Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Phoenix
Storm Pulls Off Another Comeback
Final: Storm 91, Phoenix 85
Honestly, I didn't think this was the Storm's night. I'm not sure who did. Down 18 at the half against a very good Phoenix Mercury team that was shooting the lights out, the Storm looked dead in the water. The second half was totally different as the Storm outscored Phoenix 53-29 to erase the deficit and move to a remarkable 10-2 this season when trailing after three quarters. The win keeps making history for the Storm, which keeps pace with the best start in WNBA history and has tied the 1980 Seattle Sounders for the best start in Seattle pro sports history. More importantly, the Storm clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. With crowds like the raucous one we had tonight, the Storm is going to be tough to beat at home.
Lauren Jackson carried the Storm when the team was struggling and finished with a season-high 33 points on 13-of-23 shooting and 11 rebounds. Jackson and Sue Bird traded off the big shots in the fourth quarter. Bird had 16 points and seven assists. All five members of the starting lineup scored double-figures and Le'coe Willingham (eight points, six boards) nearly joined them. Diana Taurasi (27 points) and DeWanna Bonner (19) torched the Storm in the first half, but both were held in check after halftime. Phoenix shot 60.5 percent in the first half but 23.5 percent in the second half.
The Storm will take tomorrow off, then get back on the practice court Thursday to prepare to host the Chicago Sky on Friday night. The Sky is one of just two teams to hand the Storm a defeat this season and presents a difficult matchup with 6-6 Sylvia Fowles in the middle. It's Women of Inspiration Night as the Storm honors three women who make a difference in the Seattle community. Be sure to join us by getting your tickets now!
Storm Lead More Secure
Fourth Quarter: Storm 89, Phoenix 82
With 10.8 seconds to play, we've got another video review, but this one is less nerve-wracking after the Storm scored on a gorgeous inbound play. When Swin Cash picked for Camille Little, two defenders followed Little out to the perimeter, leaving Cash all by her lonesome underneath the basket for a layup that made it a seven-point game. No matter which way this replay goes, the Mercury is going to have a hard time making up what is now a three-possession game.
Storm Lead Insecure
Fourth Quarter: Storm 87, Phoenix 82
It's a five-point Storm advantage with 22.6 seconds left on the clock, but against a team as explosive as the Mercury that doesn't feel safe whatsoever, especially pending the results of this video replay. The ball went out of bounds and stayed with the Storm, but referees will review the play to determine possession. If the Storm retains it, there are just six seconds left on the shot clock; otherwise, Phoenix will get the ball in a two-possession game with plenty of three-point shooters.
Phoenix Makes a Push
Fourth Quarter: Storm 77, Phoenix 72
After a Camille Little layup pushed the Storm's lead to its largest at nine points, the Mercury has responded with back-to-back buckets to get back within five points. Brian Agler, sensing momentum shifting ever so slightly, takes a timeout with 4:26 left and the Storm up five. This will be our last mandatory timeout, so we'll have a few minutes of uninterrupted basketball that will determine whether this game goes right down to the wire or whether one time is trying furiously to catch up in the closing seconds.
I'm really amazed by the crowd standing through nearly the entire second half. Perhaps we'll have to borrow a slogan from the Sounders and start asking fans to give their "Full 40" on their feet.
Delirious at the Key
Fourth Quarter: Storm 75, Phoenix 68
The KeyArena faithful are going nuts right now as the Storm has opened up its largest lead of the game at seven points. A Tanisha Wright three-point play early in the fourth quarter gave the Storm its first lead since the opening minutes. Phoenix immediately answered, but since then it's a 10-2 Storm run keyed by two big three-pointers - one from Tanisha Wright and one a moment ago in transition by Lauren Jackson. This might be the loudest crowd we've had all season, and a timeout is not going to quiet them - everyone remains on their feet, including those who participated in the Doppler Train.
Everybody is making plays for the Storm right now. Sue Bird had consecutive impressive steals, running down a long pass and taking the ball away from Penny Taylor before just ripping it away from her close friend Diana Taurasi. Lauren Jackson has 29 points and 10 rebounds, Tanisha Wright has 14 big points and Swin Cash is a new player since getting a bucket to go down.
PA Announcer Matt Pitman - who might be hoarse by the time the night is through - reminds fans that the Storm has outscored Phoenix 37-12 in the second half. Incredible.
What a Ballgame
End Third Quarter: Phoenix 64, Storm 62
No other way to put it besides this: tonight's game has a playoff feel to it. The crowd is simply electric. The WNBA's best fans have been standing much of the third quarter and are on their feet during the quarter break, celebrating their team cutting what was once an 18-point lead down to just two as we enter the final period of play. On the floor, the action is getting very physical. Neither team wants to concede an inch. The Storm got the better of that, going to the free throw line 13 times in the period. Both of Phoenix's starting post players, Candice Dupree and Tangela Smith, are in foul trouble with four apiece.
For the Storm, Lauren Jackson has been sensational. She's got 24 points in as many minutes of action, shooting 9-of-14 from the field and grabbing nine rebounds. She scored nine points in the third quarter and Tanisha Wright got going with six points. A transition layup also seems to have snapped Swin Cash out of an uncharacteristic slump. Meanwhile, the Storm held Phoenix to 2-of-22 shooting in the third quarter. I knew the Mercury was struggling, but ... wow.
Walking Down the Lead
Third Quarter: Phoenix 61, Storm 46
We've definitely seen a better brand of basketball from the Storm after halftime. The team has come out with renewed focus and energy, especially right after the break when the Storm scored four quick points. At the defensive end, the Storm has held Phoenix to five third-quarter points on 2-of-10 shooting, which is a big change from what we saw in the first half.
At the other end of the floor, the notable stat is that the Storm has two assists on three buckets. That may not sound like much, but the Storm had only three assists in the entire first half - none in the second quarter. The team played a lot of one-on-one basketball in response to Phoenix's rover zone defense and was not able to break it down with passing. Even when the Storm did get over looks from the perimeter, they would not fall. The Storm was 0-of-7 from downtown in the first half.
All Mercury in the First Half
Halftime: Phoenix 56, Storm 38
As bizarre as the last meeting between these teams at KeyArena was, with the Storm dominating the third quarter, tonight's game has been equally unexpected the other direction. Phoenix has been locked in during the first half, shooting 63.6 percent from the field while frustrating and confounding the Storm. The 18-point halftime margin is the largest deficit the Storm has faced at intermission all season (previously 13) and just one point away from the Storm's largest deficit of the season period. The Mercury's 56 points are also the most the Storm has allowed in a half.
As mentioned earlier, the easy buckets have been problematic for the Storm. Phoenix has 13 fast-break points against the league's best fast-break defense, and 32 points in the paint. Add in 50 percent shooting beyond the arc and the Storm isn't getting many stops. At the other end, it's been all or nothing. Lauren Jackson (15 points) is scoring well and Sue Bird and Le'coe Willingham have added eight apiece, but the rest of the team is shooting 2-of-16 from the field with seven points. Swin Cash has especially been taken out of her game.
Storm in an Unfamiliar Position
Second Quarter: Phoenix 45, Storm 32
While the Storm has faced plenty of adversity this season, frequently coming from behind in the fourth quarter. I'm not sure, though, that the Storm has seen a situation quite like this in a long time. The Mercury has absolutely taken it to the Storm, opening up a 13-point lead on Diana Taurasi's three-pointer a moment ago. Phoenix is getting easy buckets that the Storm doesn't usually surrender, leaking out in transition and even getting some scores in the secondary break. Taking away easy scores has been a focus for the Storm recently and you can be sure Brian Agler will put emphasis on it during halftime.
Jr. Storm Night
Second Quarter: Phoenix 29, Storm 22
Tonight the Storm is celebrating its Jr. Storm Program presented by Bing. Young fans who are part of the Jr. Storm program - and you can still join now, as membership is free - are getting honored all night long. A bunch of youngsters got on the floor before the game to shoot layups. Jr. Storm members, who can be identified by their T-shirts, are also getting the chance to participate in contests throughout the game, including Bowling with Doppler during the last timeout.
Diana Taurasi Came to Play
End First Quarter: Phoenix 25, Storm 20
While Corey Gaines downplayed the importance of this game for the Mercury, something tells me Diana Taurasi doesn't feel exactly the same way. Taurasi struggled in the first two games against the Storm this season and can't enjoy having to go to dinner with her close friends on the Storm after three losses so far. Taurasi's intensity, usually high, has been off the charts so far tonight. She's got a game-high 11 points thus far on 5-of-8 shooting to go with three assists. Taurasi was animated in the huddle during the quarter break, gesturing to instruct her teammates in how they can move the ball to find the seams in the Storm defense.
Of course, few players turn it on and off better than Taurasi. In the locker room before the game, a group of reporters was walking out of Gaines' office after his pregame chat. Taurasi sauntered by and offered a genial, "What's up?" as if she was about to play a pickup game in the park. That attitude - and a whole lot of skill - makes Taurasi one of the toughest matchups in the WNBA.
Atypical Start for Storm
First Quarter: Phoenix 17, Storm 10
Through the first six minutes, we haven't seen the Storm team to which we've grown accustomed so far. It's not really about the score, which also reflects the Mercury shooting the ball very well. It's more of a subjective feel for the way the Storm is playing, doing exactly what the team usually doesn't do against Phoenix - taking quick shots and turning the ball over. The arrival of Svetlana Abrosimova seems to have settled the team a bit; she quickly assisted Lauren Jackson, who sealed well to score in the paint.
Of course, there's plenty of time for the Storm to get things going and the team will have the luxury of the support of another nice KeyArena crowd that has been very loud thus far.
Not a lot of note from the coaches' pregame media availability. What was clear is the amount of respect both teams have for the other. Storm Head Coach Brian Agler called Phoenix as talented as any team in the league yesterday. Meanwhile, Phoenix counterpart Corey Gaines praised the Storm's heady style of play, noting that the Storm isn't one of the teams that takes the Mercury's bait and settles for quick shot attempts.
There's been some notion among fans and in the media that Phoenix needs to win tonight or when these teams play next month at the US Airways Center to be prepared for a potential playoff matchup. Gaines downplayed that notion, saying this isn't "money time."
Hello from KeyArena, where the top two teams in the Western Conference face off tonight as the Phoenix Mercury visits the Storm. Aside from a blowout Storm win at home last month that can safely be written off as an aberration, these teams have played very entertaining games in recent years, including two overtime matchups last year in Seattle and a pair this year down in the Valley of the Sun. With a national audience on ESPN2, tonight should be more of the same. Stay with us all night long for the latest.