Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Phoenix (Game 1)
Storm Starts Western Conference Finals with Win
Final: Storm 82, Phoenix 74
The Storm started off strong, built an early lead and held the Phoenix Mercury off the rest of the way to take a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. The Mercury never got within seven points in the fourth quarter as the Storm maintained the lead with stout defense and offensive execution. The league's best offense was held to 74 points and 38.0 percent shooting, and Diana Taurasi had a night to forget. The 2009 WNBA MVP fouled out with nine points on 2-of-15 shooting and six turnovers.
Meanwhile, it was the 2010 MVP who led the Storm. Lauren Jackson dominated the paint early, had a double-double by halftime and finished with 17 rebounds, a franchise playoff record. Jackson added 23 points. Sue Bird handed out 10 assists and had seven points and six rebounds. The bench was a big factor for the Storm, with Svetlana Abrosimova scoring 16 points in 21 minutes and Le'coe Willingham contributing 10 points and six boards. Tanisha Wright was a big finisher tonight, scoring all nine of her points in the final period.
The Storm will travel down to the Valley of the Sun tomorrow for a practice on Saturday and Game 2 on Sunday at 12 noon on ABC. Check out our Playoff Hype page for venues to watch the game with fellow Storm fans. Stormbasketball.com will be on the scene at the US Airways Center with complete coverage from start to finish. We'll also have a look at the adjustments between now and Sunday, so stay tuned as the Storm looks to finish off this series.
Time on Storm's Side
Fourth Quarter: Storm 76, Phoenix 67
With 2:51 left to play, it's still a nine-point game as Swin Cash prepares to head to the free throw line for two shots. A pair of Lauren Jackson free throws 30 seconds ago were the Storm's first points in two and a half minutes and helped stall out a possible Phoenix run. Right now, the Storm is in a position that it is going to have to make mistakes to lose this lead. Execute well down the stretch and the Storm will hold on.
The Mercury's comeback attempt has also been derailed by Diana Taurasi misses. Taurasi is 2-of-15 from the field tonight and has missed all four of her shot attempts in the final period. The Storm has defended Taurasi very well, but she's also missed some makeable shots.
On the Wright Track
Fourth Quarter: Storm 73, Phoenix 64
As the Doppler Train breaks out during our first media timeout of the final period with 5:54 to play, the Storm has maintained a nine-point lead and has a chance to extend it with Camille Little headed to the free throw line. The big key has been a scoring boost from Tanisha Wright. The Storm's shooting guard has been battling a sore left knee and was scoreless through three quarters, but she knocked down a three to start the final period and it seemed to get her going. Wright has scored seven points and is driving the basket with more aggressiveness down the stretch. She'll get a brief rest after this timeout with Svetlana Abrosimova returning to the game.
The Mercury is still very much alive, but if the Storm keeps playing like this, a win will follow. Phoenix also has to maintain its composure after Diana Taurasi picked up a technical foul a moment ago. She's resting right now.
Storm Maintains Control
End Third Quarter: Storm 64, Phoenix 55
A Temeka Johnson three-pointer with 1:04 left in the third quarter got the Mercury within four, which is the closest this game has been since the very early stages, but the Storm responded with five points in the final minute. Le'coe Willingham's three-pointers extended the lead to nine points at the end of three. That lead still does not feel very comfortable against Phoenix.
Sensing the importance of the moment, Brian Agler has extended his starters tonight. Sue Bird played the entire first two and a half quarters, and she and Lauren Jackson have both played more than 28 minutes out of the 30 of this game so far. Both teams have gone toa seven-player rotation tonight, though give the Storm's bench players who have seen action credit for playing great basketball. Svetlana Abrosimova has 16 points and Le'coe Willingham has added nine points and six boards. The Storm wouldn't have the lead without the two veteran reserves.
Phoenix Making a Push
Third Quarter: Storm 56, Phoenix 50
This game had a chance to go one of two different ways at halftime. Instead of the Storm extending the lead and dashing Phoenix's hopes of a comeback, the Mercury came out energized and motivated to start the third quarter. Phoenix has pounded the ball inside to Candice Dupree, who has scored nine points in the first quarter after just two in the first half. The Mercury has been much more aggressive defensively, which was something that worked for Phoenix in the opening round against San Antonio. The Mercury has turned the ball over four times so far in the quarter after having just five in the first half and needs to settle down and work the basketball around.
If you thought this was going to be easy, you don't know Phoenix very well. The Storm will need a strong final 15 minutes of basketball to win this game.
Jackson Powers Storm to Lead
Halftime: Storm 47, Phoenix 33
On the night she received the MVP award, Lauren Jackson delivered a first half that exemplified her value to the team. Jackson did it inside and out, dominating a variety of Phoenix defenders en route to a halftime double-double - 17 points and 12 rebounds. That's a good game, let alone a half. Jackson shot 5-of-9 from the field, knocked down three shots beyond the arc and was a perfect 4-of-4 at the free throw line.
The Storm played through a rough stretch late in the first quarter and early in the second. Now, the home team will take a 14-point advantage to the locker room. That's a good start, but it's hardly safe against a team as explosive as the Mercury. Look for a different attitude and more success on offense during the second half for Phoenix, which is shooting just 36.4 percent from the field thus far. Still, the Storm's defense and a full house at the Key will be working against the Mercury.
Storm Building Back the Lead
Second Quarter: Storm 39, Phoenix 27
Because of Brian Agler's early timeout, we had a long stretch of uninterrupted play, and it favored the Storm. A 7-0 run in the last minute and a half has pushed the Storm's lead back to 12 points. Phoenix initially gave the Storm some issues by switching into its rover zone defense, but the Storm has started to find the seams. Camille Little and Le'coe Willingham are getting free inside and the Storm is moving the ball well on the perimeter for open attempts beyond the three-point line. We've seen tensions running high on both sides. Diana Taurasi has been very frustrated and has picked up three fouls in addition to turning the ball over four times. Meanwhile, Lauren Jackson picked up a T for complaining about a non-call.
During the timeout, we saw the world premier of the Doppler Stanky Legg music video. We'll have that on the site soon and you will want to see it, I assure you.
Nipping a Run in the Bud
Second Quarter: Storm 23, Phoenix 17
Brian Agler did not like the way the Storm came out to start the second quarter, and called a quick timeout after just one possession each way. Phoenix was able to free Temeka Johnson for a corner three to extend the run to 10-1. On the other end, Lauren Jackson mishandled a pass for the Storm's fourth turnover in the game. With the Mercury finding its footing after a slow start, Brian Agler wanted to try to quiet the momentum and get his players back focused on the gameplan.
The hot shooting beyond the arc lately did not extend to the timeout, as neither of our contestants could hit during the Half-Court Shootout.
Storm Comes Out Strong
End First Quarter: Storm 23, Phoenix 14
Strong first quarter for the Storm, which rode this loud KeyArena crowd to a lead through one period. Phoenix was held to 35.3 percent shooting and just one three-pointer in the quarter. The Mercury did show some signs of picking up on offense late in the quarter, with DeWanna Bonner scoring five points during a 7-0 Phoenix run. The Storm got a Svetlana Abrosimova free throw just before the quarter to snap the run.
The late Mercury surge was a useful reminder for the Storm not to get too comfortable with this advantage. You know Phoenix is going to score a lot of points and Diana Taurasi has yet to get into this game. She's got two points on 1-of-3 shooting and a couple of turnovers thus far. On the Storm side, Lauren Jackson has eight points, as does Svetlana Abrosimova, who came off the bench hot. They've got three of the Storm's four makes from beyond the arc as the Mercury has dared the Storm to win from outside.
Slow Scoring Start
First Quarter: Storm 9, Phoenix 3
So far, the high-scoring affair we anticipated with the Phoenix Mercury in town has yet to materialize. Both teams have come out tight, with Phoenix making just one of its first eight baskets. The Storm was little more efficient in the early going, but seven unanswered points helped the Storm take a 9-3 lead midway through the first quarter. Swin Cash has five points, including the game's only three-pointer.
Certainly, if the style of play stays like it's been so far, that would favor the Storm. The Mercury wants more of a free-flowing game. I'd expect that to happen sooner rather than later.
Aaron Last/Storm Photos
There was a celebratory atmosphere before tonight's game as Brian Agler, Lauren Jackson and Tanisha Wright were all recognized for their role in the Storm's record-setting 28-6 regular season. In separate pregame ceremonies, Wright was presented with a plaque celebrating her selection to the WNBA All-Defensive First Team, Agler received his Coach of the Year trophy and WNBA President Donna Orender presented Jackson with her trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player presented by Kia Motors for the third time in her career.
It's the first time Jackson has been presented with MVP in front of the KeyArena fans, and they rewarded her with a huge standing ovation.
Earlier tonight, press conferences were held for both Agler and Jackson. Agler continued his theme of sharing credit for his selection as Coach of the Year, saying, "I humbly accept this on behalf of the organization."
Agler was asked about the most important part of the Storm's season and he pointed to the team's togetherness.
"Any time you have a group together, you never know how the chemistry is going to play out," said Agler, "but because of the core group that we had together, it sort of just came together quite smoothly."
Jackson was touted by Orender for delivering on the expectation in the league's marketing campaign. "Lauren delivers great," she said. The Aussie was asked to compare her three MVP trophies (2003, 2007 and 2010) and said this one comes out on top.
"This is probably the most special one just because of where we are at the moment," said Jackson. "We have the opportunity to really do great things. That makes this one special."
Aaron Last/Storm Photos
Hello from KeyArena. Anticipation is building as we near tipoff of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the Phoenix Mercury and your Seattle Storm. A great crowd is filing in, and already Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell (who spoke to the Storm last week) and former Sonics Head Coach and point guard Lenny Wilkens are sitting courtside. It's clear this is a big game, and given the way these teams have played against each other all season long - including a pair of overtime matchups - the action on the court should easily live up to the hype. Stay tuned all night long for the latest.