Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Los Angeles
Feel-Good Win for Storm
Final: Storm 96, Los Angeles 73
I think Storm Head Coach Brian Agler had an idea this was coming. In his pregame interview with Storm play-by-play broadcaster Dick Fain, Agler expressed confidence that the Storm's offense would break out of its doldrums soon. That's exactly what happened tonight, as the Storm put together one of the best offensive performances in franchise history to run the rival Los Angeles Sparks off the floor. The Storm fell a point shy of the century mark, settling for 99 points in the fifth-highest output in franchise history and the most the team has ever scored against Los Angeles.
Individually, so many players contributed. Four of them scored season highs: Swin Cash (26), Katie Smith (13), Le'coe Willingham (12) and Tanisha Wright (21). That's not even counting Sue Bird, who scored 17 and handed out eight assists running the attack. The Storm shot 54.7 percent from the field and 9-of-17 from beyond the arc. Those numbers were even gaudier after halftime: 64.5 percent shooting and 6-of-9 on threes.
The Storm will try to keep the momentum going on Tuesday, when we play our annual Kids Day and celebrate Doppler's Birthday. It's a special 12 noon start as the Washington Mystics visit KeyArena. It's a unique experience, so get your tickets now and join us.
Storm Catches Fire
Fourth Quarter: Storm 96, Los Angeles 73
By the middle of the fourth quarter, this game was long decided, but these are still very important minutes. What we've seen in the fourth quarter is Storm players who were struggling to knock down shots all of a sudden get going, as if contagious. None has been more exciting than Katie Smith, who hit a pair of three-pointers early in the quarter to open things up. Going into tonight, the all-time leading scorer in women's professional basketball history had just six three-pointers all season. She's increased that by 50 percent tonight. Might that finally get Smith going? She's too good to continue slumping from the field like she has so far.
The Key is a' Rockin'
Fourth Quarter: Storm 75, Los Angeles 62
Great crowd at KeyArena tonight, and they've had plenty to cheer during the second half as the Storm has opened up a double-digit lead. A moment ago, we got a great sight - Katie Smith knocking down a three-pointer in transition, her first of the night, to give the Storm its largest lead. Jennifer Gillom immediately took timeout, but Storm fans kept the party going with the Doppler Train during the timeout.
End Third Quarter: Storm 70, Los Angeles 60
The Storm outscored Los Angeles 32-21 during the third quarter to take a double-digit lead - the largest of the game by either side. Swin Cash really got everything going with 16 of her 21 points during the period. She's gotten plenty of assistance from Sue Bird, who knocked down a three on the Storm's last possession, and Tanisha Wright. The starting backcourt has combined for 30 points.
During the break, the winner of the Storm's Championship Ring Contest presented by Blue Nile was announced. Fans had a chance to view the videos created by the two finalists, Ashley and Robyn, and then cast their votes via text message. Over 5,000 votes were cast before in-arena emcee Shellie Hart named Robyn the winner. Congrats!
Storm On the Run
Third Quarter: Storm 57, Los Angeles 49
The Storm has opened up its largest lead with a 14-3 run over the last few minutes. Swin Cash has been in the middle of it all, scoring 10 of the Storm's 14 points during the run. Her last two buckets have come in transition and thanks to phenomenal feeds by Sue Bird and Katie Smith, who have a combined nine assists. Also credit Ashley Robinson for some excellent defense on Jantel Lavender that has forced multiple turnovers.
Foul-Filled Quarter Helps Cash
Third Quarter: Storm 47, Los Angeles 46
Whistles have dominated the four minutes since halftime, which have probably taken nearly 15 minutes of real time to play. After 12 total fouls in the first half, the two teams have combined for nine already in the third quarter - which isn't even halfway over. That's prevented them from building much flow on offense, but players have still been able to take advantage by putting their head down and getting to the basket. That's Swin Cash's game, and she has six of her 11 points in the third as the Storm has taken a one-point lead.
Besides All-Star voting, balloting for the Top 15 Players in WNBA History is still ongoing. As a measure of the kind of talent is on these two teams, six players on the floor are among the 30 nominees for the Top 15. That doesn't even count injured Lauren Jackson and Candace Parker, who are also on the ballot. You can vote daily to make sure Jackson, Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Katie Smith are recognized among the best of the best in the WNBA's first 15 years. The 15 players will be honored at halftime of the All-Star Game.
Halftime: Los Angeles 39, Storm 38
The Rainbow City Band has taken over the KeyArena court to perform for fans during halftime. They've got a little extra assistance from Storm mascot Doppler, who has a mini drum out there. Doppler is quite good for not being classically trained.
Tight First Half
Halftime: Los Angeles 39, Storm 38
The Storm briefly took the lead at 36-34 on a Katie Smith pullup, but it's the Sparks who will take the lead to the locker room after a DeLisha Milton-Jones putback on their last possession. The stats are pretty even between the two teams, who have both made 15 field goals and three triples. The difference between them right now is L.A. going 6-of-7 from the free throw line while the Storm shot 5-of-7.
It hasn't translated into a ton of trips to the charity stripe, but the Storm has been as aggressive driving off the dribble as we've seen this season. That's paid off for Tanisha Wright, who leads all scorers with 12 points. Five players have scored at least five points, including Sue Bird, who has also handed out three assists. Katie Smith is still having a tough time getting her outside shot to fall, but she's contributed five rebounds and three assists off the bench. Smith played extended minutes as the Storm went small, moving Swin Cash to power forward to deal with Camille Little's foul trouble.
If the second half is anything like the first, we're in for a thrilling finish.
Wright On Beyond the Arc
Second Quarter: Los Angeles 34, Storm 34
The Storm has gotten back-to-back triples from Tanisha Wright to tie this game at 34. That's great to see because Wright has been struggling with her outside shooting after a breakout 2010 campaign. Coming into tonight, she was 3-of-11 from beyond the arc. The Storm needs that kind of outside production to keep the defense honest.
You've got one more day to vote for Tanisha and the rest of the Storm's starters to go to the 2011 All-Star Game two weeks from tonight in San Antonio. Voting concludes tomorrow and the races are still tight at forward, where Swin Cash leads L.A.'s Tina Thompson, and center, where Lauren Jackson trails Sparks star Candace Parker. Go vote now!
Willingham Contributing for Storm
Second Quarter: Los Angeles 28, Storm 28
The Storm has gotten some nice production from Le'coe Willingham as a starter since Lauren Jackson was injured, and that's continued tonight. Willingham has the last five points for the Storm, scoring a turnaround in the paint and then going outside to knock down a three-pointer to tie the game at 28.
Storm Needs to Turn Up Defense
End First Quarter: Los Angeles 21, Storm 18
Aside from some turnover issues late in the quarter, the Storm offense was effective in the first period, producing 47.1 percent shooting. The Storm was able to turn three steals into transition buckets. However, Los Angeles still holds the lead thanks to equal 47.1 percent shooting and four free throws. The new starting lineup played the entire first quarter and got some excellent high-low passing for scores. The Storm will need tighter defense to win this game.
I want to be sure to mention tonight's Community Spotlight, which is the Brandon's Goal Foundation. The foundation is named for Brandon Brauns, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at age four and battled it until his death last year at 11. The Brandon's Goal Foundation funds research about childhood cancer. Brandon was a huge Storm fan and Season Ticket Holder, so it's only natural that the Brandon's Goal Foundation brought out a large group of fans to tonight's game. To support them, visit brandonsgoal.com.
New Lineup Paying Dividends
First Quarter: Los Angeles 11, Storm 8
The young members of the Sparks starting lineup have helped out already. Kristi Toliver knocked down a long three-pointer and Jantel Lavender has scored four points, accounting for seven of the 11 Los Angeles has put on the board to take the early lead. Lavender had the best game of her career against the Storm down in Los Angeles last well, and I think that factored into Jennifer Gillom's decision to start her - along with the success enjoyed by another big post, Jessica Davenport, against the Storm on Tuesday. Ashley Robinson will check in to give the Storm more height in the middle.
We heard some rumblings Jen Gillom might shake up her starting lineup, but that doesn't make it any less surprising that Ticha Penicheiro and Tina Thompson have been replaced by Kristi Toliver and Jantel Lavender. Penicheiro has come off the bench a handful of times; Thompson has done so just once in her 15-year WNBA career, on Aug. 17, 2008 while playing for the Houston Comets. Thompson scored 25 points in that game, so maybe this move was made with the goal of getting her going after a slow start to the season.
Both the Storm and the Los Angeles Sparks currently find themselves without their star players. Like the Storm, Los Angeles has succeeded in this situation in the past, making the playoffs without Parker with a strong stretch run last season.
"They've got a really good group of veteran players still," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "So Candace Parker's out - you throw in Ebony Hoffman, who's a very good player. They're still an excellent basketball team. I have high regard for all those people as individual players."
The Sparks have had good stretches in two road losses since Parker was sidelined by arthroscopic knee surgery, but Head Coach Jennifer Gillom said she's "not satisfied at all" with how the team has played.
"I think both teams are going through an adjustment period right now," she said. "It's just a matter of both teams getting on that winning streak. I think both are capable because we both are good teams."
Welcome back to KeyArena. It's been a while since we've been here. The last Storm home game was two weeks ago yesterday against the Indiana Fever. Since then, the Storm has been out on the road, and fans are excited to cheer them back. Already, the bowl is filling up nearly a half-hour before gametime. Fans arrived early to make sure they got their Storm team poster presented by Bartell Drugs. Now it's almost time to get down to business as the Storm hosts the rival Los Angeles Sparks. Stay with us all night long for the latest.