Storm Shoots Way to Sweep of Sparks
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | August 28, 2010
The threes came one after another during the second quarter, each one a dagger in the sides of the Los Angeles Sparks. Splash. Splash. Splash. The Seattle Storm's hot-shooting period helped erase an early deficit and gave the Storm the lead for good. Never seriously threatened in the fourth quarter, the Storm pulled away down the stretch to beat the Sparks 81-66 in Saturday's Game 2, sweep the best-of-three series two games to none and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2004.
The Storm came out slowly, playing sloppy basketball in the first quarter and struggling to move the ball against a Los Angeles defense that sold out to take away the paint and control Lauren Jackson. In an early timeout, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler reiterated to his team the importance of establishing Jackson in the post.
"(Coach Agler) called the timeout and told us we were playing a little bit individual, whereas our team definitely benefits from playing together and getting a few passes," said Jackson. "Once we started moving the ball around and finding open people, then everything started to fall into place."
The philosophy paid off in the second quarter. Swin Cash got the long-distance attack started early in the period, knocking down a three-pointer from the top of the key to cut the deficit to two points. Lauren Jackson followed with a three of her own on the Storm's next possession, then Cash dropped in another triple shortly thereafter.
With that, the floodgates were open. Cash would shoot a perfect 4-of-4 beyond the arc in the second quarter, while the Storm hit seven threes in nine attempts to outscore the Sparks 27-16 and take a six-point advantage to the break. Both marks tied WNBA playoff records for a quarter, and all seven three-pointers came off of assists.
"A theme of ours is try to bring the best out of each other," Agler said. "I think we did a good job as the game went on of really sharing the basketball. We spaced the floor well, we found open people and we played inside-out. They were double-teaming Lauren Jackson the whole series on post catches. She did a great job of throwing the ball back out and then we would make another pass or two and find open people."
The Sparks got as close as two points in the third quarter before a 6-0 Storm spurt helped reassert the team's superiority. The Storm then scored the first seven points of the final period, and Sue Bird - who scored all 10 of her 15 points in the fourth quarter - hit a series of big shots to keep Los Angeles at bay.
When the game and the series were over, Los Angeles Head Coach Jennifer Gillom sounded befuddled at how to contain the Storm.
"We hardly had an answer for this team," she said. "They were scoring big-time baskets that were hard for us defend. We've done everything we could to stop their big-time players and it was difficult. I thought defensively we had the energy and the effort, but when you make big shots like they did, there's not much you can do."
Despite facing a constant stream of double- and even triple-teams in the paint, Jackson still finished with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds. She was credited with two assists, but more frequently started the ball movement that ultimately led to a score. Four other Storm players handed out at least three assists as the Storm played hot potato with the basketball, always on the lookout for a better shot attempt.
Defensively, the Storm was able to frustrate the key Sparks players. Tina Thompson shot 5-of-15 from the field, as did DeLisha Milton-Jones. Combined, Los Angeles' two leading scorers were including 2-for-10 in the fourth quarter, when the Sparks made just 29.4 percent of their shot attempts, stifling any hope of a comeback.
If the Storm needed any additional motivation to close out the series in two games, it was provided earlier in the day when the Phoenix Mercury swept its way into the Western Conference Finals.
"It was very important to close out the series tonight knowing our next opponent closed out their series as well," said Jackson. "We need as much time as possible to get rest and focus our attention on Phoenix and making it to the Finals."
For the Storm, the series win snapped a pair of dubious streaks. The team had not won a playoff series since beating the Connecticut Sun in the 2004 WNBA Finals, losing in the Western Conference Semifinals each of the last five years. Three of those losses came to Los Angeles, and the Storm was 0-4 all-time in playoff series against the Sparks prior to Saturday.
"As long as I've playing, L.A. has been our No. 1 nemesis," Jackson said. "It's a great rivalry in sport. For me, it means a lot. The legacy that L.A. have in the WNBA is amazing. It doesn't matter who they've got or don't have on their roster, they're always going to be tough. I'm just glad that we got the win here. It definitely means a lot, but it's a stepping stone to where we want to go."