Johnson Sparks Storm Rout of L.A., 77-57

August 20, 2013

The offense opened up the game during the first half.

The defense closed it out in the second half.

Temeka Johnson pumped in 18 points, including back-to-back shots early in the fourth quarter, and Tina Thompson had 17 points and 10 rebounds for her third double-double of the season as the Seattle Storm limited Los Angeles to 20 points through the final 20 minutes – just four in the fourth quarter – to rout the Sparks in KeyArena on Tuesday, 77-57.

“We’ve been talking about defense from Day 1,” Johnson said after the Storm (12-13) beat L.A. for the second straight time and snapped a six-game Sparks winning streak.

“The one thing I can say, and I’ll take it from Tanisha Wright, is we’ve gotten better every day,” Johnson added. “We get better every day, that’s the one thing we can hang our hats on.”

The 10 boards for Thompson moved her into a tie for No. 2 on the all-time WNBA list with Taj McWilliams-Franklin at 3,013. Thompson passed the 3,000 mark in last Saturday’s 77-70 victory against Indiana.

Johnson’s double-digit scoring performance was her first since she tallied 12 in an 80-65 victory at Phoenix on Aug. 6 – a span of five games. On Tuesday, she got 11 of those 18 points in the second half, none more crucial than her four in the fourth quarter: a driving lay-in from the left side with 6:59 left, and a runner from 13 feet straight in front at the 6:23 mark to make it 69-55.

“The games I wasn’t scoring, Tanisha and Tina were,” Johnson said. “I never get too concerned about scoring. I kind of let the game come to me. I continue to facilitate, and the more I open up things, the more things open up for me.”

With the victory, Seattle kept a grip on the fourth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Storm are now 2½ games ahead of fifth-place San Antonio, and remained 1½ behind third-place Phoenix with nine games left. The next three are on the road against those very teams: at Phoenix on Friday at 7 p.m., then two straight in San Antonio – Sunday at 1:30 p.m., and next Tuesday at 5.

“Right now, it’s not a matter of who we’re playing,” said Wright, who chipped in 12 points and a season-high nine assists, eight of those before halftime. “We have to have a tunnel vision on what we want to and then accomplish that.”

It was exactly a month ago on July 20 in Seattle that the Storm saw one get away against the Sparks, as Alana Beard scored with 10.2 seconds left to give L.A. a 65-64 victory. Seattle turned the tables five nights later in the Staples Center, 73-66.

But on Tuesday, the Storm led for all but a few moments of the first quarter. They were up by 17 late in the second quarter at 46-29, then capped off their highest-scoring first half of the season to take a 51-37 advantage into the locker room.

The Sparks (18-8) twice cut Seattle’s lead to eight in the second half, the last time at 63-55 on a foul line jumper by Beard with 7:49 remaining in the game.

But the Storm then denied Los Angeles on six straight trips downcourt, forcing three missed shots and coming up with three steals. At the other end were the two straight baskets by Johnson, a pair of free throws from Camille Little, and a free throw from Noelle Quinn. That made it 70-55 with 3:50 to go.

Nneka Ogwumike finally got the Sparks back on the board with a lay-in at the 3:40 mark. But they never scored again.

Allowing just four points in the fourth came a mere five nights after the Storm scored just six fourth-quarter points of their own in last Thursday’s 79-66 loss to Chicago in the Key.

“We just wanted to close the game out strong,” said Little, who had seven points, eight rebounds, and three steals. “In the past, we’ve played well in the first half and didn’t close out the way we wanted to, and they got back in the game. Tonight, there was a lull in the third quarter where they were only down eight or 10. We talked about it, went to refocus, we tried to be more aggressive, and it worked out. We got stops, we got rebounds, we got steals.”

Added head coach Brian Agler, “I thought we played pretty good defense the whole game, even in the first quarter when they were scoring. We did the things we had to do.

“The games that we’ve lost are the ones that we just have not scored – we had serious droughts in the course of the game,” Agler said. “But if we can find ways to score consistently throughout the game, then we can guard most teams for a period of time.”

Ogwumike led Los Angeles with 12 points. Candace Parker, who came in averaging 17.7, was limited to nine, her second straight single-digit outing in Seattle. But she did grab 10 of the Sparks’ 28 rebounds.

The only downside for the Storm on Tuesday was the departure of Shekinna Stricklen in the second quarter with a strained Achilles. She went out with 6:12 left, less than a minute after draining a 3-pointer to ignite a 17-3 Seattle surge that produced a 46-29 lead. She will be evaluated on Wednesday.

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