The 2010 WNBA champions pose with the team's two trophies at the championship celebration held at KeyArena.
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images
2010: Record-Setting Storm Run
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com
At the conclusion of the 2009 season, the Seattle Storm could feel confident in a starting lineup that had emerged as the league's strongest with Camille Little and Tanisha Wright establishing themselves alongside All-Stars Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Lauren Jackson. The offseason task for Head Coach Brian Agler, also the team's director of player personnel, was clear: strengthen the bench to support the starters.
With guard Shannon Johnson announcing her retirement and center Janell Burse and forward Katie Gearlds deciding to sit out the 2010 campaign, the Storm's second unit would have a very different look by the time the team began training camp. Agler used the resulting space under the WNBA's salary cap to target veteran post Le'coe Willingham, fresh off a starting role for the 2009 WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury. Agler's other coup came just before training camp, when he signed wing Svetlana Abrosimova, who wanted to reunite with her former coach in Minnesota as well as UConn teammates Bird and Cash.
The Storm also re-signed its own free agents, Jackson and center Ashley Robinson - the lone holdover on the bench from 2009. Despite being an unrestricted free agent, Jackson pledged to sign a new multi-year contract days after the end of the season and made it official during March. To fill out the roster, the Storm signed a pair of international free agents - forwards Abby Bishop and Jana Veselá - and selected Alison Lacey in the first round of the WNBA Draft.
On the eve of the season, the Storm was confident in the way the roster had come together. Yet around the league, expectations were restrained. Splashy offseason additions by teams like Los Angeles (Ticha Penicheiro), Minnesota (Lindsay Whalen), New York (Cappie Pondexter) and Phoenix (Candice Dupree) drew much attention, while the Storm had to live down a five-year streak of losing in the opening round of the playoffs.
Beginning with a victory over the Sparks on Opening Night, the Storm got off to a quick start. With an overtime road victory at Phoenix and narrow escapes against Minnesota and Washington at KeyArena, the Storm began the season 4-0 for the first time in franchise history. Nonetheless, it was the way the team responded to its first loss on May 27 at Chicago that would demonstrate the team's potential. After two days off to regroup, the Storm blew out the playoff-bound San Antonio Silver Stars by 28 points at the AT&T Center. Back at home to start June, the Storm easily handled the Atlanta Dream in a matchup of the two early conference leaders, claiming the league's best record in the process.
More impressive wins would follow. On June 5, the Storm visited Los Angeles for the Sunset Showdown, the second outdoor game in league history. Behind 22 points from Bird, the Storm took an early lead and held off a comeback attempt. To complete a back-to-back set, the Storm returned home to host the defending champion Mercury. The Storm dominated the third quarter to take a lead as large as 41 points in an eventual 97-74 win.
After beating the Sparks at home the following Friday, the Storm improved to 9-1, the best 10-game start in franchise history. Already, five of the nine wins had come against the team's two primary rivals in the Western Conference, Los Angeles and Phoenix, who had gotten off to slow starts. Still, no one was entirely prepared for what would come next: After losing for the second time in 2010 on June 17 at Indiana, the Storm would not drop another game until Aug. 1. The 13-game winning streak, which lasted 44 days, would put the Storm in the conversation with the best teams the WNBA has ever seen.
The winning streak was anything but easy. Seven times during the 13 games, the Storm would deliver what would become the team's trademark - a fourth-quarter comeback. During a 3-0 road trip just after the All-Star break, the Storm delivered three improbable wins. On July 14 at Phoenix, it took two overtimes to withstand 44 points from Diana Taurasi and beat the Mercury behind 31 points and 18 boards from Jackson. At Minnesota on July 17, Jackson's 14 fourth-quarter points sparked a rally to knock off the Lynx. The Storm capped the trip by outscoring San Antonio 34-18 over the last 13 minutes to sweep the Silver Stars.
The Storm also won without Bird - who missed nearly all of a win at Tulsa and sat out a home win over San Antonio due to back spasms - and Jackson, who was sidelined by a concussion for a win over New York. Jackson's injury prevented her from suiting up for the WNBA Stars at the Sun, which pitted a team of the WNBA's best players against the U.S. National Team. Bird and Cash represented the USA, while Jackson was voted to the WNBA team and Agler served as its head coach because the Storm had the league's best record at the break. Bird handed out five assists and Cash scored 13 points as the USA won 99-72 at Connecticut's Mohegan Sun Arena.
The toughest challenge for the Storm's winning streak came July 27 at home, when the Mercury came to town determined to get a head-to-head win against the Storm. With newly acquired Kara Braxton providing key minutes, Phoenix stunned the KeyArena crowd by taking an 18-point lead to the locker room. The second half would go very differently. The Storm outscored the Mercury 24-8 in the third quarter to nearly erase the entire deficit. Just after the eight-minute mark of the final period, the Storm took the lead for good in one of the most improbable comebacks in franchise history. The win secured the Storm the top spot in the Western Conference with 11 games left on the schedule.
One last win, over Chicago on July 30 at the Key, would push the Storm's winning streak to a baker's dozen. It finally came to an end on Aug. 1 at Minnesota in a game the Storm had a chance to win. Bird missed at the buzzer, ending the hope of another comeback. For the first time all season, the Storm suffered a losing streak when the upstart Tulsa Shock pulled off an upset two nights later. Unfortunately for Tulsa, the two teams met four days later at KeyArena. This time, there would be no upset. The Storm dominated from start to finish, with reserves contributing a combined 56 points in a 111-65 win that set league records for margin of victory (46 points) and rebounds (57).
With yet another fourth-quarter comeback on Aug. 10 in Atlanta, the Storm clinched home-court advantage throughout the postseason. Agler used the remainder of the road trip to rest starters and get reserves valuable playing time. Following losses at Connecticut and Washington, the Storm returned home to prepare for the playoffs by getting back to a more regular rotation. The Storm won its last three games, capped by a narrow victory over Los Angeles that allowed the Storm to tie the WNBA record for regular-season wins (28) and finish the home schedule unbeaten at 17-0.
The opening round would match the Storm against the Sparks, the team's playoff nemeses. Los Angeles had knocked the Storm out of the postseason the previous two seasons and all four times the two teams had met. Despite the retirement of Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, the Sparks rallied to make the playoffs behind a veteran core of DeLisha Milton-Jones, Ticha Penicheiro and Tina Thompson.
In Game 1, the Storm got key contributions from a relatively unusual source. Veselá, who proved versatile as a role player but was not usually a high scorer, knocked down three shots beyond the arc in the first half and scored 12 points, helping the Storm maintain an early lead. The team shot 56.1 percent in a comfortable 79-66 victory. The Storm then went to Los Angeles thinking sweep. Sloppy play helped the Sparks hold a first-quarter advantage, but the Storm torched a zone defense with a record-tying seven three-pointers (four by Swin Cash) during the second period to take the lead for good. The 81-66 win sent the Storm to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in franchise history.
There, the Storm would encounter the defending champs. Phoenix had swept through its own first-round series and believed the team had finally found its championship form. The Storm had other ideas. Game 1 proved to be atypical for the two teams. Taurasi shot 2-for-15, turning the ball over six times before fouling out. Both teams finished below 40 percent from the field, but 23 points and 17 rebounds from Jackson helped the Storm pull out the 82-74 victory.
Game 2 at Phoenix figured to be more challenging, especially with a motivated Taurasi. Behind her seven three-pointers and 28 points, the Mercury led by 12 with 3:21 to play. Phoenix would not score again the rest of the game. An efficient Storm attack chipped into the lead and tied the game on Cash's layup with 36.2 seconds to play. After Bird blocked Temeka Johnson's shot, the Storm had a chance at the last full possession. Wright found Bird for the go-ahead three-pointer with 2.8 seconds remaining. Taurasi missed a tying attempt at the buzzer and the Storm was headed back to the WNBA Finals.
While the Storm was sweeping through the West, the Atlanta Dream was doing the same in the Eastern Conference. In the franchise's third year of existence, the Dream reached the Finals behind star forward Angel McCoughtry and a talented supporting cast that used its athleticism to make life difficult for opponents.
The Storm hosted Games 1 and 2 at KeyArena in front of more than 10,000 Storm fans. Both games followed similar scripts, as the Storm led much of the way but pesky Atlanta hung around to make things competitive. In Game 1, the Dream competed despite losing McCoughtry first to foul trouble and later to a cut above her eye that required stitches. McCoughtry returned for a final 8-2 run that tied Game 1 with a minute to play. Both teams traded misses before Bird again hit the biggest shot - a pull-up jumper with 2.6 seconds left that provided the final 79-77 margin when McCoughtry's potential game-winner proved errant.
McCoughtry played 36 minutes in Game 2, but was limited to 7-of-23 shooting by a team defensive effort headlined by Cash - who added 19 points at the other end. Up eight with 2:10 to play, the Storm saw Atlanta cut the deficit to just three points. The Dream took possession after two missed free throws with a chance to force overtime, but because the team was out of timeouts it was unable to get up a clean shot before time expired.
The teams traveled to Atlanta with the Storm a win away from a championship but far from dominant in the series. Again, the Storm held the early advantage, but the Dream surged into the lead in the third quarter to get Philips Arena rocking. Down six with 3:10 to play in the third quarter, the Storm got consecutive three-pointers from Cash and one more from Bird to kick off a 20-3 run that put the visitors in command. Still, Atlanta refused to quit. Down eight with 1:06 left, the Dream scored seven quick points before sending Little to the free throw line with 6.0 seconds showing on the clock. She calmly nailed two enormous free throws to push the lead to three. McCoughtry and Miller had three-point attempts that could have tied the game, but when the second one missed the Storm was WNBA champions again.
From start to finish, the Storm was outstanding in 2010. The Storm joined two other teams who went undefeated through three rounds of playoffs and became the first to go 7-0 since the WNBA Finals were expanded to a best-of-five format. The Storm never lost at KeyArena, going 21-0 during the regular season and playoffs, an unprecedented feat in league history. Yet the season was as much about the Storm's resilience as it was the team's dominance. 13 of the team's 28 regular-season wins saw the team trail after three quarters, while many of the wins in the playoffs required the Storm to hang on down the stretch.
Though Jackson was rewarded for her efforts as the WNBA's regular-season and Finals MVP, Bird earned All-WNBA Second Team honors and Cash was an All-Star, the Storm was a team in the truest sense. The starting lineup was outstanding from top to bottom, with Little and Wright (A WNBA All-Defensive First Team pick for the second consecutive year) both carrying the team at times. Newcomers Abrosimova and Willingham brought a veteran presence to the bench and gave the Storm seven starting-caliber players in the rotation, allowing Agler to get his stars more rest.
"It will be a stretch for anybody to ever do and accomplish what you guys have done this year," Agler told the team in the locker room at the conclusion of Game 3. The magnitude of the Storm's success will make that nearly impossible.
BACK ROW: Director of Player Development and Scouting Jenny Boucek, Assistant Coach Nancy Darsch, Head Coach Brian Agler, Abby Bishop, Ashley Robinson, Jana Veselá, Alison Lacey, Head Athletic Trainer Tom Spencer, Director of Basketball Operations Missy Bequette.
FRONT ROW: Strength and Conditioning Coach Melissa Hardin, Svetlana Abrosimova, Tanisha Wright, Camille Little, Lauren Jackson, Swin Cash, Sue Bird, Le'coe Willingham, Equipment Manager and Video Coordinator Danielle Yellam.
2010 Storm Roster
|40||Alison Lacey||G||6-0||155||12/26/1987||Iowa State||R|
|20||Camille Little||F||6-2||180||01/18/1985||North Carolina||3|
|7||Jana Veselá||F||6-3||195||12/31/1983||Czech Republic||R|
|30||Tanisha Wright||G||5-11||165||11/29/1983||Penn State||5|
HEAD COACH: Brian Agler
ASSISTANT COACH: Nancy Darsch
DIRECTOR OF PLAYER DEVELOPMENT AND SCOUTING: Jenny Boucek
DIRECTOR OF BASKETBALL OPERATIONS: Missy Bequette
EQUIPMENT MANAGER AND VIDEO COORDINATOR: Danielle Yellam
HEAD ATHLETIC TRAINER: Tom Spencer
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING COACH: Melissa Hardin
2010 RECORDS AND HIGHLIGHTS