The Storm's season would come down to this Candice Dupree shot. (Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images)
2011 Storm Recap: Beaten at the Buzzer
Seattle Storm Head Coach Brian Agler gave his team the rest of the year to celebrate the 2010 WNBA championship. When the calendar turned to 2011, it was time for the coaching staff and players alike to begin preparing for a new season that could not possibly replicate 2010's magical run.
All along, the Storm knew the roster for 2011 would be slightly different. Key reserves Svetlana Abrosimova and Jana Veselá were unable to return to the WNBA because of their commitment to representing their countries in the July EuroBasket competition. To replace them, Agler signed Australian free agents Erin Phillips and Belinda Snell to give the team more depth and experience.
Another opportunity to upgrade the bench came in April, when Katie Smith asked for a trade to Seattle to be reunited with Agler, her coach with the ABL's Columbus Quest and the Minnesota Lynx, and her college coach Nancy Darsch. The Storm worked out a deal with the Washington Mystics and Indiana Fever to acquire Smith in exchange for Phillips, the rights to first-round pick Jasmine Thomas and a 2012 first-rounder.
While the second unit would have a different look, the Storm's starting five returned intact. As free agents, Swin Cash and Camille Little got new contracts during the winter, ensuring that the Storm would have the same starting lineup for the third consecutive season.
Neil Enns/Storm Photos
Ashley Robinson and her Storm teammates received their championship rings prior to the Opening Day game against the Phoenix Mercury.
The Storm took one last opportunity to celebrate 2010 on Opening Day. Before facing the Phoenix Mercury, players and coaches from the championship team received their rings and raised the title banner to the rafters. In front of more than 11,000 fans, the Storm led by as many as 19 points en route to a 78-71 victory. Little controlled the paint with 18 points and nine boards and Sue Bird (13 points, 10 assists) had a double-double, but stingy defense that limited the Mercury to 40.3 percent shooting was the real star.
It would take less than a week for the Storm to get a cold dose of reality. Five days later, the Minnesota Lynx and No. 1 overall pick Maya Moore visited KeyArena. They stunned Storm fans by scoring the game's first 22 points. By the time the Storm finally recovered for a furious fourth-quarter rally, it was too late. The 81-74 loss was the Storm's first at home since the end of the 2009 season.
Though the Storm bounced back to knock off the Indiana Fever with an impressive defensive performance, nagging injuries to multiple players took a toll. When the Storm hit the road for the first time in 2011, the result was a 74-50 blowout loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Sparks. A game two days later in Tulsa would prove more costly. While the Storm rallied from an early deficit to beat the Shock 82-77, the comeback came without reigning MVP Lauren Jackson, who left the game with a hip injury. She would ultimately undergo surgery to repair her torn left hip labrum, which put the remainder of her season in jeopardy.
To survive Jackson's absence, the Storm would rely even more heavily on a stingy defense. In a rematch with Minnesota at the Key, the Storm allowed just 55 points in a 65-55 win - the Lynx's lowest-scoring outing of the season. Yet the Storm struggled to score consistently during a 1-2 trip to the East Coast. The offense finally came alive when the Storm returned home to host the Sparks. Led by Swin Cash's 26 points, the Storm put up 61 after halftime in a 99-80 win.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
Cash was named MVP of the All-Star Game for the second time.
Much of the month of July was spent on the road, as the Storm played just three games in Seattle. An 0-3 road trip, with all three losses by single digits, was followed by an impressive 73-55 win over San Antonio that took the Storm to the All-Star break at 8-7. Sue Bird and Cash represented the Storm as starters for the Western Conference All-Star team. While the East would take a close game 118-113, Cash shined brightest of the stars at the AT&T Center, leading all players with 21 points and 12 rebounds. For her efforts, she was named All-Star MVP for the second time in her career.
The Storm returned from the break with one of the season's biggest road wins, knocking off Phoenix 83-77 at the US Airways Center for a ninth consecutive win over the Mercury. After losing at Minnesota, Seattle finished a three-game road trip by knocking off the Tulsa Shock to finish July two games above .500 before heading home for a more friendly August schedule.
Back at KeyArena, the Storm pushed its winning streak to three games thanks to Bird. After a win over San Antonio, the Storm found itself down by one point with 3.1 seconds left in a back-and-forth matchup with the Connecticut Sun. That was enough time for Bird to take the inbound pass, dribble to the top of the key and knock down the game-winning three-pointer - the sixth game-winner of her standout career.
The road proved less friendly to the Storm, which suffered a blowout loss at Atlanta and a heartbreaker at New York. Down two in the closing seconds, Bird missed a pull-up jumper at the buzzer amidst contact with defender Essence Carson. A compact schedule sent the team back across the country to run its home winning streak to eight games by beating Tulsa. It would come to an end two nights later against the Dream, who avenged a sweep in the WNBA Finals by taking both head-to-head matchups in 2011 in lopsided fashion.
Back on the road, the Storm saw Phoenix end its head-to-head domination with a narrow 81-79 win when Cash was unable to connect on a tying attempt in the final seconds. Seattle played without Jackson and guard Tanisha Wright, who left the team after her mother passed away, but both players would be back in the lineup when the Storm returned to the court four days later to host New York. In her first action in more than two months, Jackson scored 20 points and Bird saved a one-point win by deflecting the ball away from Carson just before the buzzer.
With a healthy starting five, the Storm surged to the finish. Another close win capped off a 4-0 homestand. This time, Bird was heroic at the free throw line. After drawing a foul with 1.6 seconds left and the game tied, she made both foul shots to provide the final margin in a 65-63 win over Los Angeles. The Sparks rallied to take a rematch in Los Angeles two days later, but the Storm's final road trip of the season was still a success. Seattle swept a back-to-back set at Tulsa and San Antonio, solidifying playoff position in the process.
The regular season provided one last showdown, as the Mercury visited KeyArena in a battle for second place in the Western Conference and home court advantage in the series between the two teams. Behind 28 points and six three-pointers from Diana Taurasi, Phoenix led by six at the half. Smith nearly matched Taurasi shot for shot, however, and her 26 points helped the Storm pull away after halftime for an 85-70 win. Two days later, the Storm closed the regular season by beating Chicago 81-70. With the win, Seattle finished the season 21-13 - tied for second in the WNBA.
Even before the start of the playoff series, the Storm and Mercury were familiar with each other. The two teams met in the postseason for the second consecutive year, bringing them to 14 total games in that span. The Storm had dominated the series, and it appeared after Game 1 that might continue. Seattle finished the third quarter with an 18-2 run to take a 27-point lead. The Storm dominated the paint, and the final 19-point margin was the second largest in team playoff history.
Neil Enns/Storm Photos
Storm fans saluted Smith for reaching an important scoring milestone.
The setting turned to Phoenix for Game 2 as the Mercury sought to avoid elimination. Phoenix took the early lead and never relinquished it, turning around the Storm's inside advantage from Game 1. Candice Dupree powered Phoenix with 29 points on 12-of-14 shooting. A fourth-quarter rally got the Storm as close as five but no closer as the Mercury held on for a 92-83 win to set up a deciding Game 3 in Seattle.
Through the first quarter and a half, Game 3 looked like a repeat of Game 1. The Storm led by as many as 18 points as Phoenix struggled to score. The Mercury found a rhythm just before halftime, though, and pulled even late in the third quarter. A Bird three sent the Storm to the final period with a tenuous three-point advantage. With 6:38 left to play and Phoenix up one, Taurasi fouled out of the game and picked up a technical on her way to the bench. Without the former MVP, the Mercury would turn to Penny Taylor, who scored 11 of her 19 points down the stretch. Taylor's layup gave Phoenix a two-point advantage with 33.7 seconds remaining, but Bird answered it with a pull-up jumper, giving the Mercury the last shot.
Taylor drove to the basket, and this time her attempt in traffic was long off the glass. In the ensuing scramble, the ball was tipped out to Dupree, all alone in front of the rim. Her shot softly nestled in with 1.9 seconds showing on the clock. Out of timeouts, the Storm could only rush the ball up the court and never even got a shot to win or tie. As Phoenix players celebrated advancing to the Western Conference Finals, the stunned Storm dealt with the premature end to their season.
"All of the sudden, the buzzer's going off, and there's this, 'Wait a minute' moment," said Bird. "This is one of those things that doesn't set in until a day, two days later. Right now, it just feels like, 'We have a game in two days. We must.' Obviously, we don't."
The abrupt end overshadowed everything the Storm accomplished in 2011. Despite playing without Jackson much of the season, the team reached the 20-win mark for the fourth consecutive season, becoming just the second team in WNBA history to be so consistently successful for so long. The Storm's eighth playoff appearance in a row tied the Sparks for the longest streak the WNBA has ever seen.
There were also key individual milestones. Smith reached 6,000 points in the season's final game, becoming just the third WNBA player to the mark. Earlier in the season, Bird and Cash both joined the 4,000-point club, becoming the first two players from the 2002 WNBA Draft to reach 4,000. And, with the last win of the regular season, Agler tied Van Chancellor for the most wins by a coach in women's professional basketball history.
BACK ROW: Head Coach Brian Agler, Director of Basketball Operations Missy Bequette, Assistant Coach Nancy Darsch, Belinda Snell, Ewelina Kobryn, Ashley Robinson, Allie Quigley, Head Athletic Trainer Tom Spencer, Equipment Manager Kayce Kirihara, Assistant Coach Jenny Boucek.
FRONT ROW: Tanisha Wright, Katie Smith, Swin Cash, Lauren Jackson, Camille Little, Le'coe Willingham, Sue Bird.
2011 Storm Roster
|20||Camille Little||F||6-2||180||01/18/1985||North Carolina||4|
|14||Katie Smith||G||5-11||175||06/04/1974||Ohio State||12|
|30||Tanisha Wright||G||5-11||165||11/29/1983||Penn State||6|
* Did not finish the season on the Storm's roster
HEAD COACH: Brian Agler
ASSISTANT COACHES: Jenny Boucek, Nancy Darsch
DIRECTOR OF BASKETBALL OPERATIONS: Missy Bequette
EQUIPMENT MANAGER: Kayce Kirihara
HEAD ATHLETIC TRAINER: Tom Spencer