catch A-Rob's quick pass for a wide-open layup. That is what you call a high-low. Yeah, Ashley!
My other favorite moment of the night wasn't a play. While the refs were discussing who had last touched the ball before it went out of bounds, Katie Smith, standing at midcourt, did an admirable Vanna White imitation, repeatedly motioning the direction the ball should be going - to the Storm, of course. FYI the refs could not come up with a answer and called a jump ball between the 6'2" Camille and 6'8" Australian rookie Elizabeth Cambage. (Cambage won the tip.) "That girl is big," said Camille. "She's tough when she gets low to the basket." Camille Little may not have the size of Cambage, but she plays .uh, BIG.
AUDIO: Camille Little
comments on her struggles in the last games compared to this game against
Sue Being Sue
"We've seen that before!" said Brian Agler about the Sue Bird buzzer beater that won the game for the Seattle Storm.
"That's Sue for you." - Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles.
To those in the know in KeyArena, Sue Bird was just doing
what Sue Bird does - hit dramatic heart-stopping last-second baskets to
snatch wins. "She makes those plays all the time," Swin Cash
says casually. Sue, in fact, had had the opportunity to put the game away
in the Storm's previous possession. The Storm were up by one with 14 seconds
on the clock; Sue had a good look but failed to put it down. Connecticut
ball. The Storm's all-defensive team - Ashley Robinson, Camille Little
, Katie Smith, Swin Cash, and Tanisha Wright - were put in to hold on
to the lead. A-Rob blocked the first attempt, but Connecticut kept control
of the ball and Tina Charles banked it in. The Sun had a one-point lead
with 3.1 seconds to go. ccording to Swin, the team
remained confident. "I was like 'ACK!' but I looked up and there
were three seconds left and that is a lot of time. So, alright, what play
do you have Brian? Let's draw it up. Let's go!"
What was going through the mind of Swin Cash after the Sun went up with
three seconds to go?
BONUS AUDIO: How
does Storm center Ewelina Kobryn pronounce her first name? Here she is
to tell you herself.
July 21, 2011
It's Good to be Home
Sue Bird sat out all of the fourth quarter, and that was a good thing - she could afford to rest with the Storm taking a 22-point lead into the quarter.
"We talked about this game having implications down the road," said Brian Agler. "This was an important game for us," both psychologically and in terms of numbers. After three losses on a difficult road trip, the win was much needed heading into the All-Star Break. "Tonight was a must win for us," said Swin Cash. " Having just lost three on the road and going into a break, you want to go out on a high. We all knew with a win it would keep us over .500 and that was the goal."
Better than the actual win, though extremely important, might be the manner of play. Seattle played with energy from the start and everyone contributed. Out of the half the Storm took over the game with five steals and eight points in the first two minutes of play. Things came together as they hadn't on the road. Bench scoring has been an issue for Seattle but, in this game, each player that stepped on the court put the ball into the basket - while also pulling down 10 rebounds and handing out three assists.
"That's the kind of basketball we want to play, right
there," Tanisha Wright says. "I don't know any way else to put
it: that's the kind of basketball we want to play, we need to play, to
be successful that's what we have to play."
Tanisha Wright compares tonight's win to against San Antonio with their
disappointing loss against the same team a week ago on the road.
July 19, 2011
It's a Hit!
"Hit and miss." That is how this season's Storm team has been described, good at times and at others not so much. We haven't seen much of the locked-in focus that was last year's WNBA championship team - until tonight. While there was good energy throughout the game, something clicked midway in the 3rd quarter. The Storm defense tightened and Swin Cash went to town on offense. Swin made 16 of her 26 points in the 3rd With the help of her teammates - a leading bounce pass from Sue Bird as Swin sprinted down the lane was followed by another break with an assist by Katie Smith, followed by yet another Bird assist,.
In the 4th, everything fell into place. We saw the tight team play of 2010. "The combination of Swin's aggressiveness and our defense is what really got us going," said Sue Bird. The defense was such that it seemed as if L.A. was handing Seattle the ball. All the Storm shots were falling. "Once you hit a couple, the basket gets bigger and bigger," Sue said. "We were just rolling; that is the only way to describe it." By the final buzzer, Seattle had rolled four Storm players to season highs: Cash 26, Willingham 12, Wright 21, and Katie Smith 13.
Katie Smith has been known in past years for completely destroying opponents with deadly long-range bombs at critical moments. During her tenure in Detroit, she certainly did her share of damage in KeyArena. While she has brought a lot to Seattle this season, her shot has not been going. Before the game I asked Brian Agler if he expected Katie to come out one night and go off. "Absolutely!" he replied, "Tonight." It didn't look like it was going to happen tonight when, going into the 4th, Katie was 1 of 7. Then her first long ball of the night went down, and it was closely followed by two more. This was the Katie Smith we loved to hate when she was on the other team! Storm fans, many in their "I Am Home Court Advantage" tee shirts, went crazy.
The Storm can use the shooting of Katie Smith, there is no doubt. Tonight it was one aspect that helped the Seattle pull away from the Sparks. The team came together in a way we haven't seen this season. "We all know what everyone in this room is capable of," Sue said in the post-game locker room. "We have had some growing pains - just figuring ourselves out, figuring how we were going to work together. We knew it was right there, it was right on the cusp. Tonight, we got over the hump." Agler says, "Hopefully, we will stay on this path." And if they do, no longer will the phrase "hit and miss" be used to describe the Seattle Storm in 2011.
June 24, 2011
Defense is Defense
Minnesota's second visit to KeyArena in 2011 was much more satisfying that their first - at least for Seattle. Storm fans will take a solid win over a blowout loss any day.
Last game, Seattle was blindsided when Minnesota ran off with the game in the first few minutes and never looked back. The Storm suffered their first home loss since 2009. This game, Seattle controlled not just the tip but basically the whole game. Minnesota made a run in the 3rd and tied it up briefly, but the Storm responded. In the fourth Tanisha Wright had her own little run to start the quarter, and the door closed for the Lynx. "T played really well in the pick and roll in the middle of the floor," Brian Agler said post game, "That was an important part of the game."
It seemed T was looking for her shot more tonight, but she, not surprisingly, says it was just that the team ran plays that gave her more looks. She credits the team as a whole. "Tonight, we came out with a different focus [than in the last game against the Lynx], a lot more effort, a lot more energy, and we got the job done."
They got the job done without Lauren Jackson, who is sidelined for 3 weeks due to a hip injury. Undersized inside, Camille Little and Le'coe Willingham played big, offensively and defensively, pulling down 13 rebounds and putting up 27 points between them. Add to that the improved play of Ashley Robinson and the key was well covered. A-Rob provided the fan favorite play of the game - judged by hoots and whistles - when she swatted Lindsay Whalen's shot into the stands.
That is what Seattle was doing this time out - frustrating the other team, making stops. Le'coe said, "[We just wanted to ] get after it defensively. Everyone was dialed into the scout report and we just played an awesome game on defense," defense that kept superstar rookie Maya Moore scoreless in the first half and MVP-candidate Rebekkah Brunson to two points and seven rebounds after starting the season with six straight double-doubles.
June 17, 2011
The Game After the First Home Loss
Coach Brian Agler takes a breath before speaking of the train wreck that had the Storm down 22 to start the game last week. "That first quarter of the Minnesota will probably never ever get out of my system." The players aren't likely to forget it either. Several players referred to Agler's grueling post- loss practices, glad that they were over.
The Storm were able to put that all behind them as they stormed into KeyArena last night. They played once again like well .the Storm. If Indiana thought they just might run away with the game as Minnesota had, they were quickly convinced otherwise. Seattle would not fall behind in the first minutes again; Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird were on a mission. Jackson had a turn-around jumper , Bird did a nifty drive down the key ending with a soft finger roll, and by the end of the first quarter LJ had five of her nine points, Sue had four of her 12, and five different Storm players had scored - quite the change from last week.
However, this game was really about defense - for both teams. Here too Seattle stepped up. Tanisha Wright and Swin Cash took on Indiana's Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas and kept them well below their averages. Catchings finished the game with only 8. Douglas, who entered the game as the league's top scorer (21 ppg), came away with only 11. "They knew exactly what they were doing," said Douglas. The hardworking Storm defense allowed Indiana only one field goal in the second quarter. "We were just being really active," says Swin Cash.
"We want everything to be based around our defense," Sue Bird said, "We want everything to start with our defense. And tonight it did. We were able to get a lot of stops which allowed us to get out in the open court .the pace was really what we wanted it to be."
But was Coach happy with the game? "We looked like ourselves defensively, a relief after last week's stumble," Agler said in this typical dry manner, "and offensively at times, too." Meaning - there is always room for improvement. As Agler says often of his team, "We are a work in progress." At least now it seems the Storm are back on the right track.
BONUS AUDIO: Swin Cash tells us about what Ify and other Storm rookie Krystal Thomas bring to the team.
AND MORE BONUS AUDIO:
Brian Agler considers the meaning of last week's loss.
June 9, 20011
Minnesota came into KeyArena and pushed Seattle into an abyss. Storm fans haven't witnessed a loss at home since the 2009 season. And this one was a doozy!
It was ugly from very beginning. Known for their defense, the Storm allowed Minnesota to score 22 unanswered points to start the game. "That was probably the worse quarter that I have seen since I have been in this franchise," Sue Bird said after the game. Certainly, the fan sitting behind me thought it was the worse game he had seen.
"The initial jump ball set the tone," said Coach Brian Agler. It looked as if Seattle had control of the ball off the tip, but uber-rookie Maya Moore stole the ball and juked past Swin Cash for the first of many easy layups for the Lynx. "We got out-hustled then; we missed shots and didn't get back in transition." Seattle's shots weren't falling, chippies didn't chip, and passes went out of bounds. Uncharacteristically, Agler called two timeouts in the first minutes of the game but to little effect. Minnesota was on a tear; Seattle was at a standstill.
"It's just one of those situations," said Agler. "We just never could get control of it until the second half. We finally found our footing a little bit but by then it was too late. We had dug ourselves too deep of a hole. At some point there is going to have to be a sense of urgency. It eventually did in the fourth quarter. We competed and we started making plays defensively. The deficit was brought from a game high -30 to only 6 points; too little too late. "But," Agler continues, "There is going to have to be a sense of urgency in regards to our team in-season." That is coach speak for: Bring It - every game, ALL game! There will be some serious game film watching in the next few days.
At the preseason media event Sue Bird commented that the highlights of
last season had to be put aside and the team needed to focus on the here
and now. For example, after the long run of undefeated games in KeyArena,
if the Storm lose a home game "it won't be the end of the world."
As she predicted, the world didn't end and Sue is able to talk about the
game in a very matter-of-fact manner.
June 4, 2011
Bookend Championship Rings?
The 2011 Seattle Storm season started with the presentation of the 2010 WNBA championship rings. The pre-game festivities on opening night were celebrated with each Storm player receiving their elaborate diamond ring before the cheering crowd - more than a few of them teary-eyed. The Championship banner was unfurled from the rafters and many nice words were said. Everyone acknowledged the Seattle fans' enthusiastic support. Sue Bird, no stranger to fan adoration, has even been awed by the crowd. "Sometimes when I run into this room, I get the chills [from the incredible crowd response]." The outpouring of 10, 000 of the WNBA's "best fans" might just do that.
Coach Brian Agler accepted his ring with his game face already in place, and all too soon the players had to end the celebration. Putting away the jewelry and switching gears, they too were ready for the first tip-off of the new season. "Last year was last year" seems to be the mantra of the Seattle Storm.
Will this season be another championship season?
The survey of WNBA GMs showed the Storm as the overwhelming favorite to win it all once again. No surprise. Not only have ALL the starters returned from last season but Coach has done his off-season Agler magic once again and brought in more veteran talent - stacking the team with all stars, Olympians, MVPs, and league champions - including Australian Olympian Belinda Snell and all-time great Katie Smith. The Storm still have rugged Le'coe Willingham coming off the bench, as well as a newly confident Ashley Robinson. This Storm team looks good, great even, on paper, certainly. And so far on the court too.
This is Agler's genius - pulling together a pool of talent that can come together as a team during the short WNBA season. He seems to be able to pick individual talents that fit together perfectly, seamlessly, without effort, as a team. "We don't have, really, any egos," Lauren Jackson said. "We all just want to win. It's winning that makes us happy, you know. We are all pretty happy with winning."
Win they did tonight, their first game of the 2011 season. There were a few glitches, but all in all the Storm put an an impressive team on the floor. It is easy to imagine them continuing their winning ways. They started this season with the 2010 Championship banner, and perhaps they will end it with yet another.
After the game, a friend asked if I had ever seen such a low-scoring Phoenix game. The final score, 78-71, is not what we're used to from the run run run offense of the Mercury, who often score in the 90s. Phoenix never got their game on. The game was never in doubt, and the final score reflects a last-minute mad scramble, full of fouls and rough play by Phoenix, as well as a slight let-down by Seattle and a whole lot of Diana Taurasi highlight shots.
Seattle played well, but it wasn't the big names who made
the big plays. Camille Little led the Storm in points, 18, and rebounds,
nine. Camille came into her own a couple of years ago when LJ was injured
and has steadily improved form there. Just look at her footwork tonight
and it shows how far she has come. "Her game has steadily gotten
better," Agler says. "Now her game is so polished that she's
become a very good back-to-the-basket player." "She
still kind of flies under the radar," Sue Bird observes. "As
much as Lauren brings, as much as I bring, Swin (Cash), Katie (Smith),
players who have been on all-star teams and all that jazz, bring, Camille
is the backbone. You all (reporters) talk about her, but she is still
kind of under the radar."
Katie Smith evaluates today's performance. Warning - she sounds just
like a coach.
The Incredible Journey
Brooms were waved in the air by fans celebrating the Seattle Storm's sweep of the WNBA playoffs. Everyone outside KeyArena was wet, but the excitement was not to be dampened. Cheering was going on long before the team arrived. When they did arrive, damp like the rest of us, the cheering just increased. The players and Storm staff walked up a sopping wet red carpet, slapping hands with the fans. Fan cameras were flashing and Camille Little was videotaping the crowd with one hand as she greeted the fans with the other. Even Coach Brian Agler was taking pictures, reminding us that this homecoming was a celebration for the team as well as the fans, all 5000 of them, who trooped into KeyArena after the players.
Inside, many speeches were given - Storm sponsors, Seattle's mayor, the representative from the governor's office, all declaring that this was, as we all know, a remarkable team, and September 17th was officially proclaimed Storm Day. Then the fun started in earnest. Each player spoke briefly - all with big smiles - each giving credit to the fans and their teammates, thrilled to be champions in front of their home crowd. Tanisha Wright might have been speaking for the team, "It [is] really nice to come back to KeyArena. It would have been really nice to be here and win it in front of 15,000 fans, but [that fact that we] get the same response when we finally get back here is amazing."
When asked about the adjustment of coming to the Storm
after only playing in European leagues, Jana Vesela told the crowd in
her charming accented English, "The most important thing is I choose
a great team!"
When the music faded someone yelled from the stands, "Keep the team together!" It wasn't, but it could have been staged. Agler said, with that thought in mind, perhaps the fans could help him tonight - and would Swin Cash stand up. Swin, confused and not knowing what to expect, reluctantly stood. Agler asked the crowd if they wanted to see Swin back in Seattle next year. The crowd roared. Swin sat, but the crowd continued its loud affirmative answer. Finally Swin acknowledged the response with a little bow. Sue Bird and Tanisha both teased her, bowing themselves and laughing. Doppler fell to the floor, prostrating himself at Swin's feet. Point taken. Swin Cash is wanted back. Agler said it might save him several trips this off-season if the fans would tell Jana Vesala if she was wanted back or not. There was the same resounding affirmative response. This was repeated for each of the unsigned players, each somewhat embarrassed at the dramatic response. It seems that the Seattle public loves each and every one of these players and would like them to return next season. I think we will see most of them again.
"An Amazing journey" is how Lauren Jackson described the season. That is true for the fans as well as the team. They took us along on quite a ride. The Strom were undefeated on their home court, but that didn't mean the games lacked drama. There was plenty of that - last-second wins, big comebacks, the largest winning margin in WNBA history, and just in following an extremely focused group of elite athletes leave it on the floor each and every game.
Brian Agler knew this team was great when they flew to Atlanta for the third game in the best of five series. "Let's just put it this way; I took one suit [to Atlanta], one shirt, one tie, and one pair of shoes." He wasn't planning losing game 3 or going on to game 4. Seattle swept though Atlanta, just as they swept through the playoffs - undefeated.
This group of women, predicted to finish in the middle of the pack, were determined to be better than that. And this week the country acknowledges what Seattle has known all along - the Seattle Storm are clearly the very best team of 2010.
My favorite article about the Storm championship run is by Mechelle Voepel on ESPN.com. http://sports.espn.go.com/wnba/columns/story?columnist=voepel_mechelle&id=5582104
With a little over a minute and a half left in the game, the Storm were up by 8. All 13,898 fans in Key Arena were on their feet, clapping in time and chanting along to the pounding beat of "We will, we will, rock you." It seemed that the Storm had won game two of the Championship series. I got a bit teary eyed.
Oops, the celebrating started a bit too soon! Former Storm player Iziane Castro-Marques cuts the lead to six with a patented running jumper. And Atlanta begins to show all the Storm fans how the classic last minute foul foul foul strategy can work. Tanisha Wright is fouled and misses two free throws. Atlanta scores at the other end. Storm lead down to four. LJ misses a 20-foot jumper but rebounds McCoughtry's 3-point miss on the other end and gets it to Sue Bird, who is fouled - and makes both shots. Storm lead up to six again. With only 22 seconds left, Atlanta Dream star Angel McCoughtry breezes to the hole for an uncontested layup that takes less than three seconds off the clock. Foul. LJ makes both and we're up six again! Less than three seconds later, McCoughtry strikes again, for three, and Atlanta is within 3 with 16 seconds on the clock. Things have quieted down considerably in the Key. Tanisha is fouled again - but hits both shots this time. Storm 87- Atlanta 82. Atlanta gets one more shot, a toe-on-the-line two. Storm 87-84. Swin is fouled - and misses both - but it's too late.The Storm have withstood the onslaught and win by 3 to remain perfect at home, 22-0. Deep breath.
The Storm are now off to Atlanta for game 3, and game 4 if needed, in the best of five series. We all want the Storm to sweep, but at the same time, it feels odd that our team may well win the WNBA championship on some far-away court. Even Lauren feels that same way, "I'm kind of sad the next few games aren't going to be here, to be honest."
These games against Atlanta have both been close games, won by two and three points respectively. Can the Storm win one in Atlanta? Sue Bird is hopeful. "Brian [Agler] said it best. We are the best home team. Everyone is talking about our home record. We are also the best road team. Hopefully, we can go down there and snatch one - that would be nice."
Snatching a win - and the WNBA championship trophy that goes with it - would be very very nice.
Cash and Tanisha Wright often draw the defensive assignment of taking
the opponent's best player. In this championship series that player is
Angel McCoughtry. Tanisha gives her take on playing defense on McCoughtry
and Atlanta in general.
It was a typical Seattle Storm game, even if it was the first game of the WNBA 2010 Championship Finals. Typical because, as usual, phrases like "nail biter" and "down to the wire" come to mind. In fact, during the last seconds of the game, I am sure we all had the same feeling of déjà vu with the repeat performance of the dramatic winning basket by Sue Bird. In both games, knotted up with seconds to go, the Storm dribble the clock down to eight seconds and then make their move. In both games Sue Bird takes a shot with just under three seconds left. In both cases the ball swishes through the net and the Storm win. If the fans in KeyArena hadn't already been standing, they would have jumped out of their seats.
I asked Sue Bird if she and the team so enjoyed the last-second win in Phoenix that they needed a repeat performance. She laughed, "Sure, makes it interesting!" and went on to say it was all different. In the Phoenix game, she explained, Tanisha Wright set up the play and got the ball to Sue. "This time " said Sue," I actually had the ball in my hands to create." She knew what she wanted. "They had been going under the pick and roll for the majority of the second half, and I had the feeling that if I went off the pick and brought it back the same way I had come from, they would be very low, and I would be able to get a look. I had virtually the same look 45 seconds earlier; I kind of had the idea I would get it. Sue, the master of understatement, adds, "And it played out." Seattle took game one.
Does Sue like having the ball in her hands for the last
critical shot? "Those situations are fun," she says, "especially
when they go in." That is exactly how I feel - watching.
Gregoire's Friendly Wager
We Have Sue & You Don't
UConn coach Gino Auriemma once famously said "We
have Diana, and they don't" implying how just how dominant Diana
Taurasi was (and is). Today, some Seattle fans were in the audience in
Phoenix with their sign: "You have Diana, and we don't care!"
It's not that we don't care - it is just that with this Storm team, it
doesn't matter. As another sign said "We have Sue, Swin, and Lauren,
and you don't," which, in this game at least, was more to the point.
Taurasi did lead all scorers with 28 points and shot 7-11 from the 3-point
line, but it was the last-second three by Sue Bird that will make the
Team is Team
After sweeping the Los Angeles Sparks in the opening playoff series, the extended Storm community was gearing up for round two. Pre-game, in the bowels of Key Arena under the stands, a little ceremony is taking place. In the midst of concrete supports and odd and ends of machinery, television cameras were set up and fancy stools and a podium were placed on a makeshift stage. WNBA president Donna Orender presented Lauren Jackson with the league MVP trophy in front of one backdrop. Quick change of props. Brian Agler received his Coach of the Year Award in front of different one. There was posing for pictures, speeches, and questions, much fuss that neither Agler nor LJ really wanted, especially before the game. In fact, Agler started his acceptance speech commenting that pregame he is usually "pretty focused" and that "this is a little bit out of my routine." As for LJ, while gracious and charming, clearly she would have preferred to skip all the hoopla. She spoke briefly and ended abruptly, in a typical Lauren manner, with "Anyway, must go. There is a game to play. Thank you very much. Go Storm!" The PR folk had to stop her from running off to answer a few questions.
Pre-game there was another handing out of these same awards at midcourt in front of the crowd. More distraction, more fuss. Much fan noise and adulation. The fans were in playoff form -out of their seats cheering, loud and (good) rowdy. Being the "home court advantage" is something Storm fans take seriously.
As for the game - it wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty,
but the Storm did what the Storm do: win. They showed that what Sue Bird
says is true. This is a team that knows how to win even when they aren't
playing their best ball.
After all, this is a team game. You don't win unless all the pieces (or players) come together. Both LJ and Agler know this well. They both credited the Storm as a team for their awards. They also mentioned one player in particular. "There is one individual that probably impacted Lauren getting the MVP award and this award going to me," said Brian Agler, "and that is Sue Bird. Sometimes, she flies under the radar [but] she gives everybody the opportunity to just do their job the best they can."
Sue, by the way pooh-poohed that. She gave the credit
right back. "That is very nice of them. If I were to win any awards,
I would do the same. We are a team. We have a very good relationship,
they did it on their own as well.
The last game of the regular season. Somehow it is fitting that it was against perennial rivals the Los Angeles Sparks. Seattle had won their previous four games against L.A. this season. A final win - a cherry on top.
An insignificant game for Seattle in terms of WNBA standings and play-off position, it still marked the end of one remarkable season, which saw the Storm go undefeated at home, an amazing and unprecedented 17-0. It also served as a lead-in to the playoffs, sort of a "this is what you will be up against" kind of game. Once again, the fans in KeyArena did their part.
All the teams in the WNBA have incredibly talented players, so what makes the Storm different? Their one goal is to win by way of a focused defense. As Bird says, they are a "never say die" group of ballers.
This last game was a perfect example. They did what they needed to do in the final minutes to win. A letdown at the 8-minute mark, when the Storm were up by 12, combined with some questionable officiating and a final push by L.A., had the Sparks leading by one with less than a minute remaining. Jump ball. Lauren Jackson tips the ball to Sue Bird.
Tanisha Wright, somewhat surprised to receive the pass, moves to the baseline and puts up a little jumper which clangs around and goes in. Storm up by one. Timeout. L.A. ball at mid-court with 6.1 seconds left. Defense time.
The Sparks Marie Ferdinand-Harris gets off a 3 which bounces off the rim. In the ensuing scramble, Camille Little ends up with the ball clasped strongly against her midsection.
Final buzzer. Storm win.
By the way, the Storm finished with the best winning percentage of any, yes, any, professional sports team in the history of Seattle sports. Again - wow!
Now they have to start all over again. When the WNBA playoffs begin on Wednesday the Storm, as well as everyone else, will have a 0-0 record. "It is a clean slate, it really is," Tansiha Wright says. "We're confident in ourselves and our ability, and of what we can do. That is all we can do. We will be ready to go on Wednesday."
Confidence, defense, focus, talent, and the best home-court
advantage in the WNBA - the Seattle Storm are ready. So are the fans;
they are home-court advantage.
Balancing Rest with Rhythm
It sounded like the right idea at the time, Storm coach Brian Agler resting the starters on the three-game road trip and letting the reserves get extended playing time. It still might prove to be exactly what was needed going into the playoffs. But in Tuesday's night game against Minnesota, who have playoff hopes of their own, the Storm looked just plain off.
The game, like the three on the road, meant nothing as far as WNBA standings or play-off position. Seattle wrapped up the league's top seed over a week ago and could, if they wanted, coast through the end of the season. Throughout the season, the Storm starters have played big minutes and playing time did not reach far down the bench. Last week, the starters sat and end-of-benchers Abby Bishop and Alison Lacey gained more game experience than they had all season. With that experience under their belts and fresh legs for the big five, the Storm can now gear up for the playoffs.
The starters may have been rested, but that did not translate into good play. It was sloppy turnover laden ball with many fouls and little rebounding "We were sort of dysfunctional in the first half," was Brian Agler's take. "We were definitely out of sync," said Swin Cash.
The starting five needed to re-find their game rhythm
and Storm rhythm, according to Camille Little, starts with the defense,
"The game wasn't going the way it should have been going." Camille
took it upon herself to change that. "I just couldn't let it continue.
I was upset and fired up. We can't let people come in here and beat us.
And if they did, it wasn't going to be because of me. I was going to do
something." Camille proceeded to pull down a personal-best 14 rebounds.
She also urged her team on. Tanisha Wright says Camille was surprisingly
vocal. "In the huddle she was the one demanding things. Demanding
to get things done. Demanding to get rebounds. Demanding to get stops."
It seems like she got what she wanted - good defense. In the 4th quarter
Seattle played much better taking the lead and the win while holding Minnesota
to 8 points.
AUDIO: The newest Storm wear: Shirts saying "I am home-court advantage," referencing the huge role the fans play in the Seattle best-in-league home-court advantage. Camille Little talks about the importance of the fans to the team.
Note: I try not to complain too much about reffing - it
seems counter productive, but there were calls in this game that screamed
out "Bad, really BAD reffing!" For example - the Minnesota player
landing on Swin Cash's back during a rebound and Swin being called for
a foul. Sometimes I am left scratching my head and wondering what the
refs are seeing. Certainly, it was different than what I saw. Asked if
they had any comments on the subject after the game, the players wisely
demurred. Sue Bird, with a knowing half-smile, "Uhhhh
what it is." Swin Cash looked toward heaven "
Camille Little just rolled her eyes as Tanisha Wright yelled "No
comment! No comment," in the background.
Waking the Sleeping Giant
Seattle may have been snoozing last week in their lost at Tulsa. Tulsa, on the other hand, may have flaunted their win over the first place Seattle Storm a bit too much. "There's a saying, 'Don't wake a sleeping giant'," said Sue Bird, "and that's basically what happened.You just never want to lose a game and have another team celebrate like that. It affected everybody and we should probably thank them."
The game was over before it even started. Shock coach Nolan Richardson all but admitted before the game that his team had little, if any, chance of winning in KeyArena. He referred to Seattle as "best in the league" and to his Shock as "not a super team." By the end of the first quarter the Storm led 28-9 and things just got worse for Tulsa from there. "We got spanked," was Richardson's comment after the game. It was a historic spanking as well, the 46-point loss the largest in WNBA history, and Seattle's 111 points a franchise high.
All that is pretty amazing, but let's talk about rebounding. The rebounding in this game is a better indicator of just how dominant Seattle can be. Breaking another WNBA record, the Storm pulled down 57 rebounds. They had more offensive rebounds than Tulsa had all together, so it is not surprising that the Shock had nine second-chance points to Seattle's 35.
Another big plus was the bench play. Coach Agler went to the players on the end of the bench midway through the 3rd and the reserves finished the game - playing better than we have seen them play and holding the lead. Jana Vesela and Svet Abrosimova both scored in double figures, as did, yes, Ashley Robinson. A-Rob is playing her way into more minutes on the court, Agler commented. You can see why. The hesitant shooter we often see stayed home last night and Ashley came up with six rebounds, two blocks, and 10 points. The starters enjoyed their time on the bench as fans. "We couldn't even sit down," Camille Little said, "We were just up and down, up and down, cheering for them. It was great to watch!"
It was great to watch. I had the feeling I was watching a championship team.
Humans Being Human
What do you do when your season record is far and away the best in the league, when you have clinched the Western Conference title and there are still a few weeks in the season? You may still want the win, but the pressure is off, and you let down a bit. It's human nature. However, with every team gunning for you, any lapse may be costly. That proved to be true for Seattle this past week, with consecutive losses on the road, including one to lowly Tulsa. Brian Agler described the team over this period as "not quite as sharp" as they needed to be. "There is not that significant drive to fight for a playoff spot right now. There is comfort level, but you tend to lose your edge very quickly There has got be a pride factor from within to rise to the occasion on a nightly basis. But we also know that we are dealing with human beings, and human beings have a tendency to relax." With the road trip behind them, the Storm look to regain that edge, the focus, as Agler says "to stay consistent in what we do."
The result of Thursday night's game was mixed. The Storm started strong, but the 3rd quarter belonged to Connecticut who outscored, out-rebounded, out-stole, and out- assisted the Storm, coming from 8 back at the half to take the lead. The Storm's focus had waned.
The players say they do not talk about the 14-game winning
streak at home, but they do take seriously the idea of protecting the
home court. "You never want to lose at home," Tanisha Wright
said, speaking for the team. "You never want another team to beat
you on your home floor." In the fourth quarter Storm pride stepped
in and took over. Agler was happy with what he was seeing once again.
"The last four minutes of the game we finally decided to get [Connecticut]
guarded. We were really active on the defensive end. We executed sharply."
The game ended with Seattle winning by one.
July 30, 2010
Satisfied, but Just for Tonight!
Swin Cash sat on the bench in the fourth quarter wondering
if she had finished her work for the night and if she should put on her
warm-up shirt. "Shirt on?" Her head tips one direction. "Shirt
off?" The head tips the other way. "Shirt on!" she decides.
With the Storm up by over 20 and the bench on the floor, Swin, along with
Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, could relax and cheer their teammates on
from the sideline.
Is this record meaningful to the players? Sure, but not in the day-to-day. Asked if this win was important to keep the record going or to avenging one of their two season losses (Seattle lost at Chicago in May), universally the answer seems to be that it is only important as part of the process - the process of being the best team that they can be, and that you don't take a day off from that. "For us," said Brian Agler before the game, "the significance is that we are trying to get top seed in the league, so that is our focus right now. We are trying to get as many wins as we can."
It is not easy to win 90 some per cent of your games, but it is only going to get harder for the Seattle Storm -- on the road, with a big target on their back.
Sue Bird says this team is somewhat reminiscent of her
undefeated UConn team. For Coach Agler, this team has some similarities
with his ABL championship Columbus Quest (see July 24 Storm Report). AUDIO
: Storm coach Brian Agler compares the two teams here. For those of
you who followed the ABL Seattle Reign, you will know that the Storm couldn't
do much better than to be compared to the Quest.
Keep the Pedal to the Metal
Halftime score - Phoenix 56, Seattle 38. Final score - Seattle 91, Phoenix 85. Going from potential embarrassment on national TV to solid win was an amazing yet somehow workmanlike job - well-executed offense and one defensive stop after another to shut Phoenix down. The Storm went on a 9-0 run to begin the 3rd and stretched it to 18-2 on their way to a 31-7 run. By the beginning of the 4th, Seattle had cut their 18-point deficit to two, and we knew we had a game. If there were any doubts about the Storm, the third quarter put them to rest. At one end they clamped down defensively, holding high-scoring Phoenix, averaging well over 100 points per game in recent games, to their lowest quarter total of the season, just eight points. At the other end of the court, Seattle scored - nothing too fancy, just solid play, a hard-working team doing its job. Swin Cash hit the boards, Lauren Jackson made scoring 33 look easy, Camille Little took a charge, and, of course, Sue Bird set up the offense up or did her little stop and pop thing. During a timeout with the lead in hand, Brian Agler told the team not to let up, "Keep the pedal to the metal." The team responded, not slowing until the final bell - and clinching first place in the West in the process. Phoenix coach Corey Gaines has a saying: "Sometimes you're the bug, sometimes you're the windshield." This season Seattle is the windshield. Sorry, Phoenix, you are the bug.
That's Our Svet!
Svetlana Abrosimova played about four and a half minutes in the first quarter of the Storm/Tulsa Shock game. The stat sheet shows her with one rebound, one foul, one turnover, and one blocked shot. In the second quarter, with Svet at point, the offense breaks down. Brian Agler quickly calls a timeout and is all over her in the huddle. Back on the court, Svet is called for an offensive foul. Then she hits a 3. Then she travels. Another 3. And another. Another turnover, another foul, and she is pulled from the game. That's Svetlana. That's her game. "She is the X-factor," says Agler, "She is the risk taker. She is the one that's gambling. Sometimes she makes a good play, sometime she fouls " It's a risk the Storm is willing to take. Abrosimova 3's in the second quarter were huge, putting the Storm in the lead for good. "Timely," says Lauren Jackson. "She knows when to pull them out!" Svet ended the game five of six from behind the arc for all of her 15 points. She also had four rebounds, six fouls, and seven turnovers. She says her role coming off the bench is to bring energy. Is she a sparkplug? "I hope so!" she says.
The Storm just keep on winning. Amazing. After the triple-overtime win over Phoenix out of the equivalent of the All-Star Break, and then the two- point win over Minnesota (a very close game, with 21 lead changes), Seattle is now 18-2. Yes, eighteen wins and just two losses. They have nine straight wins - a franchise record, and no other team in the west has a winning record. This has to end at some point. Or maybe not. I remember the ABL Columbus Quest. Columbus had some no-name coach who somehow instilled a defensive focus that led the team to capture both ABL championship trophies. It seems that the Columbus Quest focus may be back in the form of Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, and the Storm gang. Like Columbus, Seattle keeps on winning no matter what teams throw at them. They speak not of their winning record but of getting better, and yes, staying focused on defense. Lauren referred to the first half of the season as something of a fairytale, a fairytale that involved a lot of hard work perhaps. "We just have to keep it up," she says. Don't fairytales have happy endings? Oh, the Columbus Quest coach - Brian Agler.
June 30, 2010
Sue Bird sat on the bench with spasms in her lower back, but on the court the Storm treated San Antonio much the same as they did last week, beating them handily. It is not that Sue is not missed - it is that the team is so flexible that they don't rely on one person - premiere point guard or not. Sue's injury happened at an opportune time, if any injury can be opportune. Let's just say it could easily have happened at a much worse time. At this point in the season, the 7-player rotation is firmly in place and players can go in or come out to suit the situation. Tanisha Wright stepped up even before Sue went down and is playing some of her best ball. She has had 10 assists in the last two games. As usual, T downplays that accomplishment, "It is just other people making their shots," as if passing the ball at the perfect moment was incidental. "Tanisha was unbelievable out there," said Lauren Jackson, and then continued with her own understatement about the team as a whole, "If we keep doing what we are doing, uh, we are going to be pretty good." From where I am sitting, it looks like they already are very good.
June 25, 2010
"This is a big game," said Sue Bird before the game against the Indiana Fever. "In some ways it's a measuring stick for us. It's a challenge." Indiana, like Seattle, is known as a defensive power house. Indiana won the battle last week when the two teams met up on the Fever home court, but not by much.
Last night, the game was every bit as close as last week's and a battle all the way to the final buzzer. Seattle's not-in-our-house attitude led to Sue Bird lining up three consecutive 3-balls in less than three minutes late in the fourth quarter and helped the Storm avenge last week's loss. "Payback Time," said a fan poster.
Up by 11 at one juncture, and only down a few in the last
minutes of play, the Fever had their opportunities. Briann January made
an aggressive move to the hoop with slightly more than 10 seconds on the
shot clock, apparently deciding against making an open layup and kicking
the ball out for a three perhaps. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately,
she passed it directly to Tanisha Wright instead of a teammate, and the
Fever were forced to foul to prevent a layup. Next time down the court,
January's shot was blocked by Lauren Jackson. It was not January's day,
nor the Fever's.
June 20, 2010
There are some impressive numbers floating around the
KeyArena these days. Overall, the Storm's won-loss record is 11-2. Even
better, Seattle is 7-0 on their home court, 8-0 against Western Conference
opponents, and they are winning these games by an average of 15 points.
Meanwhile, no one else in the Western Conference has a winning record.
What Brian Agler liked in the game is only incidentally associated with the numbers. "What I was impressed with our team tonight was that [we just came off a road trip with] three games in four days and going coast to coast. It showed the kind of toughness that our team has. We had 52 points in the paint, out of 80-some. I am really impressed with our mental, and physical, toughness tonight." Sue Bird: "Three games in four days is not the easiest thing but we are a room full of veterans. We don't give up. We don't stop playing."
The Storm are proving themselves tough. There is less celebrating in the locker room and a more serious feel. No one takes these numbers as the end-all. The prevailing attitude of the team seems to be "Beating teams by 15 points? - no matter, there were some lapses, things to improve." Lauren Jackson: We need to keep getting better. If we keep playing like this, keep plodding along, good things will happen." Good things are happening already, and I do not see much plodding happening at all. The word "focus" comes up repeatedly in post-game interviews - as Sue Bird says here about the team's excellent record so far this season.
There was a scary moment midway through the 3rd quarter.
Sue Bird landed badly when both she and Edwige Lawson-Wade went for the
ball. There was a collective "Oh no!" from players and fans
alike. Sue forced herself up and went directly to the locker room and
the game went on. Seattle continued to play, well, as Sue said, "an
June 11, 2010
Three games down and two to go, and we have already won the season series against the Los Angeles Sparks. How sweet is that? With the loss of Lisa Leslie, the Sparks have lost their focus. They are loaded with talent but disjointed and not playing as a team. The Storm on the other hand are the epitome of team. By the end of the third, every Storm player who stepped on the court had scored and collected a rebound - and six of the eight had assists. Players sub in and out seamlessly, and the bench produces. "They get scoring from everybody, great defensive pressure from everybody," Los Angeles head coach Jennifer Gillom said about the Storm. "They're physical, and they do everything right. They are unbelievable."
Last night, unbelievable started with the three steals made by Camille Little in the first three minutes of the game. "I am just trying to be aggressive any time I can," she says. "I think the whole team is doing a great job defensively. It is one of those things where we are trusting each other each other more and more." The trust shows on both ends of the court; a defense that is tight, an offense that is patient and moving the ball well, and a bench that is deep. This is a team working together from top to bottom.
"That is what makes us a unique team," says Swin Cash, "and one that hopefully puts us in the position to do something in the playoffs."
Again Jana Vesalá added her touch off the bench. She came in with energy, pulling down key rebounds and getting to loose balls. She earned hugs from her teammates and the "Player of the Game" award. Once again, she had the play of the game. With players from both teams fighting for a rebound off Abby Bishop's missed 3, the ball bounced off Jana's fingers and into the basket with mere seconds left on the clock. "Lucky," she said. And to deflect attention, "I am proud of my team."
An aside: Another delightful moment last night was the big-screen interview with Coach Agler by Kyler of the Storm Dance Troupe kids. When asked about his favorite dance, Agler said something along the lines of "that move where you twist your leg back and forth." Wonderful editing had Agler "do'n da Stanky Leg." KeyArena rarely laughs so hard. The Storm players were positively gleeful. Camille had to hide her face in her towel and Sue Bird came back on the court after the time out with the biggest grin on her face. I don't know who is doing the video this season [David Albright], but whoever it is [David Albright] - keep 'em coming!
Competing Every Game
The Storm could have been forgiven if they had come out flat against the rested Phoenix Mercury. Phoenix is a running team and Seattle, on the second game of a back-to-back just 20 hours before, had reason to be tired. Advantage Phoenix.
No matter, Seattle took off at the buzzer and ran away with the game. It was Phoenix that lacked energy. After commenting that the Storm players looked fresher than he had anticipated, Brian Agler credited the team for taking each game, game by game, seriously, and not resting on their laurels. "They do a good job of keeping things in perspective. They have an idea of where we are at and what we have to do Here is what we have, we have to deal with it, now let's go compete."
Swin Cash: "A lot of people didn't expect us to come out and have the performance we had tonight. I think this is a statement game for us ... just to say - Hey, we are a veteran team, we come out, we play really hard, and we are just going to compete every game."
By the end of the first quarter, Seattle was up by 11, six players had scored, and eight had rebounds. Phoenix made inroads during the second, but the Storm defense quickly quashed that. By the third quarter, it was 87-45, and in the fourth, the starters were resting on the bench.
The Mighty Bench
For the first time in several years, Seattle has strong bench play. "When our bench comes in we don't lose anything at all," says Lauren Jackson. Having Svetlana Abrosimova and Le'coe Willingham, players who have been starters elsewhere, certainly adds depth, and last night we saw Jana Veselá coming into her own as part of the Storm. "Now, after this two or three weeks, I feel much comfortable," she said in her accented English. "I know the system, I know the plays, I know how to move on offense and defense." Looking more confident on the floor, Jana gave quality minutes, ending the game with eight points, four rebounds, and two blocked shots. "I like her versatility," Agler said. "She did today what I've been seeing the last two winters over in Europe watching her play. I think she can really help us." She also had the play of the game last night. With half a second on the clock at the end of the third quarter, Svet Abrosimova inbounded the ball to Jana in midair midway up the block, who caught it and shot in one motion. Basket, buzzer, KeyArena thunder.
It was a fitting end to perhaps the best quarter of basketball in Storm history - Seattle scored 37 points while holding Phoenix to 13.
Mercury coach Corey Gaines: "[Seattle is] the number one team and we got our butts kicked."
Lauren Jackson: "I think we stunned them a little
June 1, 2010
A Very Good Win Over a Very Good Team
"A very good win. Very good win," said Coach Brian Agler after the game, a decisive win over the until-last-night undefeated Atlanta Dream. The team owners were in the locker room high fiving and exchanging hugs with the players. Still, everyone was careful to say that it is early in the season and the 6-1 Storm record is only indicative of a good start, and only that. However, there was an extra twinkle in the players' eyes; it was clear that everyone was extremely happy with the W. As one fan's sign said "7-0? Dream on Atlanta."
"They [Atlanta] are the talk of the town," says Swin Cash, "For us, although it is early in the season, this is a statement win."
Brian Agler: "Obviously, we put things together tonight. Can we do it for a series of games? Well, that will be our goal."
Continuing Seattle's impressive defensive effort is the key to that goal. "We are on kind of a mission to play defense," says Lauren Jackson. Solid throughout the game, like other games this season, Seattle turned it up a notch in the fourth quarter, effectively waking Atlanta from their dreamy first six games. Make no mistake, Atlanta's 6-0 streak was no fluke. They are a very good team with lots of weapons. However, Seattle defense held Angel McCoughtry, currently the league's leading scorer, eight points under her 24-point average. The defense handed Atlanta their first loss of 2010. Even the opposing coach, Marynell Meadors, had to admire the D. "Seattle played an excellent, outstanding defensive game and they hit their shots." The Storm hit 90 points for the first time this season. Nine Seattle players scored. And Lauren Jackson had 32 points. Excellent AND outstanding defense plus the scoring is a very nice combo to be sure.
Tanisha Wright states it simply, "We did some really really good things out there tonight."
You may have heard that LJ is now a strawberry blonde uh redhead (she quickly corrects anyone mentioning strawberry). She says her new hair color is not finished yet. Will she become flame red to match her fiery play on the court? "You will have to wait and see. I don't even know yet." Her hair, like her game, is evolving.
I have a feeling that I may be talking about LJ quite a bit this season. And not just about her hair color. She is playing with an effortless grace that we haven't seen in the last few seasons. She is healthy and it shows. Her 3's arc perfectly, her turn-around jumper is beautiful, her "not in my house" blocks cause fans to gasp - she has it all. Said Coach Agler says, "Lauren is playing tremendous right now, she is playing at a really good speed for herself; you don't see her trying to rush things, her shot is smooth, she gets set, she is readying it. Her shot is quick, but it is not fast."
May 25, 2010
Not in Our House
Brian Agler appeared on the big screen cropped into the movie Rudy. He is the coach saying the famous line, "No one, and I mean no one, comes into our house and pushes us around." This is sure to become a classic Storm movie clip. Agler delivers the line with absolute perfection. It's Stormy Award material. Hear it here!
It was also was the perfect quote for this Washington Mystics game. The mystics were pushing - literally and figuratively - the Storm around most of the night. As in the Minnesota game, Seattle started the 4th quarter in a hole. Agler appears on the scene with the "Our House" line, and the Storm push back, clamp down, and take the lead to win the game. Good timing, whoever is in charge of the big screen.
The Storm looked like a different team in the second half of play. Although they took over the game in the final quarter, it was Camille Little's play in the third quarter that kept them in position to make the final run. "When I got opportunities to score," Camille said, "I just tried to take advantage of them. It worked out." After an ineffective first half with no points and foul trouble, Camille scored 11 of the Storm's 19 points for the quarter.
The question from the media after the game was what Agler said to the team at halftime to affect the change - to the team, and to Camille. Svetlana Abrosimova, in her post-game courtside interview, with a hint of understatement, "He gave a good speech at half time." When asked how uh forceful Agler had been, she sidestepped the question with some irony. He said "exactly what we needed to hear," Svet said with a grin. Agler himself insisted that he said nothing at half that he hadn't said before the game - in fact "The words were almost identical Every team in this league is good, that people are going to come in here and be focused and play a very good game. They are going to be as focused as they possibly can be when they come here to play games, so we have to be ready for that." Agler did say, however, that perhaps he might have been a bit more pointed with the message at halftime.
Whatever he said or didn't say, the Storm regrouped and put together another win. Seattle is 4-0 for the first time in franchise history. Go Storm!
May 19, 2010
"Normally you don't steal games at home, but that
is what it felt like today," Sue Bird says of the Storm's come-from-behind
win against the Minnesota Lynx. The Storm played catch-up most of the
game, waiting until 1:44 remained in the fourth quarter to go ahead for
good on a 3-pointer by Camille Little. Jackson sealed the deal with a
huge offensive rebound and put-back. However, it was Swin Cash who carried
the team in the fourth quarter and positioned the Storm for the win. Swin
had 8 of her 24 points in the fourth, but, more importantly brought the
extra energy to force the win.
Sue's Blocked Shots Tops
The praise for Swin Cash might well have continued, but the locker-room buzz was interrupted by Sue Bird loudly exclaiming "Career HIGH!" of her own two blocked shots. "NO Way!" said Lauren Jackson, "Did she really!?" Sue balled up the stat sheet and threw it at her.
May 16, 2010
Storm Beat L.A. to Start Season with Bang!
Lauren Jackson is in the house. The Seattle Storm start the 2010 season with a bang.
Good times may well be ahead for Storm fans. Lauren Jackson is healthier than she has been in a long time and looks it. A fan held a sign saying "LJ is healthy - be very afraid, be very afraid!" LJ had 23 points, 10 rebounds, plus three blocked shots - but what the opposing players should be afraid of is her defense. While putting on the offensive show, Jackson also held L.A.'s superstar Candace Parker to two points in the first half, and 10 in the game. Sweet!
It was not just LJ however. The Storm defense was excellent.
Sue Bird says this game set the tone for the season. "It is no secret.
We are a defensive team. We are a defensive team who can put up points.
I think what you saw out there is still a work in progress
you also saw a team that is going to rely on their defense. That is going
to be our identity."
Back in the Groove
It is good, and it showed on opening night. The game was decidedly less hit-and-miss than many an opening night. It especially showed in the final minutes. Seattle and Los Angeles played each other straight up through three and a half quarters. Then the Storm went on a sprint, a quick 13-4 Seattle dash to close out the game. 81-67, Storm. Yes, that is a good thing!
Dana Squires blogs the 2009 Seattle
Storm season with photos by Toni Holm
September 20, 2009
Johnson thank you for coming to Seattle before retiring.
September 18, 2009
Anything is Possible
"This is not a very promising situation for us," Sue Bird thought as she watched Tina Thompson go to the line to extend the LA advantage. The situation: 13 seconds on the clock and LA up by 4 points. An LA win would eliminate the Storm from the Western Conference playoffs. No, things did not look good. "If I am on the team that is up by 4, I am thinking to myself 'All we have to do is not mess up.'"
LA didn't exactly mess up. As Brian Agler says, "We made a couple plays." Play one: Sue ducked under a defender and banked in a huge 3. 10 seconds. LA is only up by one. Sue continues, " T [Tansiha Wright] recommended that ARob (Ashley Robinson) guard the ball" on the inbounds from midcourt. "I am tall; it is hard to see over me," Ashley elaborates. "I was doing jumping jacks out there. [My teammates] knew [LA's Nicole Quinn] couldn't see." ARob tips the inbounds pass. There's a scramble. Out of bounds. LA ball. Again, same situation, but on the other side of the court. This time ARob's pressure on the inbounds pass gives Camille Little the extra split second she needs to get in the passing lane and deflect the ball. "I got a hand on [the ball], Tina [Thompson] was scrambling, I kept going ." "Camille tipped it," said Tanisha. "I was able to get another touch, grab it and gather it, and pass it " to a flashing Camille, who laid it into the basket. Storm by one.
LA had their chance. The Storm pressured another inbounds play, but LA got it in cleanly. Lisa Leslie gets the ball with a few seconds on the clock, attempts an off-balance shot, where it falls to Delisha Milton for the last-second tip. No go. Buzzer. The Storm win.
"For Camille to steal the ball and win the game like that, it's amazing," Sue Bird in the happy locker room after the game. "I mean, getting a steal when you actually need it to win the game? That doesn't happen very often."
"Anything is possible," Tanisha comments. But as Agler says "It doesn't happen very often." Tonight it did. The Storm stay alive to play the decisive game in the three-game series against LA on Sunday afternoon. Anything is possible. After tonight's game, it just feels a little more possible.
September 12, 2009
Sue Really Likes Us!
As the 2009 season draws to a close, Sue Bird is looking
forward. Thursday Sue and the Storm announced that she has signed with
the team for an additional two years. No big surprise, but it is always
good to have these things worked out. No one wants a repeat of the Lauren
Jackson off-season soul searching. Sue mentioned that even without Seattle's
good sushi, she would stay in Seattle, mentioning "
the franchise is run, owners old and new
," the coaching, and
that she just likes the city.
I was on the DL and unable to post after the Atlanta game
August 29. Better late (now) than never, right?
Getting it Done Without Our Stars
Another overtime in a season of a zillion overtimes. While
technically a loss, this OT was a victory of sorts. Missing three all-star
starters and still taking the Western Conference first place team to extra
minutes just ain't bad. Swin Cash (death in the family) is out of town.
Lauren Jackson (back - out indefinitely), Sue Bird (neck, maybe back for
Saturday's game), along with Katie Gearlds (still recovering from a knee
injury,) sat on the bench in street clothes. What they saw was a very
game (no pun intended) Storm team surprise Phoenix. This was a game where
everyone contributed. Tanisha Wright (24 points, five assists) and Shannon
Johnson (15 points) led the charge. Camille Little and Janell Burse stepped
up, adding 12 and 15 points respectively and nine boards apiece.
Replacement player La'Tangela Atkinson, after only one practice, enthused both the Storm and the crowd with her energy - and eight leaping rebounds, three assists, and four nifty steals. Wow. Every Seattle player scored except another replacement player, backup point guard A'Quonesia Franklin. Brian Agler said after the game, "She is a little quarterback out there."
Suzy Batkovich-Brown and Ashley Robinson both got more minutes that they have been seeing, alternating offense/defense down the stretch. In what could have been the play of the game, Suzy blocked a Diana Taurasi scoop shot under the basket with about a minute left in overtime. The replay showed it was clean, but the ref called a foul. Whether because of the extended playing time or because her mother was in the stands, Suzy had her best game of an admittedly not very effective season.
BONUS AUDIO: I like Suzy. She is funny in the locker room, and playing for the Australian national team she has done a tremendous job. Somehow that never translated into effective minutes for the Storm. In our talk before the game she is quick to say "It has been a lot of fun, and I love the girls" but
Note: Asked if she was surprised that Seattle played as well as it did without the core group of players, Phoenix's Diana Taurasi had this nice quote, "You're talking about a team coached by one of the best coaches in the world. You could have put in five Seattle Storm fans and they probably would have given us a game today." Props to Agler, but is she dissin' the fans here?
August 29, 2009
August 27, 2009
Coming Through at Crunch Time
When push comes to shove - Lauren Jackson is there. Even when the optimum word is push, LJ comes through. Connecticut was making their move in the 4th quarter. After trailing the entire game, they were in striking position. With about six minutes on the clock Connecticut point guard Lindsay Whalen runs right through LJ, completely bowling her over. LJ, who has been playing through an extremely sore back, was left wincing flat on her back on the end-line. To add insult to (literal) injury, the foul was called on LJ!
"On that moving-screen foul, she got knocked down pretty hard. I think her eyeballs were a little watery. Her back really hurts, but no way was she coming out," Sue Bird said.
Sandrine Gruda scored two quick baskets for Connecticut bringing them within one point. Time out Storm. Did LJ consider sitting out? Nope. "She was really hurting. She is just so gutsy." According to Sue, in the huddle LJ told the team "Just get me the [bleep'n] ball!"
They did. LJ got the ball on the high block and went strong to the basket with an unstoppable running bank shot. "Two straight times we ran plays to get Lauren the ball on the block. She scored and got a three-point play and that pretty much put us ahead."
"The three-point play that Lauren got late, that was a big, big play," said opposing Coach Mike Thibault. "We had a chance and couldn't get a stop when we needed one."
On the other end, the Storm did get the big stops when they needed them. "We got a lot of good - big - defensive stops," said Sue. "Whether it was rebounds or forcing the turnover, we did a really good job of locking it down at the end." Yes, there was tight D, but also a crafty steal (Sue tips the ball from behind into LJ waiting hands and the break is on) and a final block by Janell Burse at the buzzer to cap off the effort. Seattle took care of their basket down the stretch and continued to score at the other end.
"I loved how we finished tonight," was Brian Agler's comment.
It looks like that mid-season series of close games paid off - composure at crunch time.
Much of the KeyArena crowd was wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Night. The Storm wore their pink shooting shirts and Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, as the court announcer said, were "rocking the pink shoes." Connecticut were more subdued in their away dark blue. Even the players' names were in the neutral range - Tan White, Chanté Black, Keisha Brown, with just a tinge of yellow coming from Amber Holt.
With this win, the Seattle Storm clinches a playoff spot.
The Storm are currently in second place in the West. The question is where
they'll be when the playoffs begin. "Now that we are in [the playoffs]
we want to get good position," said Sue Bird. "We are playing
for that now." Although there isn't much emphasis on the exact standings
in the locker room, the players know that LA is "creeping" up,
as Sue said last week. First place Phoenix were playing third place LA
during the Seattle/Connecticut game. When told it was a close game, Sue
said, "I hope LA wins" because a Phoenix loss would put Seattle
just a game back. However, after thinking about it, she changed her mind.
Sue's flip-flop makes sense. Brian Agler: "I know Phoenix and LA
are playing right now; it's a tight game in the fourth quarter. Whatever
happens there sort of benefits us. Whether we close in on Phoenix or separate
ourselves from LA a little bit. We can't really lose in that situation."
August 25, 2009
Sue Bird pushed tempo and it seemed like every Seattle player on the court made at least one 3-pointer. When the first quarter ended Seattle was already up by 14. In the second quarter the lead went up to 24. The Mystics could do nothing but stand by and watch as Lauren Jackson swatted their shots, Camille Little snatched up every rebound, and Tanisha Wright dished the ball for easy assists.
You would think that after the relatively easy win, the
locker room would be cheerful. It was, within reason. Everyone acknowledged
the defensive lapse in the second half - when the Mystics came within
14. Coach Agler referred to the Storm's play in the third period as "
little bit passive" and wasn't surprised that Washington took advantage.
My favorite play of the game: A break off a Sue Bird steal,
full speed within the space of the key - Sue passes to Swin, Swin gives
a touch pass back, Sue tips to Janell Burse, who lays it into the basket.
Bam bam bam BAM. Just like that.
August 22, 2009
"No let-ups," is what Tanisha Wright says they
learned on the roadtrip.
There were no let-ups. "I thought tonight's game was one of the most consistent games we have played all year," Agler said of the win over the East's first-place team. "We were solid every quarter." The team was solid. The Storm came out immediately with a defensive energy that we've seen only in short spurts this year. The defense didn't fall off. Tanisha Wright and Swin Cash, especially, were on, holding dangerous duo Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas in check. Offensively, the Storm played an extremely balanced game with all of the starters plus Janell Burse recording double figures in scoring and at least four rebounds.
AUDIO: At the end of the third quarter there was another highlight-reel
play. Sue Bird zigzagged up the court, then tossed up a long lob to Janell
breaking to the basket. With one second on the clock, Janell laid the
ball in the basket.
Flirting with Danger
"We kind of flirted with overtime" said Janell Burse of the 1-point win over the New York Liberty. I think it is safe to say that everyone is pleased that the flirtation was just that, and it didn't go any further. Fans and players alike were ready for an old-fashioned blowout after three of the last four Storm games went into OT. The Storm were in position for, while maybe not a blowout, a solid easy win, but it wasn't to be. "We lost our focus a little bit, lost momentum," Janell continues. "They went on a pretty good run." In fact, with the "pretty good" run, the Liberty caught up and took the lead for the first time since the beginning of the game.
Sue Bird concurs. "In the fourth quarter, we had a lead we kind of gave up. They score three straight Janel McCarville made the little floater to take the lead that's when it kind of hit us. We needed to do something to get it back." Sue stepped up offensively, scoring 9 of her 12 points. And the team clamped down defensively. After taking back the lead on a Bird free throw at the 3:11 mark, the Storm didn't allow New York to score again. "When it came time in the last minute and a half, we really gutted it out." No overtime this time. "That wasn't the thought," Sue laughs. "I just wanted to win."
Starting on a 3-game road trip, the winning mentality of the game's last minute needs to take over for the Storm. Sue is taking a leadership role. The midcourt post-game huddle took longer than usual. Sue had some "choice words" for her teammates. "We had a couple of tough games, and it is time for us to get on the up and up uh I just wanted to share that [with my team]." She just wants to win.
Bench production: With Katie Gearlds injured and Camille Little in foul trouble, Janell Burse saw more minutes than usual of late - and had 10 points on five or six shooting and four blocked shots. Suzy Batkovic-Brown had her best outing of the season. In only three minutes of play, she put up two points, pulled down two rebounds, and dished out a nifty assist. She looked more confident than she had this season. Coach Agler commented on Suzy and Janell: " Really composed. I think we learned a lot, that we can get some minutes out of some people. I am sure we will keep going there."
Anne Donovan walked into KeyArena before the game greeting everyone a big smile. She had handshakes for arena Staff, hugs for Storm staff and her former players. This is Donovan's first appearance in the Key since she resigned as Storm head coach to focus on her Olympic coaching duties. Just last week she took over as interim head coach for New York. "It was great to see her before the game," said Sue Bird. "It is great to catch up and chat I know she is enjoying herself." It is true, Donovan looked as relaxed and as happy as I have seen her. New York is in the basement in the east, so maybe there is no pressure. Any improvement is positive, and the Liberty won on the road the night before. With no assistant coaches, she warmed up the team herself, laughing with the players, then came over to sit on the scorer's table to talk to the media. Asked if she felt emotional coming back to play where she coached the WNBA championship team, she said, "It's just great to be back" and then wonders if the fans will remember her time in Seattle. We just laugh, knowing Seattle fans have a long memory, and yes, the fans do remember that Anne Donovan was a big part of the 2004 championship run, giving her a big ovation during the introductions.
Not OT Again!
The final six seconds of the game, the Storm are down by three, and the Seattle Times reporter, Jayda Evans, was pleading to the basketball gods. "Please don't go into overtime, please don't go into overtime." It was an understandable wish, as the previous two home games both ran late and her deadline loomed. But the feisty basketball gods were up to their same old tricks. Tanisha Wright got the ball to Sue Bird, who hit a déjà vu last second three-ball. Overtime.
Only this one didn't play out in the Storm's favor. "They pretty much got on top of us early in the overtime and we couldn't get back," said Lauren Jackson. That says it all. Seattle scored only six to Phoenix's 17 in the extra inning. And the game was over.
It didn't help Seattle that Aussie Olympian Penny Taylor has rejoined Phoenix. Although only her second game back with the team after ankle surgery, she put up 18 points in just 19 minutes. Taylor adds another weapon to an already loaded team.
It should be noted, however, that Tanisha Wright had a great game. She tied her season-high 21 points in the first half of the ball game, and went on to have a career high 25. But that isn't what is important to Tanisha. "I don't necessarily think it had anything to do with the offense tonight," she said in the locker room. "We scored enough points to usually win a basketball game It doesn't matter what happened in the first half, who scored what, this that and this. It matters that we didn't get stops in the second half." That is why Tanisha is known as a defensive specialist.
August 4, 2009
Three More Things about the San Antonio Game Before We Move On
1. Kudos to KB's quiet acknowledgement
2. Does Jimi support the Seattle Storm?
3. Good things come in threes.
Sweating Out the Close Ones
"These games are so emotional!" Brain Agler was referring to the Storm's tendency to close games of late, and specifically of Saturday's overtime win over San Antonio. He was speaking for himself, but could have been speaking for everyone in Key Arena. The Storm had just lost a close one at San Antonio with a last-second shot by Sophia Young on Tuesday. The last home game was the triple overtime win over Los Angeles. Emotionally charged games all.
"Overtime games are never easy," said Sue Bird.
The Storm were not shooting well, but luckily San Antonio weren't either. Down by three in the closing seconds, the Storm gets it to LJ for a 3. Oh, but "I looked down and my foot was on the line," she said. "I was like, 'I don't have enough time!' So I kicked it [to Sue in the corner] and thought, 'Please, God, make it.'" Sue did, and the game went into overtime.
The lead changes three times in the extra period, Tanisha Wright fouls out (shades of the L.A. overtime) by tumbling over Helen Darling, Sue is 0-3, but LJ, still not shooting at her best, hits them when they count. Becky Hammon, definitely a big-time clutch player, had the chance to send it into another overtime, but had to force it through a wall of white jerseys. She was mad and thought she had been fouled. The fans all sighed with relief. I am not sure we had it in us for another overtime battle.
A Decade of Emotions
Emotions were all but used up after the halftime celebration
of the Storm organization's 10th anniversary and the honoring of the Storm
All-Decade Team. Current players Sue Bird, LJ, Janell Burse, and Swin
Cash, along with Kamila Vodichkova, flown in from the Czech Republic,
and fan favorite Simone Edwards were all present at the Key, while Tully
Bevilaqua, Iziane Castro Marques, and Betty Lennox, currently playing
for other WNBA teams, could not attend but sent videos instead. Betty
was especially heartfelt and touching. In a somewhat corny but sweet gesture,
the Storm raised a jersey to the rafters of KeyArena honoring the famous
sixth player of the team - Storm fans, #6. It is a cliché for players
to thank their fans for being the best, but in Seattle, it rings true.
KeyArena is infamous around the league as a difficult place for opposing
teams due to the fan support - Storms fans are acknowledged as smart and
extremely loud, giving support and energy to the players at critical time
in the games, and interfering with the opposition's ability to communicate.
Brain Agler has reason to know if Seattle fans are something special.
"I have been in all the arenas and coached 4 or 5 different places,
and there is no comparison," he says seriously. "No comparison."
"Oh, her energy!" LJ says of All Decade Team
player Simone Edwards. She may not have been one of the best Storm players,
but Simone would get the joie de vivre award hands down. Always dancing,
always singing, always pumping up the crowd, she was just plain fun. She
hasn't been in a Storm uniform for a few years, but Saturday night she
stepped right back into the limelight. She shimmied with Doppler, danced
in the kids' dance train and with the Storm dance troupe, and led the
cheering from her courtside seat. While on the Storm, Simone would lead
the player huddle in a little Jamaican motivational singing. Outside the
huddle, we never could hear what she was saying.
July 24, 2009
After the Battle
After the jubilation on the court following the thrilling triple-overtime win on Wednesday, you would think, a) the Storm locker room would rocking, or b) the players would be in an exhausted but happy daze. However, neither option would be correct. Because this was the last game before the all-star break, the players flew out of Key Arena. Many had red-eye flights to catch to wherever they were going. In the locker room, instead of players chatting and putting on shoes, it was practically empty, except for Sue Bird, who had taken over in the 3rd overtime. "We needed to win as soon as possible, or else I would have some people mad at me!" She sat in her usual chair, all alone in front of her locker, politely waiting for us to come ask her the usual questions. As usual, she was delightful, telling anecdotes about talking to herself after her airball, "I was like, 'You look horrible, you need to snap out of it.' I generally don't talk to myself, but it was something I needed to do." Meanwhile, poor Camille Little was in the training room taking care of her cramping legs by sitting in a giant tub of ice. PeeWee Johnson, ice packs Saran-wrapped to her knees, hobbled out to sign autographs for the waiting fans, in that post-game ritual. Ah, the glamorous life of the professional athlete
July 22, 2009
THE Game (Storm Beat L.A. in Triple Overtime!)
It started out like any other game. In fact, there were some distinct similarities with Sunday night's game - Tanisha "Crunch Time" Wright running the court for a jump shot to take the lead with seconds to go, the crowd screaming their excitement. But then it wasn't like Sunday. Tanisha fouled out trying to take a charge from the Sparks' Noelle Quinn, who fortunately only made one of two free throws to tie the game at 67-67.
Emotions in KeyArena move up a notch and the game takes
on a surreal feel.
Seattle's defense keeps L.A. from getting a last shot. First overtime ends 8 to 8.
KeyArena is louder, if possible. Candace Parker - bad pass/ Lauren Jackson - the steal/ Camille Little bank shot. 77-77. Quinn makes an "...and 1" to put L.A. up by three. Little answers on the other end.
LJ and Delisha Milton-Jones (known around the league as D- Nasty because of her, shall we say, aggressive play) get tangled up under the basket and have to be separated. LJ is fuming. Double technical - LJ is ejected from the game and stomps off the court swearing.
The emotional temperature raises yet another notch.
Play continues. This overtime ends on a strange note. Milton-Jones is called for a delay of game for over-guarding the inbounds play. I have it on good authority (fans sitting next to the play) that the ref warned Milton-Jones to stay back and allow room for the inbounds pass. She agrees and proceeds to ignore his warning.
It is a cliché, but in this case it's true. The game has the feel of a playoff game. By this time, players and the crowd are running on emotional fumes - but the emotions are big. It is so loud that L.A. is having trouble communicating. Kristy Harrower is trying to run a play from the top of the key, gesturing wildly for players to move here and there. A shot is forced but the Storm have bodies all over the rebound . Camille grabs yet another huge rebound. Sue hits a 3. Swin Cash drives to the basket, loses the ball in midair but recovers and makes the shot. Sue hits another 3. Milton-Jones fouls out to the delight of the crowd - she goes to the bench swearing. Camille hits the 1+1. Storm up by seven with 1:30 to go. Sue has a look of relief. She knows they are over the hump. For good measure, Sue hits another 3 - and Swin follows suit. Game over. Sue throws the ball straight into the air at the final buzzer.
The Storm win 98-87 and the playoff atmosphere continues. Coach Brian Agler uncharacteristically waves his arms to pump up the crowd and then uncharacteristically hugs Sue (23 points, five assists) and PeeWee Johnson (stats don't show her disruptive defense!) as they come off the court. He breaks off to hug Swin (16 points, five assists, six rebounds) and Camille (17 points, 14 rebounds).
"I am pooped," says Sue Bird.
We all are.
The Final 18 Seconds
18.1 seconds on the clock. 68-69. The Storm are down by one out of the timeout.
Sue Bird: "Literally the last thing Brian said [in the huddle]: 'Don't be afraid to make plays, don't be afraid if they drive - take charges.'"
The Storm take the floor. Tanisha Wright has the ball and ambles down the court.
Tanisha: "[Coach Brian Agler] was screaming to hurry it up, but the more relaxed I am, the better for me."
Dribbling, dribbling. Tanisha at the top of the key. Sue is set up in the corner next to the Minnesota bench. Swin is somewhere on the other side of the floor. Dribbling, dribbling. 12 seconds. I am getting nervous.
Sue: "Oh, there was enough time It was at her rhythm and that's best."
Tansiha drives to the basket. Anosike is there, but Tanisha muscles it up - and in. 70-69. The Storm take the one-point lead.
Tanisha (very matter of fact): "Ah, Brian [Agler] just made a play, drew up a play, told me to turn the corner - and if it was open to take it I just did, that's all."
Sue: "She did a great job of just reading the defense and taking what they gave her. I know it was a layup, [but] it wasn't easy by any means. She hit a tough shot."
There are 10 seconds left on the clock.
The crowd is incredibly loud. Minnesota runs a play for Candice Wiggins at the other end. She circles the defense and drives to the basket. The ball rims off. A Minnesota player grabs the rebound and puts it up - but the Seattle players are celebrating. At the media bench we can't see, don't know what is happening. Camille is lying on the floor. Tanisha is jumping up and down and seemingly hitting Camille.
Camille (laughing): "She was trying to kill me!"
An offensive charge had been called on Wiggins. Camille had taken the charge. No basket.
Camille (understated): "I'm happy I was there to take it and they didn't score off it and we got the call."
Tanisha: "That was great! That was awesome!"
Sue: "Camille has been making defensive plays for us since Day 1, especially charges. She's probably the only one " she looks around the locker room to make sure nobody is listening, "who gives up her body like that."
3.7 seconds. Tanisha is fouled and makes both free throws. Seattle wins. 72-69.
Coming Back Stronger
I think it is fair to say, after the second straight home loss, that the Storm are now officially in a slump.
"One thing I have learned is that basketball is a game of runs," Sue Bird has said, "the important thing is to have your run at the right time." She was referring to individual games but that same idea could be applied to seasons. Throughout a season each team has their spurts and go through their lulls.
The box score shows five Storm players in double figures, but they lacked the defensive intensity that shuts down opponents. In Wednesday's loss against Detroit, the Storm did clamp down in the third quarter, but one quarter of defense rarely wins games.
If last year is any indication, the Storm will learn from these losses and come back stronger. It was about this point in the 2008 season that the defense clicked and the Storm looked unstoppable. It was also about this time last year when they Storm had their only home loss of the season and Coach Brian Agler was saying much the same thing as he said Wednesday after the game: "We're still improving, and I think there a lot of teams in the league that are still improving. We're going through an evolution here and at some point I think we'll find ourselves. We're not quite at the halfway point. We've had a couple of tough losses, but we're going to keep moving forward."
"It is not the end," said a subdued Sue Bird of the loss, "[but] sometimes you need a good kick in the butt." Let's hope the Detroit kick is the kick that was needed.
INJURY UPDATE: Lauren Jackson sustained a strained left Achilles in the July 15 game vs. Detroit. She did not travel with the team to Sacramento and will remain in Seattle to undergo treatment. She is listed as day-to-day.
"We are flat and we have to figure it out,"
said an unhappy Swin Cash in the locker room after the second-straight
July 14, 2009
Lauren & Sue Slumping at Same Time
Every player goes through periods when they aren't falling, so it should be no surprise that Lauren Jackson does also. Except it is. Her game against San Antonio, where she only scored three points, was written off as one of those games. LJ's shooting from the floor has improved the last two games, although it has failed to reach her unusual sizzling hot level, and free throws annoyingly are still rimming out. Frustrating. The shooting woes haven't stop with LJ. Sue Bird was 1-10 from the floor in their home loss to Chicago, and missed a huge one that might have won the game for Seattle. Coming off a high pick and roll, "I had a very good look," she said, but still she missed. "If we had to do it again," said Brian Agler after the game "I'd take that shot again." It was the shot the Storm wanted, by the player they wanted to take it. I don't know how many times I have seen Sue make impossible shots in the last seconds of game. If the pressure is on, Sue is there. Except this time. "It will come," LJ says, speaking matter of factly of her own shooting. She could be speaking for Sue also. "Eventually, they have to drop. I am a good shooter." They both are.
July 9, 2008
things first: shoes. The last few games Camille Little and Swin Cash have
been sporting some flashy new shoes. Camille's have a yellow sole, Swin's
a yellow saddle. The yellow nicely highlights the yellow in the Storm
logo, and the yellow shirts of the ball kids. On Thursday night, however,
all eyes in KeyArena were on the new yellow shoes in town. Sue Bird took
it a step further with the shiniest brightest heel-to-toe yellow shoes
imaginable. No mere fashion statement these, this shoe has a message.
July 8, 2009
Lauren Jackson on a Bad Day ...
How often does Lauren Jackson shoot 0-6 in a half and end a game with only 3 points? Never. Well, hardly ever. The last time that LJ went scoreless in a half was in 2005. But that is exactly what happened in the game against San Antonio Tuesday. "I was definitely off the mark a little in the shooting area," LJ said with an ironic arch of the eyebrows. When asked what she was thinking out there on the court, she said, "What does any athlete think when they are having an off night? ... (she strikes exaggerated thinking pose, finger to her cheek, "Shit! What do I do now!? How do I get through this?" What LJ did was switch her focus. "I had to do something! It got to the point that I thought, 'well, bugger it, if I can't shoot the ball I had [better] try to rebound and play some defense.'" She came out of the half rebounding like mad, grabbing eight in the third quarter alone. And with the rebounds the team defense clicked. "I started seeing my teammates make plays defensively, get blocks, get stops." From that point the Storm took over the game.
In the locker room after the game the team was told the
Storm had outrebounded San Antonio 41-17. "When they told us the
numbers we were like, "'No way!' We thought they were joking,"
said Sue Bird, "That is just us being aggressive on the boards; that
is us controlling it
That is what probably got us this game."
Note: The shot clock was running down. Sue Bird was dribbling across the top of the key trying to find an opening. Nothing was there - no pass, no drive, certainly no shot. One second left, she is 25 feet out on the right shoulder, smothered by the defense. She jumps, sideways, off balance. She throws it up - and IN! "The bank?" she says after the game, "I would like to say that was all skill, but I don't know how, but it went in." Shooter's roll, I guess.
June 27, 2009
Let's Talk about Betty
There is no doubt that Betty Lennox has a place on the
Storm's 10-Year Anniversary Team. She has earned a place in the starting
Last season Lennox was not protected in the expansion draft by new coach Brain Agler and was taken from her adopted home by the Atlanta Dream franchise. New team, new teammates, new system. Life on an expansion club is difficult enough, and Lennox had some injury problems. At the end of the season, Lennox and the Dream made their only Seattle appearance. She was introduced to an exuberantly welcoming crowd; the emotion came to the surface. In the pre-game Dream huddle Betty stood crying. Seattle's love for Betty was still alive.
This season Betty is playing for the Los Angeles Sparks, the only team routinely booed by the Seattle fans. It may be difficult for some to reconcile their love for Betty with the animosity for rival L.A. She understands. "I have a target on my back now as part of the Sparks and all that, but I am happy to be part of the Sparks and if my team gets booed, I guess I do too."
Betty did not get booed in Seattle. Once again, her pre-game introduction was drowned out by the roar of the crowd. This year, Betty was a bit more prepared. She acknowledged "the love." No tears were shed but the feeling was still there.
The Sparks' appearance in Friday night's game at KeyArena was only Betty's second visit back to Seattle. "It is still very emotional and still very new to come back it is still a personal thing, personal and emotional as well."
However, her new situation with Los Angeles seems to be working well for both Betty and the Sparks. "It is good for me. The situation is so much easier for me [than in Atlanta]. I play with ease now. I play with fun, joy, happiness. You can see a smile on my face out there on the court. I like the [Sparks] system; I like my teammates. I fit right in. I am very happy."
I am happy for her. Betty is still a crowd favorite - albeit in the uniform of the devil. She understands. "That's basketball," she says. "The Storm are now my opponent. The fans aren't my opponent."
As for living in Los Angeles, that may not be the best part. "It is too big for me!" she laughes. "I am just a little down-to-earth person and ..uh it's big!" But as Betty also said several times, "It is what it is." And that is Betty.
June 22, 2009
On the Road to Greatness
I watched the Seattle/Phoenix game last night on TV. Watching televised Storm games always makes me nervous. I don't know if statistics support this, but it seems that the Storm play their worst games on TV for the world to see. (Is it because I only see the away games on TV?)
All my worries this time were for naught. The Storm played
a good game and gave Phoenix their first home loss of the season. Lauren
Jackson did what Jackson does - scored without effort, blocked a few shots,
and generally looked awesome (a word I am not fond of, but it does describe
her so well). Sue Bird ran the show and took over scoring when needed.
It is hard to find fault with Bird's game at this point. In the last two
games she's handed out 19 assists and had no turnovers. Swin Cash played
one of the best games she has had in a Seattle uniform. All three players
scored in the 20s. Tanisha Wright was also in double figures. Speaking
of the on-the-road team woes before traveling to Phoenix for this game,
Wright said, "We just need to put some more consistency [to the effort
to string a few [winning] games together." It looks like
they're on the road (groan) to doing just that. And this time they did
it on TV. Yes!
June 21, 2009
Starting Anew Each Season
Despite the impressive-sounding 28-point win Friday night over Minnesota, the Storm are still in the process of adjusting/readjusting, connecting/reconnecting for this season. I forget each year that there is a time at the beginning of the season when the team has to start over before coming together. It is always a little frustrating to watch considering how together they were when we last saw them the previous summer. These players play overseas much of the year with different teammates and different systems and coming back to Seattle does necessitate changes.
The first few weeks of Storm games aren't usually the best basketball, and Friday's game was no exception. There were, however, some nice moments and glimpses of what might be.
My favorite move of the game was the surprising dance across the key by Ashley Robinson ("Sky-Rob" as Jayda Evans of The Seattle Times dubbed her in this case), with the bank sky hook. It was one of those "No, no, no, don't shoot .WOW!" moments. "The bank was definitely new," Robinson laughs after the game, "That is my favorite shot, going across the key with my right hand. You can't block it, you can only miss." Or not miss. And it is all the more fun when it rolls into the basket.
Then there was the time Sue Bird dribbled around the top of the key until she was open for her signature stop and pop. She stopped but didn't pop. This time everyone was thinking "Shoot it!" but instead, Janell Burse appeared out of nowhere under the basket. Bird zipped the ball between defenders to Burse for the easy layup. Two points. Assist. Just Sue Bird being Sue Bird.
The best sign that the Storm are on their way to becoming the team that they will be was the fourth quarter. The starters sat on the bench and watched the bench play. "You know the team is playing well when the coach doesn't play you in the last quarter," Lauren Jackson says of her bench time. Obviously it is great for the team to be able to have all the players get significant game time, "give the other girls a run" as Jackson says. But does Jackson mind sitting out? Nope. "LOVE it," she says, "Wish it could happen allll-llll the time." Here's to that!
Minnesota All-Star Seimone Augustus wasn't in the lineup
Friday night. She went down in the previous game with what turned out
to be a torn ACL - She is out for the season. This is a loss not only
for Minnesota but also the league. Augustus is a dynamic player who's
always fun to watch.
June 16, 2009
The Long Road Home
The Storm return home today after a long road trip. It seems that every year there is some crazy scheduling. This year the Storm start the season with back-to-back games against the same team - Sacramento. After that one game at home, they go on the road for a week plus. As Coach Brian Agler says with raised eyebrows, "[The Storm] have 100 days to play 38 games, and we are playing five in the first eight days - and four of those on the road. To me, that is just unfortunate. It is a tough deal." The Storm had good outings two of the four away games (Sacramento, Minnesota) but lacked energy in the other two (Indiana, Chicago). I think it is fair to attribute at least some of that flat play to the scheduling. Tough, but that is the way of the WNBA scheduling guru. And now that road trip is in the past. Home (deep breath), the team gets a chance to regroup before the game Friday. One thing they need to work out is the rotation. The Storm have played much of these first games without a true Big inside. Suzy Batkovic-Brown joined the Storm late because of her wedding in Australia, and there hasn't been practice time to get her up to speed on the plays. Agler also wants to tweak Janell Burse's game a bit. He mentions working with her on her multiple pump-fake habit. Having at least the option of a true Big inside will help the team, as will having all six players on the bench ready to fit into the Agler flowing rotation.
Note: She was only a part of the Storm for one season, but I am a huge fan of Yolanda Griffith. She went to play in Indiana this season announcing in advance that this was to be her final year in the WNBA. Unfortunately, retirement came a few months earlier than expected when in last week's game against Seattle she tore her Achilles tendon. I am sorry to see her go. She is absolutely one of the best.
June 8, 2009
While the WNBA hypes the goodbye tour of retiring Lisa Leslie of the LA Sparks, Seattle has their own season-long celebration in store - the 10th anniversary of the Storm franchise. And how else better to celebrate than with the return of MVP, All-Star, wonder-woman Lauren Jackson?
"Lauren is one of the best, if the not the best," said Storm coach Brian Agler. Watching her turn-around, fade-away jumper, no one could argue that. Seattle is privileged to have gotten to watch Jackson grow from a tremendously talented teenager to the most captivating player in the league.
Seattle came close to losing Jackson in the off-season, however. Jackson, a free agent, considered leaving Seattle for Phoenix. Through emails, cards, and letters, Storm fans let Jackson know just how much she meant to them, and she realized that yes, this was home. I know would have had a difficult time watching LJ play for another WNBA team, and I am not alone.
And if LJ hadn't been convinced, the sellout crowd in KeyArena made it clear once again at the Storm home opener. The fans, cheering enthusiastically for every player, were especially demonstrative (read - several decibels louder) when the 6'5" forward from Austraaaliiiia - Laaaauuurrrren Jackson!!!!" was announced and made her way into KeyArena.
"I didn't expect to get that kind of reception from everybody," Jackson said later. "I didn't think it was going to be any different [from other years.] When I was walking down the stairs it was pretty emotional." The emotion showed on her face - a shy smile, and was that a blush?
LJ, along with the rest of the team, had their game faces ready by tipoff and the anniversary season began.
I suspect that as this, the 10th Storm season rolls on, and they roll out old film clips and former players, I will be moved to reminisce myself. For now, I will just say, once again I had tears in my eyes during opening ceremonies. We have come a long way since that 6' tall athletic girl that was me in 1975 did not play high school basketball. I did not play because well, because no one cared about girls and sports.
With LJ welcomed back, the Storm got down to business early and won the first two games of the season, back-to-back games against the Sacramento Monarchs. The team had some defensive lapses and there are some kinks to work out. Sacramento was allowed to waltz in the back door for easy layups all too often. On the other hand, the Storm had moments of last year's smothering defense. "We won both, so that's a good thing," said Bird in the locker room. LJ proved her worth, started the game by putting up the first 8 points of the game, and ending it with 25 of the Storm's 80 points. She had four blocks along the way, a handful of rebounds, and several 3's. I read recently that LJ's efficiency rating is higher that Michael Jordan's. I am not surprised. I don't think Sue Bird would be surprised either.