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2008: Resilient Storm Sets Records
Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | October 23, 2008
It would be no stretch to say that the Seattle Storm's 2008 campaign began with higher expectations than any in franchise history. After 2007 saw the Storm finish with the team's worst record in six years and get swept out of the playoffs, the offseason brought wholesale changes.
While a new look on the floor was to be expected in the wake of three straight first-round postseason exits, the bigger uncertainty heading into 2008 surrounded the Storm's future in Seattle. On Sept. 21, Professional Basketball Club Chairman Clayton Bennett announced the team would play 2008 at KeyArena while leaving open the Storm's long-term fate. That was resolved on Jan. 8, when the Storm was sold to Force 10 Hoops L.L.C., an ownership group made up of four local businesswomen - Chairperson Anne Levinson, Lisa Brummel, Ginny Gilder and Dawn Trudeau.
A day later, the Storm made another major announcement. Head Coach Anne Donovan had abruptly resigned on Nov. 30 after five seasons in Seattle highlighted by the 2004 WNBA championship. After an extensive search, former Columbus Quest and Minnesota Lynx head man Brian Agler was introduced as the third head coach in franchise history.
With the WNBA and its players completing negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement by month's end, Agler set to work retooling the roster around Lauren Jackson and a re-signed Sue Bird. The Storm lost starting guard Betty Lennox to the Atlanta Dream in the Feb. 6 Expansion Draft and on the same day dealt forward Iziane Castro Marques and the No. 8 pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft to the Dream in exchange for Roneeka Hodges and Atlanta's fourth overall selection.
When free agency opened two weeks later, the Storm moved quickly, dealing the newly-acquired pick to Detroit in exchange for All-Star forward and Olympian Swin Cash. In March, the Storm added another legendary player to the mix, signing three-time MVP Sheryl Swoopes as a free agent after Swoopes had spent her entire 11-year WNBA career with the Houston Comets. Still, Agler was not done, bringing in 1999 WNBA MVP Yolanda Griffith in April to complete the mix.
While the Storm suffered a loss during training camp when incumbent center Janell Burse opted to sit out the 2008 season, the team still entered the season with the most decorated starting lineup ever assembled in the WNBA. Together, Bird, Swoopes, Cash, Jackson and Griffith had won nine WNBA championships, six MVP awards, seven Olympic gold medals and appeared in 26 All-Star Games. Yet questions persisted over the Storm's depth, the age of veterans Griffith and Swoopes and the ability of the superstars to put their egos aside for the sake of the team.
The new-look Storm debuted on May 17 at KeyArena against the Chicago Sky. The critics were feeling smug when the Sky took a nine-point lead shortly after halftime. From there on, however, it was all Storm. The team followed with a 25-9 run and led by as many as 15. At game's end, players pulled the members of Force 10 Hoops into their postgame huddle, celebrating their first game as owners. The comeback set the stage for a rally from a 13-point deficit three nights later against Sacramento, but the most drama was yet to come. On May 22 in Phoenix, the Storm staged the second-biggest comeback in franchise history, overcoming a 21-point halftime deficit.
Despite the win over the Mercury, the early part of the season saw two very different Storm teams. In the friendly confines of KeyArena, the Storm was dominant. Away from Seattle, the team struggled. Sue Bird's late layup gave the Storm a 64-63 win over Houston at the Key on June 1, moving the Storm to 4-1. However, the team was then swept on the road. The pattern continued until Connecticut snapped the Storm's nine-game home winning streak dating back to the end of the 2008 season. A loss the following Tuesday in Los Angeles dropped the Storm to .500 at 9-9.
After the loss to the Sparks, something clicked. The addition of forward Camille Little, acquired from Atlanta for a 2009 second-round pick to improve the Storm's depth, played a factor. Meanwhile, the Storm's previously frigid outside shooting began to pick up while the defense clicked in. The result was a franchise-recordseven-game winning streak that included a triumphant 70-52 win at the Key in the rematch with the Sparks. The Storm won the first six games by double-figures, including the second road win of the season on July 8 at Sacramento, a dominant performance in an arena where the Storm had little previous success.
Following the July 12 win over Los Angeles, reigning MVP Jackson left the Storm to join her Australian National Team and train for the upcoming Olympics. The Storm had been 1-10 without Jackson the previous five seasons, but the team rallied without her, taking advantage of excellent play by Little as Jackson's replacement in the starting lineup. The Storm split a four-game road trip, matching the two road wins with Jackson in the lineup, and went into the Olympic Break on the strength of a 77-71 home win over a Sacramento team that had won seven straight games itself.
While Bird returned from Beijing a gold medalist as the starting point guard for the U.S. National Team, the Olympics were not as kind to Jackson. During training, she suffered an impingement of her right ankle, seeing a bone spur break off and painfully lodge in her ankle. Jackson played through in an attempt to claim elusive gold only to see Aussie teammate Penny Taylor sprain her ankle. With their stars limited, the Opals were no match for the U.S. and Jackson had to settle for a third straight silver. Following the Olympics, she had to undergo ankle surgery, knocking her out for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs.
As the WNBA returned to action, the Storm again demonstrated the team's resiliency, most dramatically during a 2-1 road trip played without Jackson and largely without Swoopes (limited by a sore heel). The latter win, another comeback at Chicago buoyed by 13 fourth-quarter points from Bird, tied the Storm's franchise record of 20 wins and clinched a playoff berth. The Storm would get the record-setting 21st win two nights later against Minnesota, albeit in a game that saw Cash aggravate her troublesome back and Swoopes suffer a scary concussion. Having clinched home-court advantage, the Storm played a makeshift lineup in beating Atlanta 77-72 in the home finale for win number 22. The game completed a 16-1 home season, tying the WNBA record for most home wins.
The playoffs would bring a challenging matchup against the Storm's long-time rivals, the Los Angeles Sparks. A year earlier, with three-time MVP Lisa Leslie out of the lineup after giving birth, the Sparks had limped to a last-place finish. Their reward, after winning the draft lottery, was a chance to pair Leslie with Tennessee phenom Candace Parker. Neither would disappoint, Parker ultimately becoming the first rookie to win MVP. Yet poor guard play doomed Los Angeles to inconsistency, including a home loss to lowly Atlanta that ended the team's pursuit of home-court advantage.
Still, because the Storm was banged up, the Sparks were overwhelming favorites in the media. Swoopes entered the series having not played a game in nearly two weeks since the concussion, while Cash's status was in doubt up to the final hours before Game 1 in L.A. The history of the series also favored the Sparks, who eliminated the Storm in the first round in both 2002 and 2005.
Game 1 did nothing to change the league-wide perspective about the series. Playing at home, Los Angeles raced out to a 14-3 lead early and led by 17 at the half. The Storm was able to rally as close as six after halftime before the Sparks closed the door on a 77-69 victory. The Storm shut down stars Leslie and Parker, who combined for 21 points on 8-of-19 shooting, but L.A.'s guards stepped up to score a combined 38 points, taking advantage of open shots created by Storm double-teams in the paint.
The series shifted settings to Seattle for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon. This time, the script was almost completely flipped, with the Storm starting well (a 12-2 run to open the game), holding a halftime lead (limiting the Sparks to 15 first-half points) and withstanding a late run to make things interesting, ultimately pulling away. The Storm got 20 points from Bird and a vintage 16-point, four-steal effort from Swoopes in the 64-50 win, holding Los Angeles to 30.8 percent shooting and forcing 20 turnovers.
The Storm's win set up a winner-take-all Game 3 Tuesday night back at KeyArena, where the Storm had lost just once in 18 games all season. This time, no team claimed early momentum, neither leading by more than five points in the first quarter. An 8-0 run gave Los Angeles the advantage heading to the second quarter, and the Sparks never trailed in the period, taking a seven-point lead to the half. A 10-2 run to start the second half pushed the advantage to 15, and the Storm was still down 14 at quarter's end. Again, the team's resiliency showed in the final period. The Storm used an 11-0 run to get back within three but was unable to get entirely over the hump as the Sparks won 71-64 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Even with the disappointment of the early exit from the playoffs, the Storm could take pride in easily surpassing expectations for the team without Jackson and wonder what might have been had the MVP been healthy. In Jackson's absence, the Storm got impressive performances from Little as a starter and Bird, who played the best basketball of her career after the Olympic Break to make a run at the MVP award, ultimately finishing third in the voting. Tanisha Wright and Katie Gearlds had breakthrough campaigns, while veterans Swoopes and Griffith demonstrated they still had plenty to contribute and Cash battled admirably through her painful back injury. The regular season was one to remember because of the Storm's overall record for wins and the team's dominant performance at KeyArena. Yet the finish leaves the Storm hungry for more going into the 2009 campaign.
2008 Storm Roster
|8||Kimberly Beck||G||5-8||125||12/27/1985||George Washington||R|
|13||Yolanda Griffith||C-F||6-3||188||03/01/1970||Florida Atlantic||9|
|20||Camille Little||F||6-2||180||01/18/1985||North Carolina||1|
|22||Sheryl Swoopes||G||6-0||145||03/25/1971||Texas Tech||10|
|30||Tanisha Wright||G||5-11||165||11/29/1983||Penn State||3|
* Did not finish season on Storm's roster