Storm Truly Donovanís Team

Kevin Pelton, | Oct. 15, 2004
"Iíve been with teams where they donít seize the moment, and I'm definitely feeling that was the case this season. We had momentum, we were the second-best team in the Western Conference. Sacramento was picking up momentum, Minnesota with every game picked up momentum, and for us to feel like we didnít seize it when we had it, that was very frustrating for me as a coach. That, I think, is a lesson that weíve learned this year. Obviously, we have players that still have a lot of time left. How much of that lesson they really take to heart will be proven next year when weíre in the same situation, when there are expectations for us again - and there will be - how we respond."
- Seattle Storm Coach Anne Donovan, 8/26/03

Donovan's celebration after Game 3 was well-deserved.
Otto Gruele Jr./NBAE/Getty
"Well, you know, it didn't feel too good when we went in the half up one. It was a strange feeling, and everybody felt that. We told ourselves that we worked too hard for this, it's been too long of a season for us to quit now. And this was our opportunity. We had to seize the moment, and that's what we did."
- Storm guard Betty Lennox, 10/12/04 (after Game 3 of the WNBA Finals)

A little over a year later, Donovan got the answer to her question. Lesson learned (by a player who wasn't even on the roster last August). Moment seized. Championship won.

Make no mistake. While Lennox herself was the MVP of the Finals; Lauren Jackson, a year ago, the MVP of the league and Sue Bird an Olympian, no one figured more prominently into the Storm's development into WNBA Champions than Donovan.

With the possibility of a lockout resolved just days before the start of training camp, Donovan spent most of her first season in Seattle trying to implement her systems at both ends of the court and her philosophy. That worked until center Kamila Vodichkova went down with a sprained foot in early August and the Storm dropped five straight games to slip out of the playoffs, the part of the season Donovan discussed in the quote above.

There was a certain concern on Donovan's part that the Storm didn't have enough veteran leadership and, well, toughness down the stretch. Enter Lennox and Sheri Sam. While Donovan had not previously coached either player, assistant Jenny Boucek had in Miami and Donovan had more than enough experience coaching against both Lennox and Sam to know they could provide what she needed.

With the additions of Lennox and Sam, Donovan also added more of the veteran presence and leadership she enjoyed in Charlotte with Dawn Staley and Andrea Stinson in the backcourt, while improving the Storm at the defensive end of the court (always an important goal for the defensive-minded Donovan).

Early in training camp, it was apparent that year two would go much more smoothly for Donovan, as she no longer needed to spend most of camp teaching her offense and defense to players completely unfamiliar with it. It was also apparent that Lennox and Sam would prove exactly what the Storm needed to complement Bird and Jackson.

All season long, Lennox was there as a scoring alternative when Bird or Jackson was in a funk. And "crooked number" Sam did everything the Storm needed, be it scoring, rebounding, passing or playing defense. It was only during the WNBA Finals, however, when the Connecticut Sun devised a defensive scheme to slow Bird and Jackson that Donovan's plan proved itself completely. While the Storm defense was controlling Connecticut at one end of the court, Lennox was providing the needed firepower at the other end, averaging 22.3 points per game.

That might never have happened had it not been for Donovan's ability not only to gather talent, but get the most out of it.

"I want to thank Anne Donovan," Lennox said after Game 3. "She is the first coach that believed in me. She brought more out of me than I knew I had in myself."

Within the context of a game, Donovan is as skilled as any coach in the league at pushing the right buttons and making the key adjustments (or not making them), as she demonstrated throughout the playoffs. In Game 2 of the Storm's Western Conference Semifinals series against Minnesota, Lynx Coach Suzie McConnell Serio, looking for a spark, went to a big lineup with 6-2 Tamika Williams - Minnesota's starting center most of last year - at small forward. Donovan didn't flinch, sticking with her players, and the Storm went on the decisive run that finished the series even with Bird on the sidelines because of a broken nose.

While Donovan experimented with a big lineup of her own against the supersized front line of the Sacramento Monarchs in the Western Conference Finals, her faith in her team's talent - "We're the better team," she repeatedly told the media - kept her from overreacting with unnecessary adjustments, a strategy proven correct when the Storm exploded for a 20-0 run midway through the second half of Game 3 to finish the Monarchs.

Donovan's work with Lennox was key to the Storm's championship run.
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
During the WNBA Finals, Donovan's respect for the Connecticut Sun - she refused, this time, to say the Storm was necessarily the better team - allowed her ability to make adjustments to shine. Connecticut Coach Mike Thibault, with more time to focus on the Finals because his team finished off the New York Liberty in two games in the Eastern Conference Finals and did not have to travel cross-country for Game 1, had a masterful game plan that shut down Bird and Jackson and allowed his team's multiple offensive threats to shine.

Donovan switched up her team's defensive alignment to better control guard Lindsay Whalen and center Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Whalen had nine assists in Game 1, just nine in Games 2 and 3 combined. McWilliams-Franklin went from 10 points in Game 1 (most of them early) to a combined 12 in Seattle.

When Thibault refused to alter his defensive matchups to do a better job of stopping Lennox, Donovan turned her loose and watched her win Finals MVP.

Donovan is the first coach to lead a team to a WNBA Championship without a Coach of the Year award already in hand. Like Jackson with MVP, it's a trade-off Donovan would happily make. And no award is necessary to know that Donovan is the league's best coach.

Donovan is also the first woman, a fact which shouldn't be downplayed.

"It's something that we've been striving for," she said after Game 3. "I think there's a lot of great women's coaches out there. In order to get the next level of respect, we have to win championships, we have to win conference championships, WNBA Championships, and I think it will help."

At the same time, Donovan didn't want to win the championship because she's a woman and none had done so before. She wanted to win because that's the focus of every coach on every sideline in every league. At some point, the questions asked of her before the game took on a Doug-Williams-as-the-first-African-American-quarterback-in-the-Super-Bowl surreality. Donovan is a female coach, but she is a coach, first and foremost. The best coach in the WNBA.

On Tuesday night, the Seattle Storm seized the moment, just as Donovan taught them to. In so doing, Anne Donovan's team made itself and her forever a part of history.