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Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Phoenix

Want to enjoy the electricity of at KeyArena even if you're thousands of miles away? StormBasketball.com's Live from Press Row in-game blog is your best bet. All night and all season long, Kevin Pelton will be bringing you pregame quotes, analysis and observations from the game. E-mail Kevin at web@stormbasketball. Make sure to keep coming back or refreshing so you get the latest content.

Storm Kicks Off 2011 in Winning Fashion
Final: Storm 78, Phoenix 71


I think anyone who was here for Opening Day on 2005, the last time the Storm collected championship rings, feared we'd see a repeat of the Los Angeles Sparks' win over the Storm that day. The distraction of the ceremony and the motivation for the Phoenix Mercury portended problems, but the Storm essentially controlled this game from start to finish with solid, smart play. A late burst of scoring from Diana Taurasi, who had 11 of her 31 points in the fourth quarter, made the final score respectable but was not enough to overcome the Storm's lead.

This was Opening Day, and the Storm's execution certainly wasn't where it will be later in the season. The team had 18 turnovers, many of them when two players weren't quite on the same page. Still, the Storm did a great job of sharing the basketball and getting good looks at the basket. Sue Bird ran the show and finished with a double-double (13 points, 10 assists). Three of the four other scorers scored double figures, including a huge 18-point, nine-rebound effort from Camille Little. The bench kept things going, with Katie Smith (eight points) and Le'coe Willingham (nine) providing strong contributions. And everybody played defense, holding Phoenix to just 40.3 percent shooting from the field.

The Storm will work in practice the rest of the week to clean up the offense and defense before another test against the Minnesota Lynx on Thursday. The Lynx is expected to contend in the Western Conference after adding No. 1 overall pick Maya Moore, who scored 21 points in her WNBA debut, a narrow loss last night at Los Angeles. Join us for Moore's first visit to the Key by getting your tickets now!

Championship Ring Giveaway
Fourth Quarter: Storm 75, Phoenix 60


The highlight of today's festivities was Storm players and coaches receiving their championship rings. Now, one lucky fan will win a ring of their own to commemorate the role of fans in the great 2010 season. You just have to tell us why you deserve to win the competition, presented by Blue Nile. Get creative with video, photos or an essay and send your entry to BlueNile@StormBasketball.com by July 5. For more details and the official rules, see our page.

Little Scare
Fourth Quarter: Storm 75, Phoenix 56


Just after Brian Agler got starters Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson out of the game with the Storm up 19 and just over four minutes left, Camille Little crumpled to the floor after battling for a rebound. Little got up holding her left knee but was able to walk off the floor under her own power. She went to the locker room with Head Athletic Trainer Tom Spencer.

Starting to Celebrate Again
Fourth Quarter: Storm 69, Phoenix 54


As youngsters from this great crowd of more than 10,000 founds stream toward center court for the Doppler Train, fans are starting to think about potentially celebrating another win at KeyArena. The Storm leads by 15 with 5:38 to play. The advantage was as large as 16 a moment ago before Phoenix strung together three consecutive scores, drawing a 20-second timeout from Brian Agler. The Storm responded with Camille Little saving a loose ball and finding Lauren Jackson for a three-point play to extend the lead.

After being held without a field goal in the first half, Jackson has found more openings in the second half and has scored 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Six Storm players have at least eight points.

Storm Opening Things Up
End Third Quarter: Storm 60, Phoenix 47


Great defense from the Storm in the third quarter. Phoenix had just 12 points in the period and is now shooting 34.6 percent from the field for the game. Take out Diana Taurasi and that drops to 10-of-38, barely better than 25 percent. The Storm is just running its offense and making the simple plays. Open shots are available against this Mercury defense, especially out of inbound plays. Keep playing high-IQ basketball and Phoenix will have a tough time coming back on the road.

During the timeout, we saw our first live example of Sue Bird Racing. Having raced in the costume myself, it is not easy but it is definitely a lot of fun to race and watch.

Early Timeout
Third Quarter: Storm 44, Phoenix 35


Corey Gaines with a quick stoppage of play, both to quiet the crowd after a pair of Storm field goals and to complain to the referees. Right now, Phoenix isn't making the kind of tough defensive plays necessary to win in this league. The Mercury is giving up too many second chances and getting beat back in transition (the Storm has outscored run-and-gun Phoenix 9-4 in terms of fast-break points). The Storm still isn't shooting the ball exceptionally well, but those easy chances are getting the offense going.

On the other end, the Mercury is running everything through Kara Braxton with mixed results at best. Braxton has made three of her 10 shot attempts. She's getting looks around the basket, but everything is heavily contested as the Storm makes her play in traffic.

Crowning Dribble, Pass and Shoot Champs
Halftime: Storm 40, Phoenix 35


Today was the culmination of the Dribble, Pass and Shoot competition from the Storm Trophy Tour presented by Bing. Winners from each Boys & Girls Club location the Storm visited this spring gathered this morning to compete for spots in the finals of multiple age groups. The top finishers then faced off out at center court during halftime. Stay tuned to our Trophy Tour page for details on all the winners.

Close Game at the Break
Halftime: Storm 40, Phoenix 35


After the Storm took its largest lead at 11 points, the Mercury closed the half by outscoring Seattle 14-8 the rest of the way. With Diana Taurasi on the floor, the two teams were essentially even. However, the Storm was able to take control when Taurasi was on the bench early in the second quarter, going on a 12-5 surge to extend the lead. Taurasi has 14 points. She, Penny Taylor (nine) and Kara Braxton (six) have supplied most of the Phoenix offense. The rest of the team is shooting just 2-of-13 from the field.

The Storm has enjoyed superior balance. Camille Little has 10 and Sue Bird and Katie Smith have scored eight apiece, but all eight players to see action have scored. Sue Bird has orchestrated everything with six assists. The Storm has eight assists as a team to just two for the Mercury, which has relied mostly on one-on-one offense.

Taurasi Battling Foul Trouble
Second Quarter: Storm 34, Phoenix 27


Diana Taurasi has spent extended periods on the bench during the first half due to foul trouble. Smith picked up her second foul during the first quarter, charging into close friend Sue Bird. She then got an away-from-the-ball foul early in the second quarter, her third. Without Taurasi, the Mercury had a tough time scoring. As a result, Corey Gaines has taken a bit of a risk by bringing her back. The last time Taurasi was in KeyArena - Game 1 of last year's Western Conference Finals - she fouled out, although after the game was already decided.

The crowd is having some great fun, including the debut of Sue Bird Racing at the last timeout. You may have seen photos on Twitter of Storm players in bird uniforms. That was for this feature, which pitted Le'coe Willingham, Camille Little and Ashley Robinson in a race as three different "birds." Willingham proved adept as a chicken, easily beating her competitors to the "nest" to win.

Katie Smith Making a Difference
Second Quarter: Storm 30, Phoenix 21


If there was any question about whether Katie Smith would fit in with the Storm, it's been answered within her first 10 minutes on the floor. Smith has been terrific today, knocking down shots from the perimeter and playing excellent defense. Smith is tied with Camille Little for the team lead with eight points. Since she entered the game, the Storm has outscored Phoenix by 12 points.

Today is Smith's 37th birthday, and big games on her birthday are nothing new. Three years ago, when the Storm played against Detroit, the Shock won behind 33 points from Smith. Smith's scoring surge is helping her hold off Lauren Jackson, who entered today's game just three points back of Smith for third place in WNBA history. So far, Smith has actually outscored the MVP 9-0.

Storm Settles Down
End First Quarter: Storm 18, Phoenix 16


A more controlled style allowed the Storm to reclaim the lead after one quarter, 18-16. The Storm's defense has forced some surprising misses from the potent Phoenix Mercury offense. Phoenix shot just 41.2 percent from the field (7-of-17) and did not make a three-pointer. Diana Taurasi has six points, but she also picked up two first-quarter fouls. That's worth watching here in the second quarter.

During the quarter break, a pair of prominent local politicians who have supported Storm basketball were introduced. Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and King County Executive Dow Constantine are both sitting courtside with members of Force 10 Hoops LLC.

Wild Pace Early
First Quarter: Storm 12, Phoenix 12


Six minutes into the first quarter, this game has been played at a frenetic pace. That's what the Phoenix Mercury wants all the time, of course, but the Storm would like to slow things down a bit and execute on offense. Seattle has gotten good looks, but has turned the ball over three times and rushed a couple of contested attempts at the rim.

The Storm has quickly gotten contributions off the bench. Katie Smith knocked down her first bucket in a Storm uniform shortly after checking in, making a transition three off the Sue Bird feed. The next trip down, Smith fed Le'coe Willingham on the pick-and-roll for an up-and-under score. Ashley Robinson will now get her chance as Brian Agler rests his post players early in the game.

Getting Focused
Pregame


After the conclusion of the ring ceremony, there was a brief five-minute period for both teams to warm back up and get ready for tipoff. Here's the time where players have to put the emotions of receiving their rings behind them and get ready to play basketball.

Rings Presented
Pregame



Neil Enns/Storm Photos

The members of Force 10 Hoops LLC joined Karen Bryant and Laurel J. Richie to present the championship rings. Force 10 Chair Dawn Trudeau introduced Bryant, the constant in Seattle professional basketball, and presented her championship ring before the staff was introduced - in order, Equipment Manager Danielle Yellam, Head Athletic Trainer Tom Spencer, Director of Basketball Operations Misssy Bequette, Assistant Coaches Jenny Boucek and Nancy Darsch and Head Coach Brian Agler.

Starting with Agler, coaches and players introduced each other and highlighted what they bring to the team. Agler praised Ashley Robinson as "the glue" that holds the Storm together and predicted she will win Most Improved Player after working to develop her game over the offseason. Robinson noted that former SEC nemesis Le'coe Willingham is a two-time champion, having won with the Phoenix Mercury in 2009.

Willingham praised Tanisha Wright's defensive prowess. Wright was joined by Robinson to introduce, from North Carolina, Camille Little. Little listed Swin Cash's long list of achievements in a stellar career that includes NCAA titles, three WNBA championships and an Olympic gold medal. Cash pointed out that Lauren Jackson truly needs no introduction. Jackson finished things up by introducing close friend Sue Bird.

Bird then addressed the crowd, saying she gets chills at times on the court and saying that despite some initial trepidation about coming all the way to Seattle, there's no place she would have rather been for the last decade.

To finish things off, everyone turned their attention to the rafters at the north end of the building, where the 2010 WNBA and Western Conference championship banners were unveiled alongside their 2004 counterparts. We'll be able to look at those banners at every game from here on out and remember the great memories made during 2010.

Opening Statements
Pregame


Our first speaker was Storm President and CEO Karen Bryant, who thanked fans, players, coaches and the Storm staff before introducing new WNBA President Laurel J. Richie. Richie said she'd already been told about the reputation of Storm fans for being loud, passionate and a little bit crazy. Now, a more in-depth recap of the 2010 season with players describing the emotion of winning the championship.

Ring Ceremony Begins
Pregame


The countdown clock has hit zero, the lights have gone out and we're ready to hand out the championship rings after a highlight video looking back on the 2010 season. Blue Nile Diamond, the presenting sponsor of today's celebration of champions, designed and created the beautiful rings players will be receiving in a matter of moments. Here's our story on that process, including photos of the rings

Ring Ceremony Begins
Pregame


The countdown clock has hit zero, the lights have gone out and we're ready to hand out the championship rings after a highlight video looking back on the 2010 season. Blue Nile Diamond, the presenting sponsor of today's celebration of champions, designed and created the beautiful rings players will be receiving in a matter of moments. Here's our story on that process, including photos of the rings

Pregame Notes
Pregame


For the Storm, reserve wing Belinda Snell will not play. Head Coach Brian Agler thought there was a chance Snell might dress and warm up before watching the game on the bench, but Snell is not even out there as the teams go through pregame warm-ups. (She is in fact dressed.) I wouldn't be surprised to see Snell back in the lineup Thursday, when the Storm hosts Minnesota.

Phoenix is completely healthy and will start Kara Braxton in the middle. Braxton and DeWanna Bonner each started a preseason game, but Bonner will stay in her familiar reserve role that has resulted in a pair of Sixth Woman Awards. Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines said the team will rely on an eight-player rotation, with Bonner and newcomers Marie Ferdinand-Harris and Nakia Sanford coming off the bench.

Both coaches said they're looking forward to seeing their team in a regular-season game setting and measuring themselves against an opponent for whom they have a lot of respect.

"You have your preseason, then you have your preseason games, which is always a good measuring point," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "But then you also have a measure on real games - that environment, how you perform. We're interested in that. We're trying to get a gauge against a very good opponent, too."

Signing On
Pregame


This is the day we've all been waiting for since the confetti finished falling on the Storm's championship celebration at KeyArena last September. Today, we take one last look back at the 2010 championship season before embarking upon a new journey that the Storm hopes can be just as successful. The action starts at 11:30 a.m. with the presentation of championship rings and we'll have complete live coverage starting then and continuing until the final buzzer.