Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Los Angeles
Another Decisive Win for Storm
Final: Storm 82, Los Angeles 60
As Dick Fain said during his postgame interview with Jana Veselá on the KeyArena floor, this is starting to feel a little repetitive - not, I'd imagine, that any Storm fans would complain. By completing a 22-point win over the Los Angeles Sparks, the Storm moved to 6-0 at home this season and 9-1 overall. After a few early come-from-behind wins, the Storm's last three victories at the Key have come by an average of 21 points, helping the team maintain the WNBA's best point differential.
Tonight, the Storm did it at both ends of the floor. The shooting wasn't fantastic tonight, but the Storm had 13 offensive rebounds and made 20 free throws in 23 attempts. The Storm had four players score double figures, led by 17 from Lauren Jackson (with nine rebounds) and 15 points and five assists from Sue Bird. Camille Little also deserves to be spotlighted after scoring nine of her 13 points at the charity stripe and coming up with a career-high five steals. The bench was a factor, with Veselá, Svetlana Abrosimova and Le'coe Willingham combining for 22 points.
On the defensive end, Los Angeles shot 41.4 percent from the field and turned the ball over a whopping 20 times. The Storm had a 27-12 advantage in points off of turnovers. Candace Parker was held to 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting and turned it over five times. Tina Thompson (10) was the only other Sparks starter to reach double-figures.
After some time off, the Storm will head out on the road for a coaching reunion tour - back-to-back games at Indiana and New York on Thursday and Friday against the two former head coaches in Storm history, Lin Dunn and Anne Donovan. Catch both of those games via LiveAccess right here on stormbasketball.com. The Storm returns home a week from Sunday, hosting the San Antonio Silver Stars on Dads & Daughters Night, which happens to fall on Father's Day this year. Get your tickets now and join us for that game! The way the Storm has played at home this season, you won't want to miss it.
Storm Hanging On
Fourth Quarter: Storm 74, Los Angeles 59
Los Angeles has made a little bit of a dent into the lead, which stands at 15 with 2:54 to play, but with so little time left Jennifer Gillom is still going deep into her bench. Rookie Chanel Mokango checked in at the timeout along with fellow rookie Andrea Riley and second-year player Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. The Storm still has three starters on the floor to ensure things don't go South, though Ashley Robinson will get her first action of the evening.
KeyArena Feeling It
Fourth Quarter: Storm 68, Los Angeles 49
It's a strong crowd on a Friday night here at KeyArena, and they are fired up after Jana Veselá's three-pointer a moment ago pushed the Storm's lead to 19 points, the largest it has been all night. Sensing the game starting to slip away, Jennifer Gillom called another timeout. With 8:42 left, the Sparks have a sizeable margin to make up, and they'll have to contend with not only the five players on the court but also everyone in the stands (some of whom were in fact on the court for the Doppler Train during the timeout).
Storm Builds the Lead
End Third Quarter: Storm 63, Los Angeles 47
Well, it wasn't always pretty during the third quarter, but the Storm still managed to push its lead from 13 points at halftime to 16 going to the final period. Lauren Jackson played a big role in the quarter, scoring six points and taking a punishment down low without losing her composure. Camille Little also did excellent work in the paint, and Jana Veselá came off the bench late in the quarter to pick up the Storm after Swin Cash was called for her fourth foul. She's really giving the Storm good minutes right now. Sue Bird, the team's leading scorer in the first half, had only one bucket in the third, but it was a big one - a drive just before the buzzer to make the lead 16.
Now, the Storm's defense will be tested after the fourth-quarter letdowns Brian Agler talked about earlier this week. With another 10 minutes of strong defense and heady offensive play, the Storm will be able to put this game away.
Third Quarter: Storm 52, Los Angeles 39
Interesting turn of events here in the third quarter. For whatever reason, tensions started running high early in the period, and we've now got playoff-level intensity on both sides. Our officiating crew has tried to clamp down, but I think it's too late, so all that means is a parade to the free throw line. With 4:25 to play, both teams are in the penalty, so we'll be shooting freebies the rest of the way.
The bad news for the Storm is Tanisha Wright picked up her fourth foul and three more starters (Swin Cash, Lauren Jackson and Camille Little) have three apiece. The good news is the Sparks have yet to make up any ground. Outside of the foul shots, neither team has been able to get much going at the offensive end, which hurts Los Angeles' hopes of coming back in this game.
Halftime: Storm 42, Los Angeles 29
I was fortunate during halftime to have the chance to serve as one of the judges for the fan dunk contest alongside Sonics legend Slick Watts, Doppler and emcee Shellie Hart. Five fans from the KeyArena stands, along with the Assistant to Doppler, competed to do their best dunks off a trampoline. That's harder than it sounds, especially if you have no experience, but two of our three finalists slammed it home. Congrats to our winner and all our contestants.
By the way, as far as entertainment, I get the sense the crowd enjoyed Brian Agler's interview with Kyler from the Storm Dance Troupe (during which he revealed that his favorite dance move is "the stanky leg") as much as the Storm staff did in the office the last couple of days. We'll get that on the website shortly so fans who weren't here tonight can see it.
Balanced Storm Scoring
Halftime: Storm 42, Los Angeles 29
Lots of balance for the Storm on offense during the first half. Sue Bird is the only player on either side in double figures with 10 points, having a lot of success running the pick-and-roll and hitting pull-up jumpers, but Swin Cash has nine, Lauren Jackson eight and Camille Little six, so there's been plenty of balance. The Storm shot an excellent 51.4 percent from the field.
Still, the Sparks rallied a bit late in the half to get within 13, and there's an entire half of basketball left to play, so the Storm still has work to do to get a victory.
Abrosimova Impactful Again
Second Quarter: Storm 40, Los Angeles 24
I had a good chat with Svetlana Abrosimova earlier this week that I've yet to work into a story. She talked about how, as a reserve, she likes being able to watch the game to get a sense for the flow and see what she needs to bring to the court. I pointed out that has usually been energy, but she noted sometimes the Storm needs to slow things down and execute and she can offer that as well. Abrosimova continues to play at a very high level. She's got five points in the first half and helped lead a Storm run immediately after entering.
By the way, Candace Parker has returned to the game. She's been quiet in the first half, scoring just two points thus far.
Tough Storm Defense
Second Quarter: Storm 35, Los Angeles 20
Honestly, I felt like the Storm played pretty good defense in back-to-back games last weekend, the win at Los Angeles and blowout victory over the Phoenix Mercury at KeyArena. My standard isn't quite as high as Brian Agler's. During practice this week, Agler pointed to the fact that both teams had strong fourth quarters against the Storm. The latter period might be excused by the fact that the Storm led by 30-plus points and had its second unit on the floor, but as Agler pointed out, he has to have the same expectations for reserves because "They have Bing on their jerseys, don't they?"
That demanding philosophy is paying off for the Storm tonight, which has played outstanding defense in holding Los Angeles to 36.8 percent shooting and forced seven turnovers in building a 15-point lead. The only issue for the Storm defensively has been a season-long quibble, putting opponents on the free throw line. The Sparks got into the bonus and have made four free throws in six attempts.
Storm's Execution Strong
End First Quarter: Storm 26, Los Angeles 13
The thing that really stands out from the first 10 games of this season, more so than the results, is how well the Storm has executed. I'm sitting on the baseline at courtside for the first time for Storm games, and you really get a sense of what players are seeing down here. You can follow Sue Bird's eyes as she decides what to do coming off a pick-and-roll, for example. Right now, Bird has a lot of options, and she and her teammates are making great decisions and sharing the basketball to get good shot attempts.
Late in the first quarter, L.A. center Candace Parker was hit in her left shoulder and immediately left the game and headed to the locker room. Parker dislocated the shoulder during her last NCAA Tournament at Tennessee and continues to play with a protective sleeve. She returned from the locker room at the quarter break and I would imagine she'll be able to return, though we have not yet heard that officially.
On the Run
First Quarter: Storm 20, Los Angeles 7
Following the timeout, the Storm's offense bogged down a little bit, allowing the Sparks to get back within three points. The Storm has extended the lead over the last minute on a half, going on a 10-0 run that includes a pair of hits from beyond the arc. It's a 13-point Storm advantage with just over two minutes left in the first quarter, and Jennifer Gillom has now used two timeouts in the period.
Storm Locked In
First Quarter: Storm 8, Los Angeles 2
After giving the team two days off following Sunday's win over Phoenix, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler was pleased with the way the team responded in the two days of practice. That same level of focus has carried over to the early portion of the game, as the Storm has come out with great defense to take an early 8-2 lead and force Jennifer Gillom to take a quick timeout. The Sparks have one score in five possessions, twice turning the ball over. L.A. will have a new backcourt after the timeout, with Betty Lennox and Kristi Toliver entering the game.
Speaking of Lennox, she was greeting old friends just before tip-off. Among them was her brother Clarence, who is behind the Sparks bench but wearing Storm colors (OK, it's more of an olive green, but it's green nonetheless). After two new Storm fans were moved to courtside as part of the Alaska Airlines First Class Upgrade, PA Announcer Matt Pitman asked fans attending their first game to raise their hands. Clarence did, as a joke, but he can't fool us.
Before the game, in a ceremony at center court, Storm CEO Karen Bryant presented center Lauren Jackson with the WNBA's Western Conference Player of the Month award presented by Kia Motors for May. Jackson was named the first winner of the award, which is new this season, based on her role in the Storm's 5-1 start to the season in the month of May.
A Different Sparks Team
There are a handful of reasons the Los Angeles Sparks team that plays the Storm tonight will not be quite the same as the one Seattle has beaten twice so far this season. First, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler pointed out that this is the first time the Sparks have been able to turn their full attention to preparing for the Storm. The first two times they played, Los Angeles was playing the second game of a back-to-back both times.
Second, we should see Ticha Penicheiro get some run. She did play 21 minutes in the Storm's season opener, but sat out Saturday's game with a sprained ankle. Penicheiro is still limited, but she will start tonight. From there, Sparks Head Coach Jennifer Gillom says she'll gauge how Penicheiro is feeling on the court.
"If I see her grimace at any point," said Gillom, "I'll get her out. It's not like she's going to tell you she's hurting. She'll stay in there if she can."
Lastly, Los Angeles figures to benefit from coming off a much-needed win on Tuesday.
"That was huge," Gillom said. "I really think it will help us get over that hump we need to get over."
After a nice stretch of four days, including two days off from practice, the Storm returns to action at KeyArena tonight, hosting the Los Angeles Sparks. It's the third meeting of the young season between the two teams, and after two wins the Storm has a chance to win the season series tonight. Los Angeles comes in with added confidence, however, after finally breaking through and winning a close game (beating Phoenix by one point at the Staples Center on Tuesday) after a series of narrow losses. It should be a great night of basketball and off-court entertainment, so stay with us all night long for the latest.