Live From Press Row - Storm at Los Angeles (Game 1)
Positive Signs in Game 1, But No W
Final: Los Angeles 77, Storm 69
With the conclusion of the game, confetti and streamers fall from the STAPLES Center rafters. DeLisha Milton-Jones took the microphone to thank fans for their support and ask them to wish the Sparks well going to Seattle. As the scene shifts, so should this series. The Storm's home-court advantage is no secret; the team went 16-1 at KeyArena, tying a WNBA record for home wins. With the WNBA's Playoff format, even teams that lose Game 1 on the road have tended to do well. They're 18-10 all-time in best-of-three series.
It would be tough for the Storm to go back to Seattle feeling confident had the game continued to go the way it did during the first half, when it was all L.A. The team's second-half run can provide a template for how the Storm can win Games 2 and 3. The team made the Sparks work at both ends of the floor, running Sue Bird (and, more importantly, the defender guarding her) off of a number of screens. At the defensive end, the Storm took away the easy buckets, holding L.A. to 33 second-half points.
Sue Bird was great for the Storm, finishing with 21 points, while Tanisha Wright battled back after a poor start to be right in the middle of the team's comeback. Yolanda Griffith battled Lisa Leslie all night and the Storm got impressive contributions from Sheryl Swoopes and Swin Cash, both coming back from injuries.
The Storm will fly back to Seattle tomorrow morning and practice in preparation to play again Sunday at 2:00 p.m. in front of a loud playoff crowd at the Key. We really hope you'll be a part of it. You can still get tickets by clicking here. With this loss, tickets to Game 3 (Game B by the Storm's numbering) are now on sale. If this series goes to a deciding third game on Tuesday night, you won't want to miss it.
Sparks Withstand Storm
Fourth Quarter: Los Angeles 74, Storm 61
Give the Los Angeles Sparks credit. They took everything the Storm had to offer in terms of a comeback effort here in the second half and were able to avoid blinking. The Storm got within six points with 4:55 left to play on a pair of Tanisha Wright free throws. However, after a couple of empty possessions, DeLisha Milton-Jones hit two free throws. That was followed by a Candace Parker layup and a Marie Ferdinand-Harris three-pointer a moment ago that is the dagger in this game. Down 13 with 2:24 left, the Storm is going to need a miracle, and not a small one.
Bird is the Word
Fourth Quarter: Los Angeles 64, Storm 57
It's Sue Bird's world, and we're just living in it. Despite all the defensive pressure from the Sparks, who are defending her end to end, Bird has found her rhythm after halftime. She's got 12 second-half points and 21 for the game. Her last two transition buckets have brought the Storm back within seven. Michael Cooper responds with a timeout, while STAPLES Center is trying to get back in the game.
Can the Storm come back again?
Here Comes the Storm
End Third Quarter: Los Angeles 60, Storm 48
There's a reason you don't necessarily want a reputation as a comeback team. It's tough living. The Storm was able to get as close as eight during the middle of the third quarter, but a pair of Raffaella Masciadri three-pointers helped the Sparks extended the lead back to 12 points going into the final period. That's close enough that the Storm can reasonably be thinking comeback, but there is very little margin for error.
The crowd hasn't necessarily been a huge factor in this game, but the Storm could really help its cause by taking them out of this game early in the fourth quarter by making some progress. Every Sparks bucket or Storm turnover is going to get the STAPLES Center going.
Here Comes the Storm
Third Quarter: Los Angeles 50, Storm 39
The nickname I tried to coin for the Storm - "the comeback kids of the Cascades" - never really caught on, because comebacks are too rare, but there's no question this Storm team has the ability to make up a deficit. That's just what the Storm is doing right now, having gone on an 8-0 run to get back within 11. The free-throw line has been the key, with six Storm free throws in the stretch. Sue Bird is heating up. She's 5-of-5 from the charity stripe and has a game-high 13 points.
Halftime: Los Angeles 44, Storm 27
With the playoffs, we've got some celebrities in the house here at STAPLES to watch the Storm and the Sparks. Actor Jack Black is sitting courtside next to Shelden Williams, the fiancé of L.A.'s Candace Parker. Penny Marshall is sitting near midcourt, not far from Sparks owners Kathy Goodman and Carla Christofferson.
Unusually, we've got live music during halftime from the middle of the 100 level just behind our spot at the press table courtside.
Sparks Guards Making a Statement
Halftime: Los Angeles 44, Storm 27
All week, and all season long, the Sparks guards have been much maligned for their inconsistent play. Tonight is their revenge. The Storm has done a great job defensively against Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker, who have combined for five points on 1-of-7 shooting. Leslie has five turnovers. And still Los Angeles leads by 17 at the half. That's a testament to what the team's role players, and particularly the guards, have done.
Shannon Bobbitt, Keisha Brown, Marie Ferdinand and Temeka Johnson have combined for 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting. None has committed a turnover. It's been a masterful performance, and it's been clear over the course of the season that when their guards play well, so do the Sparks as a team.
The Storm has put together some impressive comebacks this season, but this one would be historic. We'll see what adjustments Brian Agler and the coaching staff come up with in the locker room.
Cash Looks Good
Second Quarter: Los Angeles 37, Storm 23
If you're looking for a bright spot from this first half, it has to be Swin Cash's play. Cash, who was considered doubtful to play as recently as this morning, has four points and two boards in seven minutes and has looked healthy. I know that she's not and she's playing in a lot of pain, but Swin is a warrior and she hasn't really let the injury affect her when she's on the floor.
L.A.'s Intensity High
Second Quarter: Los Angeles 33, Storm 23
In practice, Game 1 is something of a must-win for the home team if they want to win the series. Right now, the Sparks are playing like this is a game of that magnitude.
"You get that one chance," Head Coach Michael Cooper said before the game. "It's the difference in us going to Seattle down 1-0 as opposed to up. This is a very, very big game. It's a big game for them. Both things understand. The way the format is in the WNBA, I like it because it makes you come ready to play."
So far, we've seen two road teams win amongst the first three Game 1s. Only New York has been able to hold the home court thus far. The Sparks are playing like they're going to change that tonight.
Storm Finds Offense; Cash Plays
End First Quarter: Los Angeles 25, Storm 15
Over the last couple of minutes of the first quarter, the Storm found some offense thanks to the bench. Swin Cash checked in and immediately knocked down an 18-footer from the baseline. On the team's last possession of the quarter, Katie Gearlds hit a long three-pointer to make it a 10-point game going to the second quarter. The Storm hasn't had a lot of shooting on the floor, and Gearlds and Sheryl Swoopes will help with that. When the Storm hasn't turned the ball over, the team is shooting decently (42.9 percent), so it's a matter of staying with it on offense.
On defense, the Storm really needs to get going. The numbers aren't as bad as it feels (45.0 percent shooting), but L.A. hit a couple of three-pointers and is 5-of-5 from the free-throw line. Along with a fairly fast pace, that's allowed the Sparks to score 25 points. That's way, way too many. Remember the most any team has scored in this series this season is 76 points.
Key Numbers Favor Sparks
First Quarter: Los Angeles 18, Storm 5
I didn't get a chance to write it up before the game, but as I see it there are three big statistical categories where the winner will have a big advantage in this season. I'm keeping an eye on rebounding (which Michael Cooper cites as the key), transition points and turnovers. Rebounding has been even, but L.A. has big edges in fast-break points (5-2) and turnovers (five for the Storm, two for the Sparks). These are not unrelated.
Sparks Jump on Storm
First Quarter: Los Angeles 14, Storm 3
As we all expected, the L.A. Sparks came out fired up and have raced to an early lead here in Game 1 against the Storm. The Storm has matched the energy of the Sparks, but their execution has not been to standard. The Storm has four turnovers and is 1-of-6 from the field. Those misses have turned into transition buckets at the other end and, more troublingly, three-point plays. In the half-court L.A. has not had a lot of offense, but that hasn't mattered because of transition.
The Storm gets some more experience on the floor by replacing Tanisha Wright with veteran Sheryl Swoopes. This team has played well from behind, but doesn't want the lead to get any bigger than this.
Robinson to Start, Cash Dressed
A bit of a stunner here before Game 1, as Storm Head Coach Brian Agler will start Ashley Robinson as part of a big lineup alongside Camille Little at forward. The bigger five will allow the Storm to match up better with the L.A. frontcourt. Robinson played extensively and well against Candace Parker in the Storm's July 12 win at KeyArena over the Sparks. Still, this comes as a surprise, as it's not something Agler had hinted at whatsoever during the course of preparation.
Swin Cash will not start, but she is active and in uniform. It looks like she's going to give it a shot and see what she can give the Storm. With Cash active, rookie Kristen O'Neill slides to the Inactive List.
LOS ANGELES - Hello from the STAPLES Center, where we're just about ready for Game 1 of the Storm's playoff series against the Los Angeles Sparks. The crowd is filtering in, fashionably late for the 7:30 p.m. tip. In a best-of-three series, every game is going to be huge, but Game 1 certainly tends to set the tone. For the home team, Game 1 is basically a must-win because it is so difficult to go on the road and win two straight games. I'm thrilled to be here courtside. This should be a great game, so stay with us all night long for the latest.