Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Los Angeles (Game 1)
Storm Holds Serve at Home
Final: Storm 79, Los Angeles 66
The Storm worked all season long to have the right to host two of the three games in this series. In the opener, the Storm made home court advantage stand up, testifying to the "We are Home Court Advantage" sign unfurled in the rafters before tipoff tonight. Like many of the Storm's wins, this game was anything but a rout. Still, the Storm maintained the lead virtually from start to finish and stayed comfortably ahead throughout the fourth quarter.
The Storm shot 56.1 percent from the field and got balanced scoring, with five starters scoring at least eight points and Jana Veselá coming off the bench to add a key 11 points. Swin Cash, whose energy stood out throughout the game, led the way with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. She was able to power her way to the basket for easy scores. Lauren Jackson scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds and Sue Bird handed out 12 assists while committing just three turnovers. The Storm held Los Angeles to 40.7 percent shooting. None of the Sparks starters shot better than 50 percent from the field.
The Storm will have two days of practice before heading down to L.A. for Game 2 on Saturday at 12 noon, again on ESPN2. The Storm will have a chance to sweep a series for just the second time in franchise history, having previously done so in the opening round of the 2004 playoffs against Minnesota. If the Sparks extend the series, we'll be back here at KeyArena next Tuesday for the deciding Game 3. Stay tuned for more as the Storm continues this playoff run.
Shutting the Door
Fourth Quarter: Storm 73, Los Angeles 57
Here comes the run for which the KeyArena crowd has been waiting. It required a little luck. With the shot clock running down, Camille Little was forced to hoist up an off-balance three-pointer from the top of the key. It caught the backboard square and banked in to give the Storm an 11-point lead. Tanisha Wright followed up with a second-chance triple of her own (on just the Storm's second offensive rebound of the night) and the Storm just got a Lauren Jackson turnaround to extend the lead to 16 points, 73-57. Jennifer Gillom took timeout and the Sparks are going to need a big run with just 3:02 left to steal Game 1 on the road. Time is running out on L.A.
Too Early to Wave Goodbye
Fourth Quarter: Storm 63, Los Angeles 55
After the Storm started the quarter with consecutive buckets to push the lead to 15, we saw something I can't remember ever seeing before at KeyArena (and neither could broadcasters Dick Fain and Adia Barnes) - the wave. If you're going to do the wave at a basketball game, it better be a 20-point lead. The Storm wasn't there yet, and as if on cue Los Angeles answered with a 7-0 run to make it a game once again. Actually, the story is eerily like Saturday's game between these teams, when the Sparks were able to walk their way all the way back before losing by one point. The Storm certainly doesn't want that kind of drama tonight.
The team's offensive execution needs to improve the rest of the way. We've seen a lot of contested shots against the shot clock recently, so it's no wonder the Storm hasn't scored in three and a half minutes.
Holding L.A. at Bay
End Third Quarter: Storm 59, Los Angeles 48
Well, the Storm was unable to deliver the knockout blow during that third quarter, but nor did Los Angeles ever make a run. The lead stayed somewhere around 10 points the entire quarter and is 11 as we head to the final period of play. For the Sparks to pull off a comeback, the team is going to need to find more scoring punch. Los Angeles has no more than 18 points in any quarter so far tonight and is shooting 37.8 percent from the field. Other than Kristi Toliver's spark off the bench and Tina Thompson's steady play, the Sparks have been hard-pressed to find scoring. DeLisha Milton-Jones has particularly struggled, scoring four points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Los Angeles did get some good news late in the period when Ticha Penicheiro was able to return to the floor. She never went to the locker room that I saw and apparently just tweaked her knee.
Third Quarter: Storm 54, Los Angeles 43
Since halftime, the physicality of this game has increased tremendously, leading to some sloppy, ugly basketball. I have to suspect Jennifer Gillom doesn't mind that result at all. Before the game, Gillom specifically mentioned that she did not feel the Sparks matched the Storm's physicality on Saturday. They have been equal to that task tonight. Los Angeles is also a little less organized than usual because Ticha Penicheiro has been on the bench nearly the entire third quarter after tweaking her left knee shortly after halftime. Kristi Toliver has provided scoring punch in place of Penicheiro. She leads the Sparks with 13 points.
During the timeout, the winners of this year's Stormy Award voting were revealed. Sue Bird and Swin Cash claimed the award for their performance of a scene from Talladega Nights. Their acceptance speech was a Cash rap with Bird beat-boxing, which is exactly as funny as you'd think. Look for it on stormbasketball.com within the next couple of days.
Double-Digit Lead at the Break
Halftime: Storm 43, Los Angeles 33
The Storm capped the half well. Sue Bird knocked down a three-pointer to give the team a 10-point advantage and Los Angeles did not score in the half's final 1:31, so that's the score as we head to the break. The Storm can feel good about the energy it brought in the early going, and the advantage is large enough that the Storm has a chance to throw a real knockout punch early in the second half.
At the same time, the Storm can't count on shooting 60 percent from the field again after halftime. To maintain this advantage, the team will have to do better in the other areas of the game. Surprisingly, the Storm had just one offensive rebound in the first half as the Sparks did a good job of sealing off the glass. The Storm also got to the free throw line just twice all half - those attempts came inside the first 1:05 of the game and the Storm has not been back since. Getting more points off of second chances and the charity stripe should help the Storm maintain this level of offensive efficiency.
Second Quarter: Storm 40, Los Angeles 33
This first half should be a celebration for the Storm, which is shooting 60.7 percent from the field and had several individuals putting up big numbers. However, with 1:25 left in the first half it's just a seven-point Storm lead. Why? Uncharacteristically poor defense at times along with some costly turnovers. Los Angeles isn't shooting the ball well, but the Sparks have gotten some very easy looks at times when the Storm has lost focus defensively. The turnovers have increased since Los Angeles started mixing man and zone defenses, confusing the Storm.
Birdy is Balling
Second Quarter: Storm 40, Los Angeles 29
On the 1150 AM KKNW broadcast, Sue Bird has already inspired references to her WNBA-record 14 playoff assists in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against Sacramento in 2004, a performance Bird recorded the day after having surgery to reset her broken nose. Well, that record might fall tonight. After handing out five assists in the first quarter, Bird has four more in the second period and nine for the game. She's got an excellent chance of reaching double-figures before halftime with 2:55 left to play in the quarter.
Meanwhile, the hot shooting - Jana Veselá is now a perfect 3-of-3 beyond the arc for 11 points - extended to the timeout, as Brad nailed a half-court shot to win the shooting contest. Congrats!
Veselá Coming Up Big
Second Quarter: Storm 35, Los Angeles 24
Before tonight's game, Jennifer Gillom called the battle of the benches crucial.
"I kind of put it on them a little bit," said Gillom of her reserves. "I told them, 'I know our starters are going to match up with them. It's a matter of our bench coming out and making a difference tonight.'"
Kristi Toliver has a couple of buckets off the bench for the Sparks, who have used just two reserves (Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton being the other), but the Storm has an 11-5 advantage in bench scoring. The reason? Jana Veselá. Playing her first WNBA playoff game, Veselá has been on fire. She's knocked down a pair of three-pointers and scored on an inbound pass she caught at the rim for a total of eight points, tying her with Swin Cash for Storm high-scoring honors.
Storm Stars Doing Their Thing
End First Quarter: Storm 25, Los Angeles 15
That's about how you draw it up for the first quarter of the playoffs. The KeyArena crowd is loud, the Storm is energetic and the team is playing crisp basketball. The Storm's trio of stars led the way, each in their own fashion. Swin Cash provided energy and ran the floor, scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds. Lauren Jackson was dominant in the paint, scoring six points. And Sue Bird was in charge of everything from the point, handing out five first-quarter assists, coming up with two steals and chipping in four points.
Brian Agler talked the last few days about not wanting to come out flat to start this series, as he felt the Storm did after resting starters in the final couple of games the last two seasons. Certainly, in terms of the very early going, that has not been the case tonight.
LJ Leads Storm to Fast Start
First Quarter: Storm 12, Los Angeles 6
It's a very different, more aggressive mentality we've seen from Lauren Jackson so far tonight as compared to Saturday's regular-season finale. Jackson took eight threes and shot just two free throws in that game. Already tonight, she's matched those two attempts from the foul line while trying all three of her shots in the paint. Jackson knocked a pair of them down and has six points. The Storm has scored the last eight of the game to open up a 12-6 game and make the crowd an early factor. Los Angeles Head Coach Jennifer Gillom quickly called timeout. The Sparks did a fantastic job of answering every Storm run on Saturday. We'll see if they can do the same tonight.
You are Home Court Advantage
Just prior to the start of tonight's game, the Storm unveiled a new banner at the south end of KeyArena honoring fans for their role in an undefeated 17-0 2010 regular season at home. The banner reads "We Are Home Court Advantage," paying tribute to what was voted the league's best home court advantage in WNBA.com's survey of league general managers prior to the season. You can't tell from afar, but the sign is dotted with the names of more than 6,000 Storm fans and employees. Take a look at this close-up (featuring a familiar name at the top of the letter):
Aaron Last/Storm Photos
Sparks Staying Loose
If you heard some laughter from the back hallways of KeyArena before tonight's game, don't worry - it was just Los Angeles Head Coach Jennifer Gillom chasing around Tina Thompson's son Dylan after chatting with the media. Yes, the Sparks are loose.
"I've never seen this team so relaxed and so focused," Gillom said. "They're really loose, which is where I want them. I don't want them to feel pressure. Nobody expected us to be here. We're happy to be here, but we also know we have a chance because we're playing our best basketball. What better time to play a team like Seattle?"
With a core group of veterans who have reams of postseason experience on which to draw, the Sparks are confident going into this series.
Storm Sticking to Routine
Storm Head Coach Brian Agler emphasized before tonight's game that his philosophy is to keep things as similar possible to the approach his team took during a very successful 2010 regular season.
"We just had a typical walkthrough today - tried to stay in our same routine," he said.
Agler is taking a big-picture approach to the start of the playoffs, noting that it's not worth worrying at this point.
"When you're in our situation, you're concerned about everything," he said. "You might as well try not to be concerned about anything because there's a lot of things you can't control."
His preparation complete, Agler was able to watch part of tonight's Game 1 between Washington and Atlanta. He noted it was relaxing to take his mind off the upcoming game, but not to see the Dream - a No. 4 seed - go into the Verizon Center and defeat the top-seeded Mystics in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal series.
Aaron Last/Storm Photos
For the last time in the 2010 regular season, hell from KeyArena. We finish up the regular season tonight the same way we started it just a little over three months ago - with a matchup against the archrival Los Angeles Sparks. Before tonight's game, Los Angeles Head Coach Jennifer Gillom - relatively new to the rivalry in her first year coaching the Sparks, though she did play for L.A. in 2003 - observed how surprised she was this year at the strength of the rivalry between the two teams. KeyArena is just about ready to go for this special 8 p.m. tipoff with many fans sporting the "I Am Home Court Advantage" T-shirts they received on the way in. If you're watching at home, you can easily spot those T-shirts, which are bright green.