Live from Press Row: Storm vs. L.A.
Final: Los Angeles 72, Storm 66
The mood in the Storm's locker room was somewhere between disappointment about letting this opportunity slip away and patience knowing this is the first game this group had played together. I thought Sue Bird had a good explanation that when the Sparks started putting pressure on the Storm, the team has a tendency to revert back to its comfort zone, which doesn't yet exist for this group of players. That will take time. Head Coach Brian Agler felt his team needed to develop more toughness to handle L.A.'s defensive style and the run the Sparks made. And Tina Thompson was probably the most upset, both with her own four turnovers and what she perceived as the team relaxing with a sizable lead.
The bottom-line takeaway for all involved as that the Storm will get a chance to work on these issues in practice over the next week and will keep improving as a unit.
Sparks Stun Storm
Final: Los Angeles 72, Storm 66
Fans are filing quietly out of KeyArena. Opening Night wasn't supposed to end like this. The Los Angeles Sparks used the Storm's turnovers and sound execution to control the fourth quarter, outscoring the home team 30-10 to erase a 14-point deficit and come from behind for a 72-66 win. The Storm had its chances down the stretch, but Sue Bird uncharacteristically came up short on a tying three-point attempt from the quarter and the Storm never scored again.
I don't think any of what we saw tonight, including 27 turnovers, was unexpected given how little time the Storm had to prepare. It's just that the team seemed to be cruising in the first and third quarters, building a lead. With the same players on the floor, the Storm could not find a way to shake loose of the Los Angeles defense and get a good shot attempt down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Sparks found their confidence, led by Kristi Toliver. The fearless reserve guard played the entire second half and finished with 25 points and six assists, controlling the game from the point.
The nice thing about the Storm's schedule after the game in Los Angeles was pushed from Sunday to Tuesday is the team will have two days of practice to work on its offense and get on the same page before facing these same Sparks once again with a chance to even the home-and-home series. Certainly, tonight's game offered an idea of what to work on over the next few days. The Storm will then have another break before heading on the road again to face Minnesota over the weekend. Our next home game at KeyArena will be Friday, June 1 vs. Tulsa. Get your tickets now and join us as the Storm looks to reestablish Home Court Advantage!
Storm Needs a Bucket
Fourth Quarter: Los Angeles 69, Storm 66
Los Angeles has barely led tonight, but the Sparks have the advantage at the time that matters. A Kristi Toliver bucket gave L.A. its first lead, followed by Toliver rattling in a three to extend the advantage to four. Camille Little got the Storm back within one with an amazing three-point play that saw her grab a rebound, score the putback and draw the foul in one motion. However, Parker went back to work and scored in the post. The Storm is now down three with possession and 28.3 seconds left on the clock. Brian Agler just took his last timeout, so the Storm may need to consider going for the tying three here. Tina Thompson is in to give the Storm another threat from beyond the arc.
Fourth Quarter: Storm 62, Los Angeles 62
The Storm's offense just can't get untracked. Turnovers continue to be a major issue. The Storm has coughed the ball up 27 times, including seven in the first seven minutes of this fourth quarter, helping account for 12 of Los Angeles' 20 points in the period. The last, a Candace Parker tip-in of her own miss after a steal, tied the game at 62 apiece. To make matters worse, the Storm is down to just one timeout for the final 2:53 of the game. The team lost one of its discretionary timeouts when Victoria Dunlap had to stop play after recovering a loose ball, then took this one to stop the Sparks' run.
The Storm will go with Sue Bird, Tanisha Wright, Katie Smith, Camille Little and Ann Wauters. Carol Ross has Kristi Toliver, Alana Beard, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Candace Parker and Jantel Lavender on the floor. Toliver is the biggest reason the Sparks are still in the game. She's got 19 points and six assists off the bench in one of her best all-around games.
Storm Offense Needs a Boost
Fourth Quarter: Storm 56, Los Angeles 48
As young fans take the floor for our first Doppler Train of the season, the Los Angeles Sparks are on a 6-0 run to cut the Storm's lead down to eight points. Once again, we're seeing the team struggle with its execution when Sue Bird gets a rest. It's a similar pattern to the first half: long possessions that force the Storm to battle both the defense and the shot clock, leading to turnovers and contested shots. The Storm now has 23 turnovers in the game.
Bird will be coming back after the break along with the rest of the Storm starting five, and we'll see if they can maintain the energy the Doppler Train never fails to provide.
Sellout Crowd Enjoying Storm's Play
End Third Quarter: Storm 56, Los Angeles 42
We got word during the third quarter that tonight's game is a sellout, with a full lower bowl of 9,686 on hand. They've had plenty to enjoy tonight as the Storm has led from start to finish by as many as 21 points. During the third quarter, the Storm offense got back on track, putting 21 points on the board. Hot shooting has been a big factor, as the Storm is a sizzling 9-of-15 (60 percent) from beyond the arc. Tina Thompson (four threes) and Sue Bird (three) have led the long-distance attack. Thompson made three triples in the third quarter alone.
We saw Brian Agler experiment a little late in the third quarter, giving Victoria Dunlap her first action of the season. Dunlap scored a bucket in her 4:02 of action, supplying energy off the bench. The only Storm player not to take the floor so far tonight is rookie forward Alysha Clark.
Tina Gets it Going
Third Quarter: Storm 41, Los Angeles 26
Tina Thompson wasn't a big offensive contributor during her first half with the Storm, though she did grab a game-high six rebounds. Well, that's changed in a big way since halftime. Thompson has a pair of three-pointers as the Storm has extended its lead to 15, drawing another Carol Ross timeout. Ross needs the stoppages of play to quiet a loud Storm crowd that is loving the way the team has played so far tonight.
Dunking Ushers Return
Halftime: Storm 35, Los Angeles 24
An old KeyArena favorite, the Dunking Ushers, thrilled fans with their high-flying acrobatics off the trampoline during halftime. All that dunking plus they'll take your ticket too! The only disappointment was Doppler unable to finish a dunk attempt. I always love to see Dopps get up!
Double-Digit Lead at the Break
Halftime: Storm 35, Los Angeles 24
Sue Bird injected some life into the Storm's offense late in the first half with a pair of three-pointers, giving her 11 points during the first half and increasing the Storm's lead to 11 at the break. Defense was the Storm's saving grace during the first half. Los Angeles shot just 9-of-33 from the field, including 2-of-8 from beyond the arc. Reserve Kristi Toliver (eight) was the only Sparks player with more than five points.
The focus of Agler's halftime speech will surely be offensive execution and efficiency. The Storm turned the ball over 14 times in the first half, including nine by the starting lineup. If the Storm can work that out, the shooting has been pretty good, especially from beyond the arc, where the Storm is 5-of-8.
Stricklen Getting Extended Run
Second Quarter: Storm 29, Los Angeles 21
I've seen plenty of skepticism about how much Shekinna Stricklen might play for the Storm this season, given Head Coach Brian Agler's history of favoring veterans. Of course, Agler hasn't had a rookie quite like Stricklen during his time at the helm of the Storm, and so far Stricklen has played a prominent role. Her 10 minutes are the most of any reserve, ahead of Katie Smith. Stricklen had a really impressive play at the defensive end, battling with Jantel Lavender in the post to force a miss. Stricklen has actually played more than counterpart Nneka Ogwumike, who hasn't played since the game's first three minutes.
The Storm continues to struggle with execution and turnovers - 10 of them in all, including six in the second quarter. Whether it was euphoria or the energy of the crowd, whatever worked so well in the first quarter has worn off, as the Storm continues to play deep into the shot clock since getting the starters back on the floor.
Working Out Offensive Kinks
Second Quarter: Storm 24, Los Angeles 13
As well as the Storm has started, there are still reminders that this is an opening game. The team had four turnovers during the first quarter, mostly on miscommunications when passing the basketball. The offense has slowed since Tanisha Wright replaced Sue Bird at the point. The Storm is often working deep into the shot clock, which makes it difficult to get a good look. Sensing the issue, Head Coach Brian Agler takes his first timeout of the young season to offer some instruction.
That means our first performance by the Storm Dance Troupe, making use of the T-shirts that were given out to the first 3,000 fans in attendance tonight.
Storm Defense in Midseason Form
End First Quarter: Storm 24, Los Angeles 10
After limited practice time together during training camp, the Storm's starters seem to have picked up Brian Agler's defense in a hurry. Switching, trapping and wreaking havoc for the Los Angeles offense, they've helpd the Sparks to 26.7 percent shooting and opened up a 14-point lead after one quarter. Candace Parker has been unable to get going against double-teams. She's 1-of-3 from the field with two points and a turnover.
On the other end, Ann Wauters has demonstrated her soft touch in the paint. She's got 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go along with two rebounds. Shekinna Stricklen supplied some scoring punch when she checked in, knocking down a three-pointer and a pull-up jumper to begin her WNBA career in style. And Sue Bird has five points and three assists. Brian Agler rotated seven players in the first quarter. They'll be joined after the break by Ewelina Kobryn, seeing her first action to give the Storm some more size on the floor.
Perfect Start for Storm
First Quarter: Storm 11, Los Angeles 0
Well, Brian Agler couldn't have scripted a much better start than this. Led by Ann Wauters, the Storm has scored the game's first 11 points in just 2:45, drawing our first timeout of the season by the Sparks. Wauters scored the first bucket of the game inside and just finished a pseudo-alley-oop at the rim. Her size has been a problem for this smaller L.A. group. At the defensive end, the Storm is very active and has forced the Sparks to miss all four shot attempts thus far.
I'm going to be immodest and take credit for tonight's National Anthem. I heard Hailey Kilgore, a 13-year-old singer from Portland, at a Blazers game last season and she gave me goosebumps. We were able to get Kilgore to come out to do the National Anthem for Opening Night and she rocked it. Great way to start the 2012 season as we prepare for the introduction of the Storm roster.
Intriguing Lineup for Sparks
I've spent a lot of time discussing the Storm's versatility this season, but we're not alone. Los Angles also has a variety of interchangeable parts, and Carol Ross has chosen to take advantage by starting a lineup with neither a traditional point guard nor a traditional center. Alana Beard will be running the point with Marissa Coleman at shooting guard in an enormous backcourt. Candace Parker starts in the middle with Nneka Ogwumike next to her.
Center Nicky Anosike is in street clothes. The Sparks did not list anyone on their injury report, so I'm not sure why that is.
Storm Starts Wauters
After deliberating with his coaching staff, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler decided to go with center Ann Wauters in the middle as the fifth starter tonight alongside guards Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright and forwards Camille Little and Tina Thompson. Wauters has just five practices with the team since arriving from Belgium but has fit in quickly and gives the Storm more size against the Los Angeles starting lineup.
Agler has an idea of what he plans to do in terms of substitutions, though that's also a matter of feel once the games begin.
"We sort of talked about it," he said. "I think we'll get Katie (Smith) and Shekinna (Stricklen) in bright and early. After that it's hard to say. We'd like to get size on the floor with Ewa (Kobryn), so she'll play, but we've also played a lot of our preseason with Camille and Tina at the four and the five too."
After a long offseason and a short training camp, the moment we've all been anticipating since last September is here. The Storm and the Los Angeles Sparks are just minutes away from tipping off the 2012 season right here at KeyArena in a battle of Western Conference rivals. Fans are filing into KeyArena, and we expect a good crowd of Storm Crazies here tonight to try to help cheer the team to its first victory of 2012. Both teams have made major changes over the offseason, so I'm excited to see what they look like in a game that counts. It should be a fun one, so stay with us all night long for updates from courtside.