Live From Press Row - Storm vs. Chicago (Opening Night)
Promising Win for Storm
Final: Storm 67, Chicago 61
Before tonight's game, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler was willing to admit it wasn't just another game because of the other factors involved.
"To me, it's a really big night for our new owners," he said. "Obviously, we want to play well for them. We want to play well for the fans - we're going to have a really good crowd tonight. I hope we can come out and play with energy."
The Storm did just that, particularly in the second half, and then they celebrated the members of Force 10 Hoops L.L.C. at game's end, going over to where they were sitting on the sidelines and bringing them and CEO Karen Bryant into the postgame huddle. I've never seen anything quite like that. This is a genuine expression of gratitude on the part of players who wanted nothing more than to keep the Storm here in Seattle where the team belongs. Of course, the fans share that sentiment, giving the ownership group a standing ovation.
As for the basketball, the final six-point margin makes this look like a close game, but in reality the Storm controlled the second half. From the 8:59 mark of the third quarter to the 5:58 mark of the fourth quarter, the Storm outscored Chicago 36-12. It wasn't quite as big a turnaround as last year's Opening Night, but it was just as fun to watch. We've got every reason to believe it will be significant going forward because of what the Storm showed on defense, shutting the Sky down after halftime. The Storm didn't play very well on offense, other than what the team was able to create off of steals, but still won easily (a 9-0 Chicago run to end the game aside). The Storm also fed off the energy of the crowd and vice versa.
The energy in this building and the atmosphere tonight was incredible. While we can't entirely recreate the emotion of Opening Night down the line, this sure seems like the start of something very special. If you missed tonight's game and had a chance to come, don't make that mistake Tuesday, when the Storm is back out here for a nationally-televised matchup with the Sacramento Monarchs. Get your tickets now for that game.
Storm Defense Dominating
Fourth Quarter: Storm 67, Chicago 52
With this game well in hand, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler has gotten his young players into the game in place of the starters. Swin Cash is the only starter still on the floor. Rookie point guard Kimberly Beck will make her Storm debut while Kelly Santos is making her Storm debut. These are valuable minutes for these players to acclimate and get comfortable in a situation where they can afford to make mistakes. The Storm has not allowed Chicago in the entire fourth quarter and for a total of over 10 minutes.
It was a foul debut for No. 2 overall pick Sylvia Fowles, who barely played in the second half because of foul trouble before fouling out midway through this fourth quarter. Fowles finished with six points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 15 minutes. Foul trouble could be a big issue for her early in her career.
Storm in Complete Control
Fourth Quarter: Storm 64, Chicago 48
In yesterday's 2008 Storm season preview, I wrote extensively about defense and how it would have to be the difference for the Storm from 2007. The defense in the second half has been stifling. Chicago has made only two buckets in the second half and none in the fourth quarter as the Storm is on a 22-1 run to take a 16-point advantage with Lauren Jackson headed to the free-throw line after this timeout. Complete domination right now. Great unselfishness and aggressive defense - exactly Brian Agler's recipe for success.
I love WNBA President Donna Orender. She managed to make an appearance in the Doppler train during the last timeout. On a more substantive note, Orender was positively ebullient in discussing the Storm's new local ownership during halftime. The mention of the McDonald's partnership also brought a big smile to Orender's face. This might not be the last time we see logos on the jerseys.
Swoopes Leads Storm
End Third Quarter: Storm 54, Chicago 47
Since Brian Agler took timeout a minute into the third quarter, the Storm has outscored Chicago 25-9. Whatever Agler said in the huddle, it worked. Sheryl Swoopes has led the way. Earlier this week, Swopoes talked about how she didn't want to be just another player on the floor because of the minor injuries which have slowed her down in coming back from offseason back surgery. Well, she's been anything but that tonight. Swoopes has four steals and did it all for the Storm during the run, disrupting the Chicago offense, dishing the ball and scoring. The Storm ended the third period with a 12-0 run to take the team's largest lead of the night at seven points.
Fun on-court contest during the quarter break with three contestants showing off their best dance moves in the McDonald's "Shake it for Your Sandwich" contest. McDonald's is sponsoring WNBA Tip-Off 2008 and hopefully you've seen the photos and video from Thursday, when five Storm players worked at McDonald's to get the word out about the 2008 season.
This Storm Building Force
Third Quarter: Chicago 38, Storm 36
On the radio broadcast, color analyst Adia Barnes talked about how she can visibly tell the Storm's players are thinking about Brian Agler's offense instead of just playing. I'm not sure to what extent that has affected the team's shooting, but now the Storm has got it going. Since the last timeout, the home team has gone on a 7-0 run to get the crowd into it. Everybody in the crowd got yellow bangers and you can see them being put to use during the timeout.
The key, no surprise, is Lauren Jackson. She got a banker off of an offensive rebound and hit a three. In between, Sheryl Swoopes added a runner. Meanwhile, Yolanda Griffith drew a charge for Sylvia Fowles' fourth foul, sending Fowles - who has four blocks tonight - to the bench. In Chasity Melvin, the Sky has a capable replacement, but Chicago now can't use Melvin behind power forward Candice Dupree.
Third Quarter: Chicago 38, Storm 29
The Storm did not come out of the locker room the way Brian Agler hoped, and just 59 seconds into the second half he has taken a full timeout. Again, the Storm is getting good shots but not hitting them. After a Yolanda Griffith steal, both Griffith and Sheryl Swoopes had looks around the bucket. While they were contested, they were definitely makeable. Neither went down. Meanwhile, Candice Dupree has gotten to the free-throw line and gotten a tip.
Give credit to Chicago Head Coach Steven Key. Despite working under a lot of the same constrains as many other teams in terms of players arriving late from overseas, but he's gotten his team ready. Not bad for his head coaching debut. I talked to Key before the game and he said he didn't feel much different but did realize the buck stopped with him now. So far, so good.
Storm Has Work to Do at Halftime
Halftime: Chicago 35, Storm 29
With a late flurry of Chicago Sky scoring, the Sky has taken a six-point halftime lead. The Storm did a pretty good job defensively most of the half, but Chicago scored 11 points in the last 4:43 of the second period to open up the lead. The Storm must tighten up against Jia Perkins, who has been able to get into the paint and has scored eight points. Chasity Melvin has scored 10 points and is perfect from the field.
On the offensive end, the Storm has an impressive four turnovers but has shot just 29.4% from the field. Lauren Jackson is bound to get going after halftime after shooting 1-for-10 from the field in the first half. If the Storm stays with it on offense, better things will happen.
Storm in the Bonus
Second Quarter: Chicago 27, Storm 25
Nice opportunity for the Storm to make up some ground at the free-throw line the rest of this quarter with the team in the bonus. Those shots are extra valuable with the team shooting 29.0% from the field. I like the aggressive mentality tonight of guard Sue Bird, who hit two free throws on the fifth Chicago team foul. She's attempted five shots tonight and has looked for the pullup jumper, something coaches love to see her go to. Bird has scored a team-high seven points tonight.
Second Quarter: Chicago 25, Storm 23
If, like me, you watched today's nationally-televised season opener between Los Angeles and Phoenix, you saw a dominant debut from Candace Parker, who scored 34 points and was within two assists of a triple-double (that being done just four times in WNBA history thus far). Not quite so quick an impact from Sylvia Fowles, on the bench now with two fouls. While Fowles started the game with a big block and has drawn several fouls, she's 3-for-9 from the field. Still, you could easily see Fowles going off in the second half. Her talent is immense and obvious.
Storm Rotating Quickly
Second Quarter: Chicago 24, Storm 23
We're still getting a feel for new Storm Head Coach Brian Agler and one thing we're seeing tonight is that he likes to get players in and out of the lineup pretty quickly. Already, several players have gone in, gone to the bench and back and forth multiple times. This is different than some coaches who like to get their bench in once and then have the starters bookend those minutes. Agler has also used a number of very different lineups. The Storm's versatility gives him the chance to go big or go small with almost equal adeptness.
The Storm Dance Troupe is on for its first appearance of the 2008 season during the timeout.
Storm Offense Sluggish
End First Quarter: Chicago 18, Storm 16
A slow offensive first quarter for the Storm, who shot 28.6% from the field but did help make up for it by hitting the offensive glass and turning the ball over just one time. Brian Agler thought the team might struggle, but this wasn't really what he was talking about. The Storm has gotten excellent shots but just hasn't knocked them down. Lauren Jackson has yet to find her rhythm, shooting 1-for-7 from the field and picking up her second personal foul late in the quarter.
WNBA President Donna Orender wanted to be able to emphasize with players in her league who have to fly all over the world and then quickly turn around and play games. Orender decided to do them one better with a double-header today. She was in Phoenix for the Mercury and Sparks on ABC and the presentation of rings to the defending champs. At halftime, Orender hopped a plane and she arrived just in time for this game. She's sitting courtside flanked by Storm CEO Karen Bryant and Force 10 Hoops Chairperson Anne Levinson. The rest of the ownership group is also sitting at courtside and helping lead the fans by example to make noise.
First Quarter: Storm 11, Chicago 8
Already, we're seeing how things might be different with the new Storm lineup. Lauren Jackson was the last Storm starter to score tonight. Last year, that might have been a recipe for trouble, but the Storm got off to an early lead with the newcomers stepping up. Jackson then got a wide-open look because Chicago had to respect the Storm's other scorers and knocked it down from the right wing for her first bucket of 2008.
The Storm has held the Sky to 30.0% shooting, but the defensive glass has been an issue. Chicago has four offensive rebounds so far and has scored four second-chance points. The Storm will look to rectify that with Ashley Robinson stepping in for Yolanda Griffith and Tanisha Wright in at shooting guard for Sheryl Swoopes.
Last week, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler called the members of Force 10 Hoops L.L.C., the Storm's ownership group, "rock stars" in the city right now. It's true. Every time they are mentioned on StormVision, they are greeted with loud applause. I can't say I've ever before seen owners be a part of pregame introductions on Opening Night.
After the Storm's coaching staff was also introduced, it was on to the players. A very cool setup this year had a stage at center court. First the reserves and now the starters climbed the stairs from underneath the stage to up top where they were visible as they were introduced by PA Announcer Matt Pitman. Great hand for all the players, especially the Storm's newcomers. This crowd is going to be very loud tonight.
Storm reserve forward Shyra Ely took the microphone to thank the fans and encourage them to make some noise. With that, we're ready to go.
Because of the nature of the WNBA preseason, with players arriving late from overseas, coaches never really have enough time to prepare for the start of the season. Brian Agler said tonight he was thankful to have had Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson in camp for even a few days. Yet, to the extent it's possible, Agler feels ready, while admitting there's always a few things that slip by.
"When you get to this point," he said, "there's always things you wish you said or would have gone over."
One concern is that players might overthink and be a little hesitant within Agler's new offense.
"I anticipate us being stagnant a little bit," he said. "Yesterday's practice, we got like that. It's not because we didn't want to do well. It's almost to the point we wanted to do well, we thought too much instead of just playing."
Welcome to Opening Night! The Seattle Storm is just about ready to tip off the 2008 season against the Chicago Sky and the energy in a rapidly-filling KeyArena is electric. The lower bowl is sold out and the Storm has opened up the 200 level for the first time besides a Kid's Day in a few years. Three sections are open in the upper level on each side. As with any Opening Night, there's plenty of pageantry tonight, starting with local recording star Brandi Carlile performing the national anthem. What makes tonight extra special, however, is the excitement about not only a Storm team that legitimately aspires to win a WNBA championship but also about a new ownership group of four amazing women that has kept the Storm in Seattle. I can't wait to get things underway and if you can't be at the Key, I hope you'll join me tonight and all season long.