Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Phoenix (Game 1)
Complete Domination in Playoff Opener
Final: Storm 80, Phoenix 61
After yesterday's practice, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler was asked whether he would be stunned by a big margin in this series, given how evenly matched the Storm and the Phoenix Mercury are on paper. While Agler said nothing would surprise him, I don't think he anticipated a 27-point lead after one quarter. There was a lot of talk before tonight's game about controlling the style, and that's absolutely what the Storm did by controlling the glass, allowing just five fast-break points and limiting the Mercury to 29.7 percent shooting. Phoenix's 61 points were the fewest the team has scored in over three years.
I think part of what happened can be explained by the Storm's size advantage in the paint. With Nakia Sanford out of the lineup, Phoenix was forced to go very small. DeWanna Bonner was able to take advantage of her quickness to score 10 first-quarter points, but she was scoreless the rest of the way and the bigger Storm posts pounded the inside. The Storm had a 40-20 advantage in points in the paint. Many of those came from Camille Little and Lauren Jackson, who combined for 30 points. Tanisha Wright added 21, many of them on slashing drives to the basket.
The Storm was able to get some rest for the stars. Lauren Jackson played just 19 minutes, which will help her bounce back physically and prepare for Game 2. Other than that, however, none of the points the Storm scored will help on Saturday night. Agler talked before the game about how the pressure was on the Storm to hold serve at home. Now that shifts to the Mercury, which will come out with desperation to win and stay alive at the US Airways Center. Expect a very different game on Saturday, and probably one more in keeping with what we anticipated from this series.
Looking Ahead to Game 2
Fourth Quarter: Storm 77, Phoenix 60
The Storm will practice here tomorrow, then fly down to Phoenix in preparation for Game 2 on Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBA TV, Live Access and 1090 AM. If you want to join fellow Storm fans to watch the game as the Storm goes for a sweep of the series, check out a list of venues that will be showing the game and in some cases offering deals to fans.
Of course, you'll want to stay tuned to StormBasketball.com for complete coverage between now and game time. We'll be on the scene in Phoenix on Saturday offering exclusive access as the Storm heads to the Valley of the Sun.
Former Seattle Stars in the House
Fourth Quarter: Storm 75, Phoenix 50
As the Storm moves closer to a big playoff victory, we have a couple of guys in the house who know about winning in the postseason. Former Sonics stars Shawn Kemp and Lenny Wilkens are in the house and sitting courtside. Kemp led the Sonics to the 1996 NBA Finals right here at KeyArena, while Wilkens coached the Sonics to their only championship in 1979.
In addition to them, we also have Seahawks wideout Mike Williams sitting courtside as all the stars turn out for Storm playoff basketball!
Complete Dominance from Storm
End Third Quarter: Storm 69, Phoenix 42
I would put the third quarter the Storm just played up with any in the franchise's history. After the timeout, the Storm outscored Phoenix 18-2 the rest of the period to open up an incredible 27-point game. The Storm is getting enviable balance from the starting lineup on offense. Sue Bird, with eight points, is the only starter yet to reach double figures. Camille Little has led the attack with 17 points and 11 rebounds for her first double-double of 2011. Swin Cash (10 points, 10 rebounds) also has a double-double.
After mostly playing starters in the first half, Corey Gaines went deep into his bench during the third quarter, giving rookies Alexis Gray-Lawson and Krystal Thomas some run. Neither was able to make a difference. Gaines' lineup is severely compromised tonight by the absence of starting center Nakia Sanford. We received word from Mercury PR during the halftime break that Sanford is not playing tonight due to a sore right knee.
No Flow Since Halftime
Third Quarter: Storm 51, Phoenix 40
Very choppy third quarter thus far. We've had a couple of lengthy stoppages as referees sought to figure things out. Diana Taurasi was called for the night's second technical. From what I can gather, it was for kicking her leg out while drawing a three-shot foul on Tanisha Wright. Suffice it to say that both sides are unhappy with the officiating crew right now and neither has been able to gain momentum since halftime.
During the quarter break, the results of this year's Stormy Award voting were revealed. Le'coe Willingham is the winner for her version of Office Space. As we found out during a brief video, acting isn't the only thing 'Coe knows. Stay tuned for it to appear on StormBasketball.com.
Storm in Control at the Half
Halftime: Storm 40, Phoenix 31
As you might expect, Corey Gaines cited tempo as one of the keys before tonight's game. I followed up by asking him if he could tell the outcome of the game from the combined point total. He said it wasn't quite that simple, but I suspect if I told him the total at the half would be 71 points, he wouldn't feel particularly good about his team's chances.
The Storm has forced Phoenix into half-court situations (the Mercury has just three fast-break points) and done a good job of taking away easy scores. The result has been just 31 points at the break for Phoenix on 37.1 percent shooting. The Mercury has also turned the ball over nine times. For Phoenix, the problem has been depth of scoring. Four players - DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree, Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor - have combined for all of the Mercury's points. Temeka Johnson is scoreless, as is the Mercury bench. (Also, Nakia Sanford, who started following the Kara Braxton trade, has yet to even see the court.)
On the other side, the Storm is getting great production from secondary options. Camille Little and Tanisha Wright have scored 11 points apiece. Little also has seven rebounds, as does Swin Cash, to help the Storm double up Phoenix on the offensive glass. All told, if Brian Agler could clone this half, I think he would.
Here Comes the Storm
Second Quarter: Storm 36, Phoenix 29
Just like that, the Storm has turned things around with its best stretch of basketball tonight. Tanisha Wright and Sue Bird came out of the timeout with consecutive three-pointers, but it was a play shortly later that seemed to engage the Storm. Camille Little was called for a technical foul when she tangled with Diana Taurasi while running downcourt.
Little did not like the call, but instead of getting mad, she got even. She immediately followed with a powerful three-point play and has overpowered the smaller DeWanna Bonner in the paint. Little has 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists to lead the Storm. She helped the team to an 11-1 run to open up a lead as large as nine points.
One thing to watch over the last two and a half minutes of the half: Taurasi has two fouls. If the Storm can draw a third, that might change the complexion of the game.
Second Quarter: Phoenix 24, Storm 23
Officially, it's a one-point Mercury lead, but I think that understates the extent to which Phoenix has controlled this game. The Mercury is getting much better shot attempts right now and has gotten the turnover problem under control. If Phoenix had made a few buckets in the paint, this could easily be a five- or seven-point game. Corey Gaines barely had anything to say to his team in the huddle, while Storm Head Coach Brian Agler made more urgent points.
One area the Storm could make up some ground is on the glass. So far, the two teams have been basically even, with the Storm coming up with one additional offensive rebound. This should be a place where the Storm leads - especially with the Mercury starting a smaller lineup.
During the timeout, the Assistant to Doppler took a cake to the face. It's our way of celebrating the ATD's last game with the Storm. Good luck!
Even After One Odd Quarter
End First Quarter: Storm 19, Phoenix 19
Very strange first quarter of basketball here at the Key. Neither team seemed able to find an offensive flow against increased defensive pressure. For Phoenix, the culprit has been turnovers - six in all, leading to six of the Storm's 19 points. The Storm just can't find the range, shooting 5-of-20 from the field. In the paint, the Storm is shooting 30 percent. Camille Little has, I believe, all of those finishes.
More patience on offense may be the key for the Storm. The Mercury doesn't want to work defensively for 24 seconds, so the Storm must wait for a good shot attempt. At the other end, Phoenix has to be excited about the way DeWanna Bonner shot the ball in the first quarter. Bonner scored 10 of the Mercury's 19 points. That ties the most she's had against the Storm all season. Bonner got the start tonight, which was unexpected. It's the first time this year that Corey Gaines has moved Candice Dupree to the middle and started Bonner at power forward.
Storm's Style So Far
First Quarter: Storm 11, Phoenix 6
During the first half of the first quarter tonight, the Storm has really played this basketball game in the style the team would look tonight. The Storm has done an excellent job of working the basketball inside to Lauren Jackson and Camille Little and has been the aggressors. That's also shown up on the glass, where the Storm has an eight-three advantage. The Mercury is going to put this series on Little's shoulders. So far, she's been equal to the task, putting up six points and three rebounds.
On the other end, Phoenix has missed some makeable shots in the paint. Candice Dupree is just 1-of-4 from the field. I can't imagine nerves would be a factor, so maybe she's hearing some footsteps from the Storm's defense. Diana Taurasi made a couple of jumpers when she has gotten airspace. That's going to be the key word with Taurasi all series long.
One of the big differences between tonight's game and the Storm's win over the Mercury last Friday at KeyArena is the health of two crucial players on either side, both of them Aussies. Penny Taylor will start tonight after missing Friday's game with back spasms, while the Storm's Lauren Jackson played at significantly less than full strength. Both teams are confident in their Australians tonight.
"I don't know about production, because it's hard to predict those sort of things," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "I know you'll see more energy out of her."
Jackson's minutes remain limited as she comes back from hip surgery. Agler didn't have a particular number in mind for how much she would play tonight.
"I think we'll gauge it on her," he explained. "We'll just sort of see how she's playing. We can tell when she gets winded out there. I know for a fact that she'll want to play as much as she can. I do know that. Whether that factors into our decision-making, I don't know."
On the Phoenix side, Corey Gaines isn't worried that Taylor isn't completely healthy.
"She's Australian," said Gaines. "I don't think she's ever been 100 percent with us. She's had big games. It doesn't matter with Penny. Different breed."
The 2011 WNBA Playoffs are here! We're just moments away from tipping things off at KeyArena as the Storm hosts the Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals. The Storm has worked hard throughout the regular season to get in position to host this series, and now it's time to take advantage of that opportunity by starting off this series with a home victory. The Key should be rocking as the Storm looks to get halfway to the Western Conference Finals with a win tonight.