Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Phoenix
Storm Moves to 8-1
Final: Storm 97, Phoenix 74
The Mercury's reserves played well and hard in the fourth quarter to make the final score respectable and keep the Storm from reaching the century mark for the third time in franchise history. That shouldn't take anything away from how well the Storm played in a 23-point victory over the defending champs. It's hard to pick which end of the floor was the Storm's strength. The 37-point third quarter was, I believe, the second highest total in franchise history. Meanwhile, Phoenix was limited to 36.4 percent shooting and 6-of-24 from beyond the arc.
All five Storm starters scored double-figures, including precisely 16 points and six rebounds from all three frontcourt starters (Swin Cash, Lauren Jackson and Camille Little). Still, I think the best player on the court tonight was Sue Bird, who had 12 points and a season-high 11 assists for her first double-double of 2010. The bench contributed too, with three reserves scoring eight points.
The Storm will have the week to rest and practice before getting back to action on Friday, hosting the Los Angeles Sparks here at KeyArena. The rivalry between the teams has lost no luster, and the Sparks will surely badly want to hang a loss on the Storm after losing the first two head-to-head meetings of the season. Join us for the first Friday night game of the season - Get your tickets now! And don't forget to arrive early since the first 4,000 fans will receive a Storm Team Poster
Extended Bench Minutes
Fourth Quarter: Storm 91, Phoenix 57
One of the nice things about the way the Storm has played tonight is that it will mean a chance to rest the starters in the fourth quarter on the second half of a back-to-back. The one exception is Tanisha Wright, who has been playing the point as she did Tuesday against Atlanta because of Alison Lacey's illness. It doesn't appear we'll see Lacey tonight either.
The Storm's reserves have gotten a lot of chance to play over the last four games, which should be useful to their development, especially for youngsters like Abby Bishop. Jana Veselá has also looked for her offense more tonight than ever before, which should help her going forward.
Near-Perfect Quarter for the Storm
End Third Quarter: Storm 87, Phoenix 48
Given that the WNBA did not move to the quarter system until 2006, I can be pretty confident that the Storm has never played a better 10 minutes of basketball than the third quarter of tonight's game. The Storm outscored Phoenix 37-13 to extend the lead to an incredible 39 points after three quarters. The Storm has won lopsided games at KeyArena before, but never against a team t he caliber of the defending WNBA champions. The Storm shot 12-of-18 in the quarter while limiting the Mercury to 2-of-15 shooting.
In a fitting capper to the period, officials added .5 seconds to the clock after a video replay. The Storm came out of what figured to be the between-quarter huddle and ran a lob for Jana Veselá, who scored at the buzzer. Incredible.
Storm Opens up the Lead
Third Quarter: Storm 72, Phoenix 45
No letup from the Storm in this third quarter as the team has scored 22 points in the first 5:17, shooting 7-of-8 from the field to extend the lead to 27 points midway through the period. Brian Agler talked about this after the Storm's win in San Antonio a week ago, noting how rare it is for a team with a big halftime lead to keep pouring it on after the break. The Storm simply looks like the more energetic, more organized team. Phoenix was able to get some stops at the beginning of the second quarter, but other than that the Storm's offense has been incredible.
Mercury point guard Temeka Johnson appeared to roll her left ankle a moment ago, forcing Corey Gaines to take timeout. She was able to limp to the bench, where she is getting the ankle re-taped by Phoenix Athletic trainer Tamara Poole. We'll see whether she returns. At this point, it might not make sense to push it.
Halftime: Storm 50, Phoenix 35
It's Girl Scout Night at the Key, so it was only fitting that at halftime several Girl Scouts took on selected fans (including the Assistant to Doppler) in a girl scout cookie eating contest. Everybody raced to finish three varieties of girl scout cookies, but in the end it was fan Nathan who was our Kobiyashi, emerging victorious. Congrats to our participants. As @seattlesuzuki pointed out on Twitter, there were no losers since everyone got to eat cookies.
Running to the Locker Room
Halftime: Storm 50, Phoenix 35
Diana Taurasi's three-pointer pulled the Storm within five late in the first half, but it was all Storm thereafter. The home team finished the first half with a 10-0 run, getting a three-pointer from Sue Bird and a three-point play from Camille Little as well as a Sue Bird jumper on the last possession of the first half to extend the lead to 15 at the break.
Bird has been fantastic tonight, balancing scoring and distributing the basketball. She's got nine points and seven assists as well as four rebounds (dare we invoke the possibility of a triple-double?). Swin Cash leads the Storm with 11 points and Little has also scored nine points, while Lauren Jackson has added seven points and five boards. Le'coe Willingham has scored six off the bench. The Storm is shooting a solid 48.8 percent from the field with 10 turnovers while holding Phoenix to 3-of-13 shooting from beyond the arc (1-of-6 for Diana Taurasi). It was as great half of basketball, but the Storm will need another one to emerge victorious.
Stormin' Stars at the Sun
Second Quarter: Storm 38, Phoenix 28
To promote voting for WNBA vs. USA Basketball: The Stars at the Sun, limited-edition T-shirts are available in the arena tonight featuring each of the five Storm starters on the ballot (Sue Bird, Tanisha Wright, Swin Cash, Camille Little and Lauren Jackson). Fans are voting in the arena to send the Storm to Connecticut's Mohegan Sun Arena for this year's midseason classic, and I hope you're doing your part online. You can vote daily, and do so by clicking here.
With her third rebound tonight, Swin Cash reached 1,500 for her WNBA career. Cash is the 19th player in league history to the milestone.
Phoenix Walking Down the Lead
Second Quarter: Storm 33, Phoenix 26
The Mercury has yet to make a true run per se, but has held the Storm to five points in the first 4:17 of the second quarter and gotten back within seven points (though Swin Cash is headed to the charity stripe after this timeout to try to extend the lead). As Brian Agler anticipated, DeWanna Bonner has been a difference-maker off the bench, scoring six early points.
"I think they're an improved team since the last time we played them," said Agler, referring to the Storm's win in Phoenix on May 22. "When we played them down there, they turned the ball over quite a bit. That's typically not the way they like to play. Bonner's more of a focal point in their offense. We'll have to put some emphasis there. But they're still trying to do the same things."
Storm Efficient on Offense
End First Quarter: Storm 28, Phoenix 17
It's hard to play a whole lot better on offense than the Storm did in the first quarter. After Phoenix switched to its rover zone coming out of the timeout, the Storm torched it for four consecutive scores. The Mercury has had a tough time rebounding out of the zone and the Storm is moving the ball extraordinarily well, handing out 10 assists (five by Sue Bird) on 12 baskets. I especially like the bench playing a big role with three reserves - Svetlana Abrosimova, Jana Veselá and Le'coe Willingham - in the lineup to close the quarter.
Storm Comes Out Strong
First Quarter: Storm 14, Phoenix 6
Even though the Storm played last night, the home team seems to have all the energy in the first five minutes of this game. The Storm holds an eight-three advantage and has been quicker to loose balls, getting good looks on offense and contesting Phoenix at the other end of the floor. It's an early eight-point lead and a very good crowd tonight at KeyArena is already fully engaged in the game.
Moment of Silence
Before the National Anthem, fans observed a moment of silence in honor of the late John Wooden, the legendary former UCLA coach who passed away at age 99 on Friday. Of course, calling Wooden the UCLA coach doesn't really do justice to his impact on the sport of basketball, and that includes the WNBA. I'll have more on that topic on stormbasketball.com tomorrow.
Lacey Back Dressed
After missing the last two games and not traveling to Los Angeles due to flu-like symptoms, Alison Lacey is dressed for tonight's game. Brian Agler said that Lacey, who first began feeling ill prior to Tuesday's game against Atlanta, is "feeling a lot better." However, she is not participating fully in pregame warmups, so we may not see her in the game.
Back to Back
As mentioned, this is the Storm's first back-to-back set of 2010. I was asked what kind of impact that has, leading me to dig out this semi-ancient column showing teams actually played better in back-to-back games in 2004. This one is especially difficult for the Storm, though, because last night's game tipped off at 8 p.m. and the Storm plays at 6 tonight. The Storm took the second flight back from L.A. this morning to get a little more rest, arriving in town at 1:00 p.m.
"You have to look at the big picture first and hopefully put your team in the best position to have success," explained Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "That was, to me, get rest."
The Storm looks to complete the first back-to-back of the young season undefeated tonight, hosting the Phoenix Mercury at KeyArena after defeating the Los Angeles Sparks outdoors in yesterday's Sunset Showdown. The Storm extended the best start in franchise history to 7-1 and improved to 5-0 against Eastern Conference foes. Both of those marks will be on the line tonight as the defending WNBA champions visit the Key for the first time all season. It should be a good one, so stay with us all night long for the latest.