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Final Storm Win Symbolic of Record-Setting Season

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Kevin Pelton, | Sept. 17, 2010

To understand what made the Seattle Storm so special during the 2010 season, all observers had to do was watch the team's final game. To beat the Atlanta Dream in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals and secure the second championship in franchise history, the Storm had to overcome a third-quarter deficit in front of a hostile crowd at Atlanta's Philips Arena. Getting contributions from all five starters, the Storm overcame the odds as the team did so many times all season long.

Atlanta led 59-53 with 3:10 left in the third quarter. Compounding the problem for the Storm, the Dream was in the midst of a 10-2 run that had emboldened the home crowd. For the first time all game, the Storm looked rattled, turning the ball over in the face of Atlanta's full-court pressure and giving up the transition buckets on which the Dream thrived.

"She was big about three, four times tonight. Those threes were so important."
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The game changed suddenly when Storm forward Swin Cash put together consecutive makes from beyond the three-point line to tie the game. Sue Bird added another triple and, just like that, the Storm had a lead it would never relinquish.

"The way they were playing in the third quarter, we could have rolled over and died," said Bird in the victorious locker room. "But that's not us. It wasn't us at Phoenix, down 12 with three minutes. It's just not us."

The enduring legacy of the 2010 Storm will be the unprecedented success the team enjoyed. However, for those who followed the Storm closely the team's trademark was not dominance but an ability to find a way to win no matter the circumstances.

"To be honest, what I'll actually remember?" said Bird. "It wasn't easy. I'm going to remember all the hard moments, because that's what gave us the character to pull through and win."

Nearly half of the Storm's regular-season wins came in games the team trailed going to the fourth quarter. Though Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals at Phoenix was the Storm's only final-period comeback of the postseason, all three wins in the WNBA Finals were just as gritty and hard-fought.

Poise was a key element as well. No one epitomized that more than Bird, who made so many crucial shots throughout the season, including the game-winning buckets in Game 2 against the Mercury and Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. But Bird got plenty of help. With Atlanta stepping up its pressure in Game 3, the Storm turned to guard Tanisha Wright and forwards Cash and Camille Little to get the ball across half court before Bird initiated the offense. The strategy minimized turnovers and helped the Storm milk the clock down the stretch.

The biggest stretch of the game might have come at the start of the fourth quarter, when Head Coach Brian Agler sought to get Bird a rest. With the league's best point guard watching from the bench, the Storm extended what was a tenuous lead, helping build a big enough margin to withstand a late Dream run. Without the deeper bench that has played a key role all season long, the Storm might not have been able to get Bird rested for the stretch.

The Storm ended up winning Game 3 without a single player scoring 20 points, which helps explain why a team that featured the league's regular-season and Finals MVP (Lauren Jackson) could rely so relatively little on one player. Atlanta was able to contain Jackson's scoring on Thursday with double-teams--she attempted just nine shots, scoring 15 points--but that only opened up opportunities for the Storm's other players to shine.

In Game 3, Cash might have been the brightest of the team's stars. She led the team with 18 points, adding seven rebounds and four assists. None of her scores, naturally, were more important than the game-turning threes.

"She was big about three, four times tonight," said Little. "Those threes were so important. It was a relief for us. It made us play harder on defense and work harder on offense too."

It was Little who ended up making the game's most critical shots, a pair of free throws with 6.0 seconds left that forced the Dream to try to attempt a three to tie the game on its final possession. Little was 9-of-12 at the line on the evening and finished the Finals averaging 14.0 points and 9.0 rebounds. Wright, who arrived the year after the Storm won the 2004 championship and might have been more excited than anyone to reach the WNBA's pinnacle, chipped in 13 points.

The Storm's depth and willingness to share the credit made the team nearly impossible to stop.

"It doesn't matter," said Cash, "if I scored 20 points or you scored 20 points - they're going to say 'WNBA champion.' That, to me, is the feeling for a lot of players who have never done this before."

That mentality carried the Storm to one of the finest seasons in league history. The team matched records set by the Houston Comets and the Los Angeles Sparks during the early years of the WNBA. Since the league has reached maturity, no team has enjoyed the Storm's success. Despite resting starters late in the regular season, the Storm won two more games than any team had since the advent of the 34-game schedule. The Storm became the first team since the WNBA Finals expanded to a best-of-five series to sweep its way through the postseason and the only team in league history to finish the regular season and playoffs unbeaten at home.

"It will be a stretch for anybody to ever do and accomplish what you guys have done this year," Agler told the team in the locker room.

There was no better way for the Storm to cap that season than with a team effort to come from behind in Game 3.