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Insider Preview - Storm at Phoenix (Game 2)

HEAD-TO-HEAD
84.0 PF 101.0
105.6 Off. Eff. 124.0
36.0 RPG 36.0
.509 Reb % .491
Storm at Phoenix
Game 2 - Phoenix leads 1-0
Sunday, August 26, 4:00 p.m.
US Airways Center
TV: ESPN2
Join Storm fans to watch tonight's game at Theatre Off Jackson
Radio: 1150 AM KKNW

Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com


What went wrong in Game 1 for the Seattle Storm? That's the question after the Phoenix Mercury invaded KeyArena and handed the Storm a 101-84 victory to wrest control of the teams' best-of-three First Round series.

Most of the discussion has centered on Lauren Jackson's shot attempts - or lack thereof, more accurately. Jackson attempted only 10 shot attempts from the field, none of them in the second quarter. Despite that, however, the Storm put up 84 points - at least 20 in every quarter but the third. Seattle's Offensive Rating of 105.6 points per 100 possessions was slightly above the team's regular-season average. That's something of a disappointment given the Mercury is not known for its defense, but the Storm's offense was hardly a disaster.

What might be worthy of more discussion is Phoenix's offense, which scored at the prodigious rate of 124.0 points per 100 possessions - well above the Mercury's 106.5 Offensive Rating in the regular season. The first issue for the Storm was the performance of Phoenix's high-scoring trio. Cappie Pondexter, Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor all scored at least 20 points, totaling 65. The Storm can survive one or even two of those three players going off, but to have all three scoring regularly is impossible to defend.

Phoenix's role players also shot the ball well and powered the team's 14 three-pointers. Tangela Smith, who had a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, knocked down all three of her attempts from downtown. Kelly Mazzante shot 3-for-4 on threes off the bench, while Kelly Miller added two more triples.

At the same time, Phoenix's scoring outburst did in fact reflect to some extent on the Storm's offense. Few teams are as dependent on their defense to create offense than the Mercury because the team is so potent in transition. Phoenix scored 32 points off of 18 Storm turnovers, and six Seattle giveaways before the first timeout of the game helped set the tone.

"That was the key," said Storm Head Coach Anne Donovan. "Phoenix had 19 points off of 11 turnovers in the first half and that completely set the tone. I thought our perimeter with Sue (Bird) and Betty (Lennox) really struggled initially and it gave Phoenix the momentum, and it gave them access to what they like to do, which is run."

Even when the Storm wasn't turning the ball over, the team's execution on offense fell short - particularly during the first half. Quick shots were also advantageous to the Mercury fast break. Also part of this issue was the Storm's inability to get the ball to Jackson and challenge the Mercury's 3-2 zone and box-and-one defenses as Seattle did during the regular season, when Jackson averaged nearly 15 field-goal attempts against Phoenix while also getting to the free-throw line much more frequently.

"We had set plays that we were running to help her get the ball," Donovan said. "I think its a combination of our perimeter keeping focused looking for her, and Lauren working hard against the zone to get her own opportunities."

For Game 2, the key for the Storm may not so much be adjustment so much as refocusing on the initial gameplan to get Jackson the ball and execute the offense against the Mercury's two primary defenses. On defense, the Storm was hurt by helping off of three-point shooters to try to prevent dribble penetration. The Storm can focus on containing the ball one-on-one, but defenders are inevitably going to be beaten and the Storm may have to rely more on the interior help defense inside of helping from the perimeter to limit Phoenix's three-point attempts.

Clearly, the Storm faces a tremendous challenge in going to Phoenix needing consecutive road wins to take this series. According to storm.wnba.com's research, 29 teams have won Game 1 of a best-of-three series on the road. 27 of those 29 teams have gone on to win the series, sweeping more than three-quarters of the time. The Storm, however, is aware that such a scenario is not impossible, dropping back-to-back games at KeyArena to Houston in a 2005 First Round loss.

"Weve made it difficult and were going to have to do this the hard way," said Donovan, "but weve had playoffs where we won the first game and then came back and lost the second two so well see if we can turn it around this year."

KEY MATCHUP
Lennox got it going in the fourth quarter, but started out slowly. She and Bird were largely responsible for the Storm's early turnover woes. The Storm will need a better start from its backcourt in Game 2 and should expect it. Lennox doesn't actually match up with Pondexter on defense, that responsibility falling to Bird. Pondexter continues to be a difficult matchup for the Storm, scoring 20 or more points in three of the four games this season.

INJURIES
Storm - Center Janell Burse (torn ligaments, left wrist) is out.

Phoenix - None.

Check out storm.wnba.com during Sunday's game for the first ever road Live From Press Row live blog from the US Airways Center in Phoenix.