Live from Press Row: Storm vs. Los Angeles
Short-Handed Storm Falls at Home
Final: L.A. 82, Storm 71
Honestly, nobody was really excited about the Storm playing without Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson tonight. Before the game, I asked Sparks Head Coach Carol Ross about the possibility of sweeping the season series 5-0 - the first time a team has ever won five games against the Storm in a regular season. Ross said she didn't put much weight on the accomplishment.
"If Lauren Jackson was playing for Seattle," she said, "it would mean a little bit more, but they haven't been full speed any of the times we've played them. That's disappointing because we really haven't had the opportunity to see them at their best."
That was certainly the case tonight. Besides Bird, the Storm played without Ann Wauters and effectively did not have Tina Thompson, who played just five minutes in the first quarter before her night came to an early end. So despite getting season-high efforts from Tanisha Wright (21) and Shekinna Stricklen (16, which tied her career high), the Storm was lacking in offense after halftime, allowing L.A. to pull away.
Hopefully, we'll have a few more of those players in the lineup on Tuesday, when the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx come to town. The Storm is trying to split the season series after beating Minnesota in the last matchup at KeyArena. You'll want to see a Lynx team featuring three members of the USA team that won gold in London (Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen), so get your tickets now and don't forget to wear green to stand out and look good in the crowd for the national audience on ESPN2.
Storm Running Out of Time
Fourth Quarter: L.A. 76, Storm 63
The Sparks haven't been able to control this game in the fourth quarter they way they did in the third quarter. At the same time, the Sparks have been able to maintain and even extend their lead. Tonight just isn't the Storm's night in terms of shooting. The team is 3-of-16 from beyond the arc (18.8 percent) and has also had a tough time at the free throw line (12-of-21, 57.1 percent). Some of that may be the fatigue that comes with playing extra minutes and having to create more offense with Sue Bird out of the lineup.
Still, the KeyArena crowd is not ready to concede this game with a little under three minutes left to play. They're still right in this thing.
Momentum at Last
Fourth Quarter: L.A. 69, Storm 61
We've got a large crowd here tonight for LJ Bobblehead Night and they've been waiting a while for something to really cause them to go crazy. Well, the start of the fourth quarter looks to have provided it. A Camille Little three-point play and a Shekinna Stricklen triple (giving her 10 points) have brought the Storm within eight points, the closest the margin has been for a while. Carol Ross wanted to avoid a run and quickly timeout. However, KeyArena continued to rock during the timeout for the Doppler Train. The Storm will try to harness that momentum and use it to catalyze a comeback. The team has yet to win this season when trailing after three quarters.
By the way, we haven't seen Tina Thompson since the first quarter. Seems like her sprained left knee must not have responded well to the minutes she played, leaving the Storm very short-handed underneath. Camille Little must avoid further foul trouble. She's still get four.
Wright Keeping Storm in the Game
End Third Quarter: L.A. 67, Storm 55
Where would the Storm be tonight without Tanisha Wright? Starting at point guard in place of Sue Bird, Wright has scored 19 points - one shy of her career high - including 13 in the third quarter alone. She took over the game during the second half of the period and kept L.A. from extending its lead any further. Still, after a questionable DeLisha Milton-Jones 2/3 was ruled a triple, the Sparks will take a 12-point lead to the final period.
Sparks Pulling Away
Third Quarter: L.A. 59, Storm 45
This third quarter has belonged to the Sparks, who have outscored the Storm 19-7 to extend their lead to double digits. Candace Parker, quiet in the first half, has six points here in the period and Alana Beard is really rolling. She's got 14 points tonight to go along with a pair of steals. That understates her defensive impact. The Storm is really struggling to score right now. Shots that were coming with ease in the first half just aren't there, forcing the team to play deep into the shot clock and leading to a rash of turnovers.
Not Start Storm Wanted
Third Quarter: L.A. 44, Storm 38
The Storm hasn't responded the way Coach Agler wanted coming out of the locker room after the halftime break. The Storm has two turnovers on three possessions and has yet to hit the rim (the team's other shot was blocked). More troublingly, Camille Little picked up her fourth foul trying to defend Nneka Ogwumike on the drive. She's stayed in the game with Agler having few alternatives. However, he took timeout to clean up the play after two Ogwumike free throws and a Candace parker jumper gave L.A. its largest lead of the night at six points.
Two-Point Game at the Break
Halftime: L.A. 40, Storm 38
All things considered, the Storm has to feel pretty good about the situation at halftime. Despite playing much of the first half undersized due to Camille Little's foul trouble, the Storm is down just two at the break. Little returned late in the first half and scored the team's final point at the free throw line. She's got six points and three assists in 11 minutes. Camille Little and Svetlana Abrosimova also have six and Shekinna Stricklen leads the Storm's balanced attack with seven. L.A.'s point distribution is much less dramatic. Kristi Toliver has 16 points and she, Alana Beard and Nneka Ogwumike (eight apiece) have scored 32 of the team's 40 points. Of course, the Sparks will take it because that's translated into a lead midway through this game.
Toliver Torching Storm - Again
Second Quarter: L.A. 38, Storm 33
Thanks to a 12-3 run since the last timeout, the Sparks have taken their largest lead at five points. Kristi Toliver has been the key. She's got 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting and is again red hot from beyond the arc. Toliver has made all three triples she's taken, meaning she's now 14-of-20 (70 percent) from three against the Storm this season. Before the game, Brian Agler was asked about Toliver's incredible success in head-to-head matchups.
"She's a good player, very talented," said Agler. "I think she has hit a lot of shots, especially the last two times we played, in transition where we don't get people matched up."
That's mostly been the case tonight. Toliver hit a three over the top of Tanisha Wright, but her other two makes from deep came on scramble plays where she came loose to the horror of fans at KeyArena. Toliver has also made some very difficult twos. She's an undeniably talented player who is inexplicably at her best against the Storm.
Storm Thin Up Front
Second Quarter: Storm 30, L.A. 26
Camille Little's foul trouble is a problem for the Storm tonight. Little picked up two fouls in the first quarter and got her third shortly after checking in during the second quarter. Without her, the Storm is undersized in the frontcourt because Ann Wauters is out and Tina Thompson's minutes are limited. Before the game, Coach Agler said the 15 minutes Thompson played on Thursday are about the cap for her right now. She's already played five, so Agler will have to budget the remaining playing time. Right now, rookie Alysha Clark is playing power forward next to Ewelina Kobryn. She's got two points and three boards off the bench.
During the timeout, the Storm played on ArenaVision the video the WNBA made to celebrate players returning to action after winning gold in London - a group that includes Sue Bird and Candace Parker. Check it out.
Stricklen Provides a Boost
End First Quarter: Storm 22, L.A. 20
The Storm's bench again offered energy upon checking in. Rookie Shekinna Stricklen knocked down a three the first time she touched the basketball and later had an impressive drive from the wing for a layup. The Storm led by as many as seven before another L.A. run made it a two-point game at the end of the first quarter.
During the break, we played one of Doppler's favorite games - Angry Sue Birds. Unfortunately, Doppler couldn't pick up the split getting bowled into a bunch of pins set up at the other side of the court
First Quarter: L.A. 11, Storm 10
We've barely played more than five minutes, but already we have mini-runs by each team. After Kristi Toliver scored the game's first bucket, the Storm answered with eight points to take an early lead. Since then, L.A. holds a 9-2 advantage to reclaim the lead.
Very early, L.A. looked to be shaking off some of the rust that is to be expected in the team's first game in more than a month. The Sparks turned the ball over three times, setting up four Storm points. Rookie Nneka Ogwumike has helped Los Angeles move past that with four points, all at the free throw line. Candace Parker has been quiet early. She's yet to score and does not have a rebound. Surely that will change soon.
No Bird for Storm
Sue Bird is still feeling under the weather due to stomach flu and will not play tonight. In fact, she's not in the building but is back at home.
"She's just not feeling well," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "We'll just let her stay and rest and get healthy."
Ann Wauters will also not play tonight as she returns from a strained left Achilles. Tina Thompson will be in uniform, but remains limited by a sprained left knee suffered last month.
"She's strong but she's still recovering," Agler said. "We didn't have her do a whole lot yesterday. She's not 100 percent yet."
With Bird out, Svetlana Abrosimova will get the start at shooting guard. Tanisha Wright, who had eight assists and five steals in Thursday's win over Phoenix, slides over to the point.
Welcome to KeyArena, where the Storm is getting prepared for its second home game in 48 hours. Tonight, the rival Los Angeles Sparks visit Seattle trying to complete a series sweep of the Storm. L.A. came from behind to win here on Opening Night, then won the three matchups down in L.A. at the Staples Center. With more than a month left in the season, this will be the final meeting between the teams during the regular season.