Live From Press Row - Storm vs. Washington
All About Defense Tonight for Storm
Final: Storm 64, Washington 49
This week in practice, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler talked about simply wanting to get better in the wake of a disappointing loss at Los Angeles. He was looking for improvement primarily on the defensive end and in terms of rebounding. That's exactly what we saw tonight at KeyArena. Laurie Koehn hit a three-pointer in the final minute to get the Mystics to 49 points, but it was still just the seventh time in franchise history the Storm held a team under 50 points and easily a season low for points allowed (previously 57 against the San Antonio Silver Stars on May 30). The Storm did it all on defense. Washington shot 33.9 percent from the field, was 3-of-12 from three, attempted just 12 free throws and was limited to six offensive boards. The Storm also forced 20 turnovers for the third time this season.
On offense, it was a balanced effort for the Storm. Sue Bird led the way with 14 points in a very efficient performance. She also handed out seven assists and grabbed five boards. Her backcourt-mate Sheryl Swoopes handed out five assists and grabbed four boards in addition to her 11 points. Swin Cash (10) and Lauren Jackson (13) were also in double-figures. It wasn't a great night for Jackson, but the defensive attention paid to her helped open things up for her teammates. The bench also brought a lot of energy defensively. Camille Little played hard in her nine minutes and Ashley Robinson gave the Storm 13 strong minutes.
The Storm will have a few more days of practice this week before hosting the New York Liberty on Thursday, when we'll celebrate the Fourth of July a day early (very fitting against the Liberty). New York is playing some good basketball, led by last year's Most Improved Player, center Janel McCarville. Get your Independence Day weekend off to a great start by coming to Thursday's game! Get your tickets now.
Fourth Quarter: Storm 59, Washington 44
Mystics Head Coach Tree Rollins all but conceded this game by taking out starters Alana Beard, Monique Currie and now Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Brian Agler is getting Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson some rest, though starters Swin Cash and Sheryl Swoopes are still on the floor. The Storm hasn't had a lot of lopsided victories. There was a 21-point win over San Antonio, but that's been the team's only victory by more than 12 points. That could change tonight.
Storm Putting it Away
Fourth Quarter: Storm 58, Washington 42
Slowly but surely, the Storm is expanding the lead and putting this game out of reach. Sue Bird's three-pointer a moment ago made it a 16-point lead. Considering the Mystics have scored just 18 points in the entire second half so far, a comeback doesn't seem to be in the cards. The Storm has done a great job of forcing 24-second violations tonight. A moment ago saw the team's fourth of the night. Entering tonight, the Storm had forced 15 on the season, tied with several teams (Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Antonio) for second in the league behind New York (17). Now the Storm is on top of the league by two.
In the house tonight: Sonics first-round pick Serge Ibaka, who was drafted on Thursday and came to Seattle Friday to be introduced to the local media. Ibaka was the first player ever drafted from the Republic of the Congo, and his late mother (as well as his father) was a standout basketball player in thes Congo.
End Third Quarter: Storm 47, Washington 37
The Storm really responded to Brian Agler's timeout, holding the Mystics scoreless for the next six minutes. Unfortunately, that didn't do much to add to the lead because the Storm scored only one buckete in a span of about seven minutes before Lauren Jackson knocked down a triple to end the quarter. That gave the Storm a 10-point lead, and again that's like a much bigger lead because neither team can score much tonight. That was the high-scoring quarter of the night for the Mystics, which meant they had 13 points. Yikes.
Let's give Yolanda Griffith a lot of credit for the way the Storm has defended and rebounded. She has seven points, five rebounds and two steals in 20 minutes of action. She looks a lot healthier after a few days off to rest her various ailments.
Third Quarter: Storm 39, Washington 32
The third quarter has been a bugaboo for the Storm much of the season, and tonight is no exception - at least in the early going. Washington has scored four straight trips down the floor for eight total points, nearly as many as the Mystics had in the entire first and second quarters (12 apiece). Brian Agler, disappointed with his team's defensive intensity, takes a quick timeout to try to right the ship.
Halftime: Storm 35, Washington 24
A couple of fun promotions during halftime. In conjunction with the PGA Tour's visit to the plazas outside KeyArena before tonight's game, there was a combination trivia/golf competition , which each correct answer moving our two contestants closer for a putt. The winner will get a chance to play a runner with the Storm's resident golfer, Katie Gearlds.
After that came what is quickly becoming one of my favorite Storm promotion traditions, the Warm 106.9 Teddy Bear Toss. Dozens of teddy bears rained down on the court from the stands. (Sorry to embarrass him, but play-by-play broadcaster Dick Fain couldn't quite make it all the way to the court with his teddy bear from the 1150 AM KKNW broadcast location.) The best part is all those bears will go to a great cause. Warm 106.9 fm's Teddy Bear Patrol campaign provides local police, firefighters and hospital workers with bears to use for children in emergency situations.
Defense Carries Storm
Halftime: Storm 35, Washington 24
The Storm had some great chances to extend the lead before halftime, getting open three-point looks from Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright as well as a 3-on-1 fast break. The Storm was unable to score, but still takes a solid 11-point lead to the break. That feels larger than the average 11-point lead because this game has been so defensive. Washington's 24 first-half points is only one ahead of the Storm's season low allowed in a half (23 vs. San Antonio in the first half on May 30). The Mystics shot 30.0 percent from the field, got to the line just four times and turned the ball over.
Nice seven first-half minutes of action for Camille Little, who scored a bucket and had a steal. She was very active on the defensive end of the floor, as advertised.
Second Quarter: Storm 35, Washington 24
Taj McWilliams-Franklin does not like her team being down double-digits. She came out of the timeout fired up and bulled her way to the basket for a couple of scores. Add in a layup by rookie Crystal Langhorne and the Mystics are back within 11 with possession after a Sue Bird timeout.
Washington has surprised the Storm with a couple of traps in the backcourt. Brian Agler responds with a timeout and is going to get Tanisha Wright in the game for some ballhandling help.
Storm on the Run
Second Quarter: Storm 31, Washington 17
Six straight points for the Storm since the timeout. It's a 10-2 run overall and the Storm has extended its lead to 14 points, the largest mark of the evening. Tree Rollins wants a timeout to talk it over. His team is getting outshot 52.2 percent to 26.1 percent right now and needs to stem the tide.
Second Quarter: Storm 25, Washington 17
A look at the leading scorers on the respective teams is revealing tonight. For Washington, Alana Beard remains the team's primary offense. Beard has 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting to lead all scorers, but the Mystics are going extended periods without a score. Beard has also taken nine of Washington's 21 shots. On the other side, Lauren Jackson has taken just three shot attempts. You might take that as the Storm ignoring Jackson, but she's been getting the ball inside. Washington has been doubling and that has led to open shots for her teammates.
Since Jackson scored 47 points against the Mystics in Washington last July, Head Coach Tree Rollins has been very aggressive about taking her away. Last year in Seattle, that meant a big game for Betty Lennox, who scored a then-career-high 34 points (she blew by that with 44 on Friday). No one player is really going off tonight, but the whole team is finding good looks and taking advantage.
Storm Showing Improvement in Focus Areas
End First Quarter: Storm 17, Washington 12
During this week of practice, Brian Agler emphasized defense and rebounding, explaining that there were some issues on offense as well but with limited time defense was more important. That's paid off so far. Alana Beard finished the quarter with a three-pointer that beat the buzzer, but it was still a really strong defensive quarter for the Storm. Washington shot 31.3 percent from the field and didn't do any damage on the offensive glass. Besides Beard, the rest of the Mystics scored just four points.
Nice run for Tanisha Wright as the backup point guard with Sue Bird getting a couple of minutes on the bench. Beard's three was the only Mystics score in that span.
Storm Crisp Early
First Quarter: Storm 11, Washington 7
Sue Bird knocked down a three-pointer on the Storm's first possession of the game, and that has set the tone so far tonight. Despite three turnovers, the Storm has executed its offense crisply to get good shot attempts, hitting 5-of-8 from the field in the early going. Bird has knocked down a pair of jumpers for five points, while Swin Cash has four points. The Storm held Washington to two points in the first 4:29 before Alana Beard got back-to-back buckets.
Before the game, Brian Agler said Camille Little would "absolutely" make her Storm debut tonight. Lo and behold, she's the second player off the bench, joining Tanisha Wright and three starters in the game after this timeout.
Backing Up Bird
Before today's deadline for contracts to be guaranteed for the remainder of the 2008 season, the Storm made a move yesterday, waiving point guard Kimberly Beck.
"Really, it didn't have as much to do with what she was doing or wasn't doing for us," explained Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "It had a lot to do with giving us more flexibility down the road if we want to use it. The trade for Camille (Little) absorbed a lot of cap room. We officially pick up where she left off and pay the rest of the salary, but we have to absorb the whole salary on our cap. To provide some flexibility for us, we wanted to make a move so we could possibly make a move down the road if we want to add somebody else."
Agler said the Storm would likely sign a perimeter player with the ability to play the point, probably to a seven-day contract, possibly as soon as Tuesday when players can first be signed to seven-day deals. For tonight, Tanisha Wright will be the only option behind Bird.
"I've got one game to suck it up," said Bird.
Bird has averaged 35.2 minutes per game this season, which would be a career high (she played 35.0 minutes as a rookie in 2002). Both coach and player are OK with that.
"I think she's playing a lot of minutes for us," Agler said. So, he was asked, you'd like to cut it down? "I didn't say that," he retorted. "Our challenge is to keep her on the floor as much as possible and keep her fresh."
"The minutes don't really bother me," said Bird. "Brian and I talk a lot about what's best for me in terms of subs and things like that."
Welcome back to KeyArena. The Storm returns to the friendly confines to host a Washington Mystics team that is as hot as just about anyone in the league. Washington has won four of its last five games and comes in tonight off of an overtime win over the L.A. Sparks at the STAPLES Center on Thursday. The Storm is looking to extend to 8-1 on the season at home. It should be a good one, so stay with us all night long for the latest.