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It was bound to be difficult to match the television ratings for the 2009 WNBA Finals after a thrilling five game series last year between the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever that was widely considered as the best ever.
Nevertheless, the league still saw growth in television ratings in Games 2 and 3 of the Seattle Storm's three game sweep of the Atlanta Dream despite a small decline overall.
Games 2 and 3 were on ESPN2 and averaged 422,000 households, up 15 percent from Games 2 and 3 on ESPN2 last year (Indiana vs. Phoenix) and up 79 percent from those two contests on ESPN2 in 2008 (Detroit vs. San Antonio), according to the WNBA.
Last night's Game 3 garnered a 3.8 overnight rating in the Seattle market, the highest local WNBA rating on ESPN or ESPN2 for any market since a 4.0 in Hartford on September 15, 2005. It was also a marked increase over last season according to Sports Media Watch.
Sports Media Watch: WNBA Finals Down on ESPN2
Thursday's Game 3 drew a 0.38 and 545,000 viewers, up 31% and 40%, respectively, from Mercury/Fever Game 3 last year (0.29, 389,000) and the most-viewed Game 3 of the WNBA Finals since 2007 (Shock/Mercury: 646,000). Last year's Game 3 aired on a Sunday afternoon.
However, Game 1 struggled to compete with Week 1 of the NFL - including Pete Carroll's regular season home debut locally. It drew the lowest rating ever for a WNBA Finals on broadcast television, supplanting the previous low set by the 2005 WNBA Finals.
Sports Media Watch: WNBA Finals Gets Off To Poor Start on ABC; ESPN2 Ratings Even
Sunday's Dream/Storm Game 1 drew a 0.33 final rating and 450,000 viewers on ABC, down 11% in ratings and 19% in viewership compared to Fever/Mercury Game 1 on ESPN2 last year (0.37, 555,000) but up 27% and 29%, respectively, from Shock/Silver Stars Game 1 on ESPN2 in 2008 (0.26, 348,000).
The Game 1 problem should not necessarily be seen as a persistent problem in the future: the league started early this year due to the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Championship for Women. With the league moving back to a later starting date next year - June 4, 2011 - this challenge might be avoided in the future.
As an interesting footnote, none of these WNBA Finals games was the best of the year -- that distinction belongs to Game Two of the Western Conference Finals in which Sue Bird capped off a late game comeback with a game-winning three point shot. Yet the WNBA has focused on the male demographic in the last few years and reports that all the key male demographic groups showed impressive double-digit growth, led by M18-34 (+90 percent).
After last season's increase in ratings, Sports Media Watch asked, "how much progress has really been made?" and concluded that the league is on the right track. This season's Finals ratings arguably support that -- while we cannot disregard the Game 1 numbers entirely, the WNBA should be under no pretense that they can compete with the NFL at this stage in its development or the near future.
However, the fact that Games 2 & 3 in a three game sweep by a team that was presumed to be a heavy favorite saw an increase over what was deemed the greatest series in league history last year is an encouraging sign for the league.
Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer continues his series looking for theme songs for various figures in the Seattle sports scene today with a look at Lauren Jackson.
His top choice was Proud Mary by Tina Turner, a choice apparently made by Jackson herself.
The Brewery | Theme Song: Pondering the right music for ... Lauren Jackson | Seattle Times Newspaper
During an interview with WNBA.com, Jackson listed this Tina Turner song as her favorite karaoke jam. It could easily translate into theme music.
The song is a lot like Jackson's game. It's very smooth at the beginning, and then it transitions into an electric bundle of energy and emotion. That's exactly the way I think Jackson plays.
That definitely works.
But when I think about why Jackson won the MVP -- and why she should almost certainly be MVP if the Storm sweep the Dream tonight -- I'm forced to betray my mid-90's Westside sensibilities and look East to Method Man's "Release Yo' Delf" (fitting for this historic season given that it came off Meth's best album).
The song maintains an emphasis on Jackson's passion, but the prize fight motif seems to capture more of what makes her the MVP this season.
As much as there is a smoothness to Jackson's game, her defense and rebounding are a large part of what makes her most valuable as well and in a physical series like this one she's also shown the gritty side of her game. Bethlehem Shoals' description of Jackson on FreeDarko.com could be easily miscontrued as a slight, but is apt for the more physical side of her game.
freedarko.com: She Loves You Too
I wrote about LJ's demented in-game appearance. She looks terrifying, but because she does so using make-up and dye, there's also an inclination to judge her as "looking like shit." These are not only traditional signifiers of femininity, or beauty, but ones that identify both as a process of alteration, or aspiration to a universal ideal. The ideal is unattainable; Jackson uses them to reify individuality, while at the same time trading in their connotations: grotesque, damaged, even crazy.
Throughout the entire season, teams have literally put players on the floor to do nothing but hit her and she's not only withstood the challenged and come out healthy on most occasions, but has also consistently come up big. Jackson has scored 26 points in each of the first two games of the WNBA Finals in completely different ways and the Dream have played her as well as anyone has this season.
That's the type of player that can have defenses petrified from the moment she first steps on the scene.
My peoples are you wit me where you at?
Sue Bird hitting a game-winning shot in Game One of the WNBA Finals (photo by Kailas Images).
For some reason after the Seattle Storm's 79-77 win in Game One of the WNBA Finals, I had this vague recollection immediately after the game of Atlanta Dream guard Iziane Castro Marques guarding Sue Bird on her game-winning.
Upon looking at the replay, it was obvious wing Armintie Price was indeed the player guarding Bird on the play. But perhaps the above photo sequence will help you understand why my memory was flawed -- Price simply disappeared from the entire scene somewhere in between frames one and two.
That intermediary frame isn't omitted intentionally -- it was just a moment the photographer missed. But what happened in those intervening moments has been the subject of some light discussion among fans and members of each team.
Lauren Jackson entered Price's space.
The Dream had been going under screens all game to follow the screener, but you'll notice here that Price was completely engulfed by Jackson to the extent that she was taken completely out of the frame by the time Bird took her shot, as seen below when Bird is already in her shooting rhythm.
Photo by Kailas Images.
Some might call it a great screen by Jackson.
"On that screen, she just did a great job," said Bird. "People were like, 'Oh, it's a moving screen!' They went under -- that's the gamble of going under. But Lauren didn't roll she just kind of turned. So it worked out and it worked out for the best."
And as Bird alluded to, others might call it a moving screen that had less to do with their strategy.
"Well in defense of that play, in my opinion, it was a rolling screen and a wrap, and I won't say anymore beyond that," said Dream coach Marynell Meadors. "But it worked so maybe we tried."
Obviously, given that the point of contention is motion, having that additional still frame image wouldn't help a whole lot. So take a look at the highlight video and judge for yourself (the relevant sequence begins at the 15 second mark).
Storm Edge Dream, 79-77, In Game 1 Of WNBA Finals
For more on Game 1, see the summary at SBN's Swish Appeal: Little Things Mean A Lot: How Unsung Heroes Stepped Up in Game 1
It would have been reasonable to assume prior to the start of the WNBA Finals that the best chance for the Atlanta Dream to steal a game in KeyArena was in Game One.
Perhaps, one might figure, they could have caught the Seattle Storm off guard and put them on their heels prior to heading back to Atlanta for Games Three and Four.
That's certainly one way to frame the Storm's 79-77 win over the Dream this afternoon -- by no stretch of the imagination did the Storm play their best in what was a hard fought game in front of 15, 084 enthusiastic fans in Seattle and the Dream managed to put the Storm's undefeated home record in jeopardy.
And just as she did against the Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference Finals last week, Sue Bird managed to bail the Storm out.
With 2.6 seconds left, Bird hit a wide open 18 foot jumper off in an on-ball pick-and-roll situation to win the game. Although it certainly sounds familiar, it wasn't exactly the same type of play.
"This time it was different," said Bird, who finished with 14 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. "Actually it was in my hands [today], but the way they did the pick-and-roll, I was able to get a look and, to be honest, I got a similar look about, I don't know, 30, 45 seconds earlier and it didn't go in so maybe that helped."
But whether it was similar to past events doesn't matter quite as much for the Dream as what happened in this particular set of circumstances.
Common sense would tend to suggest that leaving Bird open for a mid-range pull-up jumper is not the best decision with the game on the line in the WNBA Finals, even if you hadn't seen her hit the shot last week -- it's among the shots she's most comfortable taking.
"As far as that shot goes, I was able to get a really good look and it was a pull-up, which is what I like," said Bird.
But launching into a critique of the Storm's defense on that play would be to ignore context.
Credit Bird for reading the Dream's defense on that play beautifully and sticking the shot. Credit Storm coach Brian Agler for deciding to put the ball in Bird's hands -- instead of playing her off the ball as they've done many times this season -- with the game on the line.
But also credit the Atlanta Dream for sticking to a game plan that had worked for the majority of the game, including on a shot a few plays earlier.
"They hadn't covered our pick and rolls for the majority of the second half," said Bird. "I had a feeling if I went off the pick and brought it back to the same side that I came from I would be able to get a good look. Like I said, I got virtually the same look 45, a minute earlier so I had an idea that I was going to get it."
Although the focal point of that moment and this game will certainly remain that shot from Bird, the fact that the Dream were sticking to a game plan that had been working is equally important. As a barometer for what to expect in this series is the fact that the Dream not only figured out how to hang with the Storm in KeyArena, but also demonstrated that they can actually impose their will on the game for long stretches even without guard Angel McCoughtry in the lineup.
As Bird alluded to, the Dream defenders were going under the screen throughout the game with quite a bit of success considering that they had themselves within striking distance at the end of the game. For long stretches of the game, they were effective sagging off the ball handler on pick and rolls and helping to defend Jackson and contest her shots -- outside of the third quarter when the Storm found Jackson for four of her eight three point shots, the Dream held her to three-for-ten shooting. Jackson did finish with 26 points and eight rebounds, but it wasn't her normally consistent performance.
"We couldn't help off the screener because they are good shooters, so we have to work around it," said Dream guard Iziane Castro-Marques who stepped up for 19 points when McCoughtry, who finished with 19 points and four rebounds, was absent. "The best way we could do it is go under and meet the player on the other side because if we help off the screen then the other person has a wide-open shot."
The way the Dream played the screens combined with the athleticism of their smaller and quicker lineups, wreaked havoc particularly in the second quarter when they quite badly outplayed the Storm in the final few minutes and held them to 31.6% shooting -- at one point, someone asked why the Storm looked so stagnant; they just didn't have very many places to go and started to uncharacteristically second-guess themselves. And although the defining moment of the fourth quarter is undoubtedly Bird's shot, the Dream also outplayed them then with their aggressive and energetic style forcing the Storm into costly turnovers.
"Yeah that's something we have to go back and look at," said Bird when asked about the turnovers. "They led the league in creating turnovers, so we know that. Doesn't mean it's going to be easy, because it isn't, but we know they like to do that and we saw that early and we saw that often. Every time we were able to establish ourselves and get a lead, we would have a couple of turnovers and they just went out and ran and they got a few points that way."
For their part, the Dream shot 50% in both the second and fourth quarters. So on the one hand, had Dream forward Angel McCoughtry not suffered a head injury that required three stitches and caused her to miss a long stretch of time, perhaps her presence would have swung the game in the Dream's favor in the fourth quarter or maybe she would have hit some of the jumpers she missed down the stretch. On the other hand, that the Dream were at their best in this game when McCoughtry was off the floor due to foul trouble or injury speaks volumes about their character, depth, and toughness to continue to follow through on their style of play.
"She is the one we go to, so everybody has to know what to do when she is not in," said Castro-Marques. "When one player is not doing her job, someone else has to bring it and we did that largely this season and we did that today too."
In other words, in a series that Storm assistant coach Nancy Darsch described as a battle of wills the Dream arguably managed to impose theirs with quite a bit of success and turn the game into a gritty transition game even at less than full strength.
This wasn't merely a fortuitous Storm lapse -- the Dream actually did everything they would have to do to win without the McCoughtry, who had averaged 28 points on 50% shooting to this point.
The Seattle Storm defeated the Atlanta Dream 79-77 in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals at KeyArena in Seattle, Washington, on Sunday.
Seattle guard Sue Bird hit a mid-range jump shot with 2.6 seconds left to provide the winning margin. Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry missed a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
The Storm now lead the best-of-5 series 1-0. Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday night at 6 PM in Seattle’s KeyArena.
The Storm remain undefeated at home during the 2010 WNBA season.
WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson of the Storm led all scorers with 26 points. McCoughtry and Iziane Castro Marques led the Dream with 19 points each.
After three quarters of WNBA Finals Game 1 action, the Seattle Storm maintain a lead over the Atlanta Dream, 59-53.
Seattle’s Lauren Jackson leads all scorers with 23 points.
Angel McCoughtry leads the Dream with 14 points.
The Atlanta Dream came back during the second quarter of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals to tie the score with the Seattle Storm 39-39 at the half.
Seattle’s Camille Little leads all scorers with 12 points.
Iziane Castro Marques leads the Dream with 10 points.
Follow along with the game on the game thread at SBN's Swish Appeal.
The Seattle Storm are out to an early lead over the Atlanta Dream after the first quarter of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, 22-17.
Hot shooting by Sue Bird and solid team defense put the Storm into an early lead but the Dream closed the deficit slightly in the period’s final minutes.
Atlanta Dream star Angel McCoughtry picked up three first-quarter fouls.
After the Atlanta Dream beat the New York Liberty, a friend asked, “Would it be a disaster if this year’s WNBA Finals was boring after last season’s got so much attention as the best ever?”
With the Seattle Storm being so dominant all year long, it was somewhat difficult to imagine that the Dream could really contend with them. Moreover, given the Dream’s gritty style of play – predicated quite a bit on energy and scrappiness during the regular season – it definitely seemed like this would be series not made for television, Angel McCoughtry’s 42 points aside.
“Well it’s gonna be a battle of wills – who can impose their will, who can be the hungrier of the two teams and get the ball in their possession,” said Storm assistant coach Nancy Darsch. “It’s not gonna be pretty basketball all the time, but that’s the way it is in the playoffs: it’s a battle.”
Yet although looking at both the odds and statistical strengths seem to indicate that the series could be both lopsided and ugly, at the same time, the Atlanta Dream did manage to make it this far. And the fact is that they’ve been extremely impressive as they’ve made it through the playoffs undefeated.
“They’re in the Finals for a reason,” said Storm assistant Jenny Boucek. “It is not easy to get to the Finals. There are players and coaches that never get to the Finals. So they are here for a reason. And you don’t have to know anything else about ‘em but that they got to the Finals to know that they are capable of winning this whole thing. So we are very respectful of them and the season that they had in its entirety and also the run that they’ve made in the playoffs. And this team, we’ve had players with experience that if you get your momentum going at the right time, anything is possible.”
So regardless of who’s the favorite, there’s something to be said for the fact that the Dream are here in the WNBA Finals and that they’ve done so in dominant fashion on par with the Storm. And although it was only a small sample size of four games, the fact is they were good enough to cast some measure of uncertainty over the inevitability of a Storm championship.
“I don’t try to imagine things like that because I’m a positive person and I try to look at the positive and try to think that into existence,” said Storm forward Le’coe Willingham. “But there’s nothing you can take for granted. Like when the playoffs started, right now we’re both 4-0. Pretty much, we’re even. So regular season doesn’t even matter anymore – that was just what you did to get to this point and it goes out the window.”
As much as Willingham may not want to contemplate the agony of defeat, it doesn’t diminish the fact that they play the games for a reason – victory is never a certainty.
Watching the Atlanta Dream only briefly during practice earlier today, it quickly became evident that the defining characteristic of this team clearly starts with how they practice.
When Sancho Lyttle came down the court in a halfcourt drill to get position to rebound, she playfully threw an elbow to clear out assistant coach Carol Ross who was standing in as a would-be defender. During three-on-nobody fast break drills, the emphasis was more on getting the ball up court than polished execution and the players and staff more emphatically cheered on teammates to get the second those second chance opportunities. During five-on-nobody fast break drills, coach Marynell Meadors encouraged the team that was already moving at a frenzied pace to move even faster.
"Too slow," shouted Meadors at one point during their five-on-nothing drill. "You ain’t getting five dribbles."
It’s been said repeatedly by the Storm players and staff, but the Dream are clearly a team that thrives on its energy and scrappiness. And in direct opposition to the more methodical and refined style of the Seattle Storm, this team practices playing the style at breakneck speed.
"If you wanna look up aggressive in the dictionary, that’s them," said Strom assistant Jenny Boucek after practice on Friday. "If you let them be the aggressors, it’s real tough, but if you get them out of that, they’re way out of their comfort zone. They’ll be way out of their comfort zone and they’ll go from great to good. So that’s our goal is to try to not let them have us on our heels the whole night."
Boucek’s comment about getting them out of their comfort zone was definitely true during the regular season, when that energetic and scrappy style of play showed up very clearly in an almost singular statistical strength relative to opponents – offensive rebounding. The Dream were second in the league to the Seattle Storm in offensive rebounding percentage and first in second chance points. When adding the fact that they were first in the league in points off turnovers during the season, it’s clear that this team used their combination of athleticism and relative youth to reduce games to rather ugly contests in which they simply outworked their opponents on both ends of the floor and feasted on opponents’ breakdowns.
The problem was that they were only in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive efficiency and last in three point shooting (both attempts and percentage). Instead, they relied heavily on outworking teams.
"Our advantage is quickness," said Dream center Erika de Souza before practice today. "We play quick and fast-paced – we out-rebound people and we run. That’s how we have to play."
However, their gritty style of play alone isn’t what got them through the playoffs undefeated. What’s happened is that they’ve come together in the post-season to be both scrappy and efficient, averaging a playoff-high 95 points per game and getting outstanding play from guard Angel McCoughtry, who is averaging an astounding 28 points per game in the playoffs on 50.7% shooting, including that 42 point outburst against the New York Liberty.
"I don’t know if we have the answer right now," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "We’re going to try some things, but we’re going to keep an open mind, and may have to make some adjustments, but they are really playing well. They are extremely aggressive at both ends of the floor and they are scoring at a high rate and they are really getting up and down the floor as well as anyone I’ve seen in this league for a while."
Visit SBN's Swish Appeal to see How the Atlanta Dream Transitioned From Scrappy to Efficient to Make the WNBA Finals.
King 5 Sports continues to do a good job documenting the Storm's WNBA Finals run with videos.
Yesterday, they were with the Storm as they raised the team flag to the top of the Space Needle.
Lauren Jackson chose not to go to the top because she is afraid of heights. At this point in the season, whatever keeps her focused is best for the Storm.
All season coach Brian Agler has talked about staying in a "day-to-day" mode, which has to be a bit more difficult with all the special events like these. Agler shared some of his thoughts on what it means to be represented on the top of the Space Needle and how they are continuing to focusing on themselves despite all the excitement created by special events like these.
It's certainly not a stretch to say that former Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie was one of the Storm's fiercest rivals before retiring from the WNBA last year.
Nevertheless, having stepped into the role of broadcaster now, there was no hesitation in her voice when praising the Storm near the end of an interview last week for SBN's Swish Appeal.
"I think the Storm are the team to beat," said Leslie, who will be covering the WNBA Finals for NBA TV. "I picked the Storm to win."
Not that Leslie took any sort of real big risk in proclaiming a team that went 28-6 in the regular season is the team to beat, but it's certainly high praise from one of the game's legends and biggest rivals. Aside from having won two WNBA championships with the Sparks in 2001 and 2002 as well as being among USA Basketball's most decorated Olympians, Leslie can also relate to playing on such a dominant team - she was the centerpiece of the 2000 and 2001 Sparks teams that previously stood alone as the only two teams to go undefeated at home before the Storm matched that feat this season.
"Whenever you have that undefeated record at home that's a huge sign," said Leslie. "Championships are won on the road, but when you definitely can defend home and have that home court advantage, there's nothing else like it."
Of course, in addition to having home court advantage, the Storm have their share of talented stars, with point guard Sue Bird and center Lauren Jackson normally garnering the majority of the attention. However, Leslie has also taken note of players on the Storm that haven't gotten as much recognition.
"Lauren Jackson, she's obviously been phenomenal, but I think Swin Cash has really been, I would say, the X-factor," said Leslie. "The way that she's just come along after her back [injury], she's just really responded well. She always plays hard. I'm sure that [coach Brian Agler] always talks about how the best player who's the most underrated would probably be Swin Cash because she just shows up and she gives you so much and it doesn't necessarily show across the board."
Beyond their trio of All-Stars three, part of what has made the Storm so difficult to play beat this season is their depth beyond those three. As Storm coach Brian Agler has noted, both the Storm and their WNBA Finals opponent Atlanta Dream are well aware that beyond the star players are other players to worry about. One player that has sort of flown under the radar for portions of this season is Storm forward Camille Little.
"I think Camille Little has improved her game so much and she just finds a way to get buckets," said Leslie. "She's not even on your radar and, boom, there you go: offensive board to Camille Little."
Little came to the Storm in a trade with the Dream for a second-round draft pik, as described by Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans. Having already worked with Little before coming to the Storm, Agler was already familiar with Little and must have had some sense that he was getting a bargain.
"She was with us in San Antonio when I was there so I knew what she was capable of doing," said Agler, who coached Little as an assistant when she was on the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2007. "I think players - it's like a lot of things - players sort of come into their own if they get in the right situation. And that doesn't mean one situation is better than the other at all - it's just some people fit in better. And I think that was the case with Camille."
When the Dream were established in 2008, they acquired Little through a dispersal draft. Perhaps not surprisingly considering the team's dominant inside strength now, coach and general manager Marynell Meadors brought in a number of post players. Little was one of them and essentially got caught in a log jam.
However, the situation in Seattle has seemed to bring out the best this season. As Leslie alluded to, Little has been the type of player who always seems to quietly go about the business of being in the right place at the right time. There comes a point when that ability to fly under the radar and then show up at the right time - in some cases when the team needs it most - has to be recognized as strong game awareness rather than coincidence or luck.
How well does Little's risk-taking mentality translate to team defensive success? - Swish Appeal
"She’s the same: she’s a blue collar worker," said Wright. "She’s gonna get things done for you. She works hard, she makes the dirty plays. She’s gonna come up with the important plays that maybe you don’t necessarily see on the stat sheet but we notice as a team because we know it helps us whether it’s offensive or defensive – she may get a tip on the basketball, she may get a rebound, she may stand in there and take a charge or she might be in the right position defensively to make somebody else do something different. So she does all the things we need her to do without it necessarily being seen all the time."
Ultimately, the way Leslie describes Little's contribution to the team captures yet another way to describes the Storm's "resilience" in overcoming 13 fourth quarter deficits, including a seemingly insurmountable one against the Mercury - somehow they just find a way to get buckets and, more importantly, stop their opponents from getting buckets.
SEATTLE - The 2010 WNBA Western Conference Champion Seattle Storm will raise its flag atop Seattle’s most iconic symbol, the Space Needle, tomorrow, Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. Storm players, coaches and staff members along with Storm CEO Karen Bryant and members of Force 10 Hoops L.L.C. will be in attendance for the memorable event.
The 20x30 ft. green flag bearing the Storm’s logo is also marked with the names of more than 6,000 Storm fans. On Wednesday, Aug. 25, the Storm unveiled a new KeyArena banner dedicated to the fans and their continued energy, passion and support for the team boasting the team’s "We Are Home Court Advantage" mantra. Much like the KeyArena banner, the raising of the Storm flag is a dedication to the fans.
Head over to StormBasketball.com for details.
Don't be fooled by the King5.com headline on this video -- as Seattle Storm analyst Adia Barnes said on Twitter today, she didn't quite predict a sweep. Instead, she made the less controversial claim that it will be "tough" for the Atlanta Dream to even win a game at home in the WNBA Finals.
The Seattle Storm went back to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for the WNBA Finals and by forward Swin Cash's account things are no different now than they've been all season.
"Sometimes you worry about the drop off -- you come off a high for your first practice back," said Cash. "But I thought we did an excellent job yesterday of really coming in focused -- a lot of energy -- and I was happy with our efforts."
That thrilling Western Conference Finals victory that brought the Storm one step closer to the WNBA title was pretty much a thing of the past after they got off the plane and past the throng of fans.
"It's over," said forward Camille Little, who was traded to Storm in 2008 from the Atlanta Dream. "You can't let it linger. It's over with now. That game is not going to do anything for us in the next series. So we're happy we're here, but we still have things to take care of."
Moving forward, the focus remains pretty much the same as it has been all season -- on themselves and what they can do to improve.
"You have to stay true to what it is you do," said Cash, who won two championships with Detroit. "You can't get into a panic mode where you start scrapping the whole mold and doing other things. I think you just get better at what you do well and you try to fix any other problems or weaknesses you may be having."
Nevertheless, Dream guard Angel McCoughtry created a bit of a buzz after her WNBA playoff record 42 points against the New York Liberty in the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday. But the Dream's strength all season long -- in addition to having a rising star on the wing -- has been the rebounding presence of 6'5" Erika de Souza and 6'4" Sancho Lyttle this season.
"They're big but they have their advantages and we have ours," said Little, who was once a teammate of de Souza and Lyttle. "So if they're bigger posts, we're probably quicker, smaller posts. At the same time, it's going to be a task to box 'em out on both ends of the floor. So I think both teams are going to try to do what's best for them and we'll try to do what's best for us too."
Although Agler said he considers their head-to-head meetings with the Dream as useful to look at these sort of matchups, he isn't putting much stock in the outcomes.
"I think both teams have changed a lot since the very first meeting," said Agler. "The meeting down there was sort of a strange game from the standpoint of they jumped on us quick and I think they got -- when we subbed in -- I think they got disinterested a little bit and didn't play as well as they're capable of playing. And we know they're a much better team than what we saw down there in Atlanta."
For more on the Storm's preparations for the WNBA Finals: How Brian Agler Is Scouting The Dream: Watching Film Against A Similar Opponent
Summaries of Storm-Dream regular season head-to-head matchups (from SBN's Swish Appeal):
Game 2 (Atlanta): Storm 80, Dream 70
Statistical summary: Storm outshot the Dream to secure homecourt advantage
Key stat: effective field goal percentage
Game 1 (Seattle): Storm 90, Dream 72
It was the Dream's fourth game on an early season Western Conference road trip and both coaches cited defense and rebounding as the keys to the game. Defensively, the Dream struggled with forward Lauren Jackson raining threes on them every time they seemed to be getting close and Storm perimeter players hitting the gaps. Offensively, league-leading scorer McCoughtry missed her fist seven shots. Then post players Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza ended up sitting out for long stretches of the game with foul trouble.
Seattle sports fans: there is another championship starved city in the way of the Seattle Storm’s second title in franchise history.
The Atlanta Dream defeated the New York Liberty in the Eastern Conference Finals tonight and Jason Kirk of SBN Atlanta described the city’s pro sports track record earlier today.
USA Today has a great article on the Dream’s surprise run from the worst record in WNBA history to a 1-0 lead in the WNBA Eastern Conference Finals.
A review of our pro teams’ most recent title shots:
The Braves last reached the World Series in 1999.
The Falcons’ only Super Bowl trip: 1998.
The Thrashers have never reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Hawks have never reached the NBA Finals.
I’m sure Seattle sports fans will put their record of mediocrity — including losing their NBA team — up against just about anyone, but the point is that folks over in Atlanta are excited about the Dream’s playoff run for similar yet different reasons.
For more on the Dream’s Eastern Conference Finals victory, check out the storystream at SBN Atlanta.
For a full schedule of the WNBA Finals which begin on Sunday at Noon PST, check WNBA.com.
KING 5 Sports interviewed Seattle Storm coach Brian Agler and asked him about their big win in the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Mercury and how the team is preparing for the WNBA Finals which begin on Sunday in KeyArena.
With Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals not until tonight, one of the biggest concerns for the Storm at the moment is how to use this long break between series.
After the win in the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Mercury, Seattle Storm coach Brian Agler briefly discussed his potential Eastern Conference WNBA Finals opponent, who began their series hours after the Storm’s win.
On the New York Liberty:
“New York is a team that has really come on here as of late. Down the stretch they’ve had a great run — I think they won ten or eleven in a row at one point. They were really knocking on the door to get the top seed. And they beat Indiana in a very physical and competitive series."
On the Atlanta Dream:
“Atlanta on the other got off to a great start and then leveled off and then played about .500 basketball all the way through until the playoffs. Once they got in the playoffs they made a change in their starting lineup and they’ve got great players. They’re a high scoring team. They’re a great rebounding team. It’s gonna be sort of a contrasting type style also in the Eastern Conference.”
Having defeated the Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference Finals earlier today, the Seattle Storm sit in a somewhat odd position.
With the Eastern Conference Finals between the Atlanta Dream and New York Liberty not even beginning until after the Storm’s win, the Storm will not only get a long rest, but also a long look at their WNBA Finals opponent.
But if the Storm said that their five game regular season series against the Mercury meant nothing, then their regular season contests between their potential Eastern Conference opponents might mean less.
The Dream came to KeyArena early in the season at 6-0 before they went downhill. The Storm then traveled to Atlanta focused on resting their starters while the Dream were in the middle of a slump and fighting for a playoff spot. Neither was the team that disposed of the Washington Mystics in the first round in a rout.
Similarly, the Storm played the Liberty early in the season before they went on their second-half win streak that catapulted them to the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
So the Storm will probably rely heavily on more recent game film, such as the Eastern Conference Finals in progress. But which team might be the most favorable WNBA Finals opponent?
The Atlanta Dream rely heavily on the offensive rebounding and second chance points of their post players, Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle, as well as the athleticism on the wing of Angel McCoughtry.
The New York Liberty are led by former Phoenix Mercury guard Cappie Pondexter and she has the ability to carry a team with jumpshots or off the drive. She’s the type of player that you don’t exactly stop. At their best, Pondexter’s drives set up three pointers for wing Nicole Powell and point guard Leilani Mitchell, who led the team in three point shooting.
Given the teams’ relative strengths, Atlanta is probably the better matchup for the Storm. The Storm are a very strong rebounding team and if Atlanta isn’t hitting from the perimeter, the Storm defense could quite easily pack it in and work to keep the Dream posts off the boards. Defensively, Atlanta would have a difficult time defending all three of Sue Bird, Swin Cash, and Tanisha Wright without sacrificing something offensively. The type of grinding, physical, scrappy game that the Dream play is the kind of game that the Storm have won plenty of and have the personnel to match.
With New York, it’s really a matter of just not wanting to see Cappie Pondexter.
For more on the two teams, check out the Eastern Conference Finals preview at SBN’s Swish Appeal .
To follow the Liberty vs. Dream game (already in progress), check out Swish Appeal’s game thread.
ESPN's Mechelle Voepel provides us with a little game day humor in describing Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi's mindset heading into a Game Two elimination situation after having lost six games to the Seattle Storm this season between the regular season and playoffs.
No one's underestimating the Phoenix Mercury in West finals - ESPN
You've got athletes who maintain their optimism regardless of circumstances. And then you have Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, who is women's hoops' version of Monty Python's Black Knight.
Isn't her team down 1-0 in the Western Conference finals to the Seattle Storm after an 82-74 loss Thursday?
"'Tis but a scratch!"
Didn't she score just nine points, on 2-of-15 shooting, with six turnovers in that game?
"I've had worse!"
The point of the article is certainly not that the Storm can expect to chop Taurasi down to size today and render her completely ineffective. The point is that it's almost as though Taurasi refuses to even acknowledge the pain from past wounds and insists upon focusing on the potential to emerge victorious from the situation at hand.
Even with Taurasi having a terrible first game that was no small part of why the Mercury are up against elimination, it's Taurasi's attitude that is no small part of why there is still intrigue to this series.
Game One was not pretty and was marred by poor shooting by key players on both teams, most notably WNBA scoring champion Diana Taurasi’s 2-for-15 shooting performance.
That aside, Seth Pollack of SBN Arizona points out two other important factors that could change in Game Two: the Mercury’s use of zone defense against a very disciplined Storm team and, perhaps more interestingly, the lack of use of their big lineup.
The second interesting decision was how little Gaines used his best lineup which consists of DeWanna Bonner on the floor instead of undersized point guard Temeka Johnson. Bonner finished with only 22 minutes compared to 32 for Johnson. DeWanna certainly didn’t look as sharp as we’ve seen her and perhaps she’s dealing with an unreported injury or illness.
From the Mercury end, that decision defensively could have as much impact defensively as Taurasi’s poor shooting night did offensively — the Storm have had difficulty defending and playing against bigger lineups at times during the season. The defensive chess match might be what makes this series most interesting and although Gaines made some interesting first moves, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts in Game Two.
For more on Game One, visit StormBasketball.com’s extensive review of just about everything related to the Storm's 82-74 win in Game One of the Western Conference Finals.
If you're a women's basketball fan, the very notion of a "positional revolution" that some NBA analysts have described recently might seem a bit odd.
Aside from the fact that it might not seem that new if you've been paying attention to basketball over the last decade or so as pointed out by Bethlehem Shoals at FreeDarko.com, the challenge to standard norms of "positionality" seems to be one of the unique features, if not a defining element, of women's basketball.
No matchup in the WNBA seems to epitomize this idea of a positional revolution that has already come to pass than the Western Conference Finals matchup between the top-seeded Seattle Storm and the second-seeded Phoenix Mercury. Of course, if the premise is that there's something "apositional" about the entire league, then it's not that these particular teams have something that others don't; it's that these two teams happen to have players that could be the best of what the WNBA has to offer in that regard.
For all the talk about the Storm's 6-foot-5 Lauren Jackson - who will be honored as the 2010 MVP tonight - and her sometimes unreal versatility on defense and offense, forward Swin Cash is sometimes too quietly one of the most versatile wings in the league. With three additional frontcourt players who shoot over 34 percent from the 3-point line, the Storm will occasionally play a lineup in which they put three bigs out on the floor with the intent of spreading the defense, as they did against the Sparks.
While the Storm embody frontcourt versatility, the Mercury's backcourt versatility is probably what will have the biggest impact on this series. Known for their uptempo style and relying heavily on strong play around the perimeter, the Mercury have actually played better at times with dynamic scorer Diana Taurasi and wing Penny Taylor running the offense in the latter portions of the season. Taylor is as versatile a wing as there is in the league and arguably the Mercury's MVP this season primarily due to her increased efficiency with which she's distributed the ball.
The Mercury have claimed on more than one occasion that their uptempo system designed by Paul Westhead actually hinges on having a strong power forward and Candice Dupree has fit the bill this year. Dupree gave the Storm fits in their last visit to KeyArena, racing up and down the court for easy transition layups before the Storm could get set in their halfcourt defense. Rail thin 6'4" reserve forward DeWanna Bonner has won WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year in each of her first two seasons in the league and picked up Storm point guard Sue Bird on more than one occasion
This may sound effusive and exaggerated, but that's because if you have any interest in what a vision of "post-positional" basketball might look like it's here in the WNBA Western Conference Finals. And as you take stock of what that vision might look like, it might occur to you that any notion of analyzing this series in terms of traditional positional matchups is a lost cause - it's a series that will feature a lot of seemingly bizarre combinations and configurations that defy any notion of positional boundaries.
With bigs running the floor and wings running the offense, what exactly is your defensive focus? With the best point guard in the world running an offense with a center who can score in every way imaginable and power forwards who can spread the floor, how do you stop them for even 24 seconds at a time?
So as tantalizing an offensive matchup as this series might be, even more interesting for those who have thought deeply about this new post-positional world is that defending these potential configurations - or scoring against them for that matter - becomes a particularly daunting task. Although that may seem to favor the Storm - by far the best defensive team in the Western Conference led by 2010 Coach of the Year Brian Agler - the Mercury have shown lately that they can defend as well.
"I've heard - that's the rumor - is that they're really focused on their defense," said Bird, when asked about the Mercury's defensive performance in their first round series against the San Antonio Silver Stars. "They feel like that's gotten better, which for them is great because they're such a potent offensive team - if they can get their defense going too obviously that makes them extremely tough. But we'll see."
The bottom line for this post-positional series is that -- all focus on Jackson and Taurasi aside -- the team that plays better on the defensive end will probably end up moving to the WNBA Finals. The Mercury have shown that they're more than capable of doing that.
For the keys to the WNBA Western Conference Finals, see the preview at SBN's Swish Appeal.
For ticket information, visit StormBasketball.com.
Of course Phoenix Mercury coach Corey Gaines can’t just say that his defending champion team has a strong killer instinct.
He has to be more creative than that, according to SBN Arizona.
Shark Week started Monday for the Phoenix Mercury. That’s the kind of killer instinct that coach Corey Gaines thinks his team is playing with now that “money time” is here.
“They’re veteran players and they’ve got the taste of the championship, they’ve got the taste of the playoffs and they know what has to be done. I think that helps them and they kind of thrive and they kind of feed off of it. It’s like a bunch of sharks, once they taste that blood they start going … they’re being very aggressive right now,” Gaines said.
This series will undoubtedly be fun but as is quite evident from the preview, defense — not the Mercury’s trademark offense — is what will define this series.
But of course, that doesn’t mean that offense isn’t a motivation for good defense.
There’s also a strong incentive to play good defense and because this is still the Phoenix Mercury and that carrot is still an open shot.
“When we get all those things done there’s a prize at the end of it because once we get that rebound and run, and we’ve been running so hard, once you know you might get an open layup, we’ve been running hard with four or five of us down the court so it’s a real incentive and we’ve got that really down well now,” Taylor said.
The whole preview is worth a read for perspective on how the other side is approaching a seemingly daunting task: beating the Seattle Storm in KeyArena.
Although it seems slightly overstated, there's a reason the upcoming Western Conference Finals series between the top-seeded Seattle Storm and second-seeded Phoenix Mercury has been called the most anticipated playoff series in WNBA history.
Aside from the basics of increased broadcast television exposure and whatever additional attention to the league that has carried over from last season, it's a matchup between a team that tied the record for most regular season wins and the defending champion with an uptempo style that has been arguably the most exciting team for a mainstream audience that the league has ever seen.
"I expect it to be a good series," said Storm forward Swin Cash after practice today. "Get your popcorn out -- I think it's going to be something for the fans to really enjoy and watch and I'm happy that it opens up at the Key. I mean, what better place to open up and for our fans and the sixth man to really be out there and supporting."
It would seem that the regular season series that included two overtime games -- including a triple overtime -- and an 18-point Storm comeback at KeyArena would only add to that excitement. And although the Storm won all five of their regular season contests with the Mercury, the Storm -- as could be expected -- aren't coming in cocky either.
"Well they're the defending champs and you can't take them lightly," said Cash. "They're playing some of their best basketball right now and they have one of the best basketball players in the world in Diana Taurasi. And the style of play they want to come in and implement, we're just going to have to be ready to take that and impose our will on the defensive end."
But for all the excitement the regular season series might generate, as Cash said the Mercury are playing some of their best basketball right now and the Storm have really only played them once with mid-season acquisition Kara Braxton, who has added some additional muscle to their post rotation. In other words, the Storm aren't exactly looking back at the regular season matchups, no matter what that might say to fans about how exciting this series could be.
"Nothing - you can't actually take anything from them," said Storm center Lauren Jackson when asked about how much the team could take from the regular season series with the Mercury. "We've just got to go out there and play our best basketball and we know they're going to be on top of their game and we have to be as well. So we're not complacent at all."
On the other hand, Mercury coach Corey Gaines might suggest that those past five games do have some relevance. Although the Storm swept the Los Angeles Sparks in two games after beating them five times during the regular season, Gaines pointed out earlier in the season that beating a team seven times in a row can be difficult.
"If I remember correctly, every time we've won it, they've swept us in the regular season," said Gaines after the Storm's 91-85 win in which they came back from 18 points down. "Hmmmm. Not that I was trying to lose on purpose or anything [but] percentage-wise, it's hard to beat someone 7, 8 times in a row. I would hate to be the other way around."
Either way, if you haven't been following the Storm closely, here's a quick review of that regular season series.
Game 5 (Phoenix - post-Braxton trade): Storm 78, Mercury 73
If the regular season series meant nothing, the final meeting of the regular season between the two teams was almost a complete formality -- both teams were locked into their playoff position and rest starters.
"The last game down there I wouldn't consider five because the fifth game was sort of a wash," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "Both teams were sort of manipulating their lineups and things like that."
Game 4 (Seattle - post-Braxton trade): Storm 91, Mercury 85
If there is a game that holds any insight into what each team has to do to win this series, this one might be it.
Storm vs. Mercury Statistical Summary: "Money time comes later, true money time." - Swish Appeal
"We've been close a couple of times, but every team is different," said Gaines. "Some teams break first quarter, some teams break in the second quarter. Some great teams like Seattle, great teams. It may be the last three minutes of the game. Somebody may say, 'Hey, it's my time to shine, I'll take this shot' and get you into that wrong [mindset]. We practice it so it's nothing for us, we practice it. We don't practice coming down poised, taking your time."
In last night's game, the Storm actually "broke" in the second quarter -- the Storm had no assists, went 0-for-7 from the three point line, and shot 33.33% from the field, in addition to having a higher turnover percentage. Nothing went right for the Storm and they lost the quarter 31-18. Meanwhile, the Mercury were off to the races, beating the Storm 8-2 on fast break points in the quarter and 18-10 in points in the paint, not to mention beating the Storm on the offensive boards.
Then the Storm responded and came out of the locker room more poised in the second half to come back and Bird was no small part of that.
Game 3 (Phoenix): Storm 111, Mercury 107 (3 OT)
Sue Bird's Late Three Sinks Mercury in Third Overtime - SB Nation Arizona
We came into the game expecting a fight, and we left finding an instant classic. Three overtimes. More ties and lead changes than I've ever witnessed. Determination and grit in every possession. Clutch shots galore. Nobody wanted to lose this game, but when all was said and done, the Storm came away victorious.
"Sometimes there are good losses," commented Mercury head coach Corey Gaines. "We'll take it as a good loss. They fought hard and didn't quit when we were down 10; that's a good loss."
Diana Taurasi didn't quite feel the same way. "You lose the game, but it doesn't really matter if you go into ten overtimes. I don't know what to say."
On the other side of things, the Storm were extremely impressed with the way the team was able to overcome their early misfirings and claw their way back into the game. "I think that's just the character of our team. That's how we've played all season, no matter what's happening out there," said All-Star point guard Sue Bird. "We don't stop."
Game 2 (Seattle): Storm 97, Mercury 74
Storm vs. Mercury: Statistical Summary...of Three Quarters - Swish Appeal
No matter which side you look at this game from, it was pretty much over after three quarters, whether it be because of poor play from the Mercury or outstanding play from the Storm.
As a veteran team, Gaines said the Mercury know it's just one game and that there will be plenty of others, especially against a team like the Storm who Gaines said they will have to go through if they expect to repeat.
On the other side, there would seem to be a risk of complacency for the Storm with it starting to become apparent that the rest of the league is chasing them. However, they know as veterans too that it's still early in the season.
"I still think it's too early in the season," said Storm forward Lauren Jackson. "I really think every team is going to get better. I really want to be excited, but it's too early. It really is."
Game 1 (Phoenix): Storm 95, Mercury 89
Phoenix Mercury Can't Hang On To Beat Tough Seattle Storm - Swish Appeal
Candice Dupree finished with 14 points and 6 rebounds to go along with her 7 turnovers.
Storm Coach Brian Agler explains his team's defensive strategy against Dupree in the post, "They're so good, if you do it like in an organizational way they will find the open people. So you almost have to convince your team that you've got to jab at them and change things up and do some things that way and not really be consistent on how you send the help."
Agler obviously also had the luxury of Lauren Jackson to defend the rim. LJ finished with two blocks and four steals.
With the Seattle Storm's 81-66 win over the Los Angeles Sparks today, they advance to the second round to face the Phoenix Mercury, the defending champion who have won the WNBA title two of the last three years led by Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor.
While the Mercury are most well-known for their up-tempo style of play first brought to the WNBA by Paul Westhead and continued by apprentice Corey Gaines, there has been a "new" development in the first round of the playoffs: the Mercury's defense.
Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com noted that in the first half of the Mercury's 92-73 rout of the San Antonio Silver Stars this morning just before the Storm's game, the Mercury held their opponent to 30 points on 40 possessions. While the Mercury pushed the ball after every single opportunity, the Silver Stars struggled to keep up and then faced a Mercury defense that was not only constantly shifting, but selectively giving up scoring opportunities to the Stars' less effective scorers.
For more on the Mercury's defense, see SBN Arizona's Seth Pollack's article (with pictures!) on SBN's Swish Appeal illustrating how they defended the Silver Stars.
For more on the Mercury in general, see SBN Arizona's storystream.
Tickets for the Seattle Storm's second round series beginning in Seattle on Thursday at 7 pm PST are now available at Ticketmaster.
Due to copyright, neither Bethlehem Shoals nor I can lift the picture that accompanied his FanHouse article about Lauren Jackson based on her performance in the Seattle Storm's 79-66 win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday.
But take a look at that picture here.
Then read this:
freedarko.com: She Loves You Too
Back to Jackson: do a photo search for her, and you'll find plenty of shots of the league's intimidating MVP nude, semi-nude, or modeling skimpy bathing suits. Without her Joker-esque get-up, Jackson isn't just striking, she's pretty damn hot. She knows it, and wants you to know, too. But not on the court. And if the WNBA has any concerns about its best player willingly objectifying herself, they are hard-pressed to voice them -- since when she plays, Lauren Jackson does more to deconstruct beauty rituals than a whole galley of theorists could do.
The response from WNBA fans has generally been agreement thus far. From one fan via Twitter:
"@JaydaEvans RT @tollick @JaydaEvans Always got impression LJ tries to be herself&doesn't give a crap about stereotypes. Defies easy definition~BING-Go!"
As someone else noted, this isn't necessarily about Jackson challenging beauty rituals as much as her challenging the standards of beauty that we all expect.
As exciting as the Seattle Storm's 79-66 win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday might have been to fans who witnessed their first victorious playoff opener since 2006, Seattle PI writer Todd Dybas described it as having a "sandpaper consistency".
Storm coach Brian Agler doesn't seem to mind that rough aesthetic in the playoffs.
"If you came into KeyArena last night for the first time, you're going to be impressed in terms of the fans and the intensity of play," said Agler after practice yesterday. "You know, we shot the ball well at times. But playoff games are going to be ugly -- you scout each other so much, you know each other's tendencies so well, that you sort of muddy up the waters for your opponents, make it difficult. So for somebody that liked watching us play early in the year, they're not going to see a lot of consistent just up and down smooth play. And in all honesty, we like our defensive end to be muddy -- we like to clutter things up down there. So the main thing is for us is to get stops and play a little bit out of transition and if we don't get that we have to execute."
As ugly as the game might have been to some, as the Storm continue their quest for a title in Los Angeles their playoff opener was a good sign in that they were able to pull out another gritty contest against the Sparks but also because they demonstrated how quickly they can put a team away.
"To be honest with you, from my perspective you never want to peak as soon as you come into the playoffs and I thought tonight we missed some free throws, shots we normally would make, turnovers, things we can improve on," said Cash after the game on Wednesday. "So to me we're not peaking right now, but we're in the best possible place, where we need to be. As long as our players keep getting a rhythm and getting better game-by-game, I like our chances."
It either sounds weird or scary to hear the Storm talk about getting better -- they shot 56.1% from the field, kept the Sparks off the offensive boards, and probably could have turned the ball over less, but had 5 of their 13 in the second quarter which means they did well overall. But making adjustments between games is the focus.
For game two, it's difficult to imagine the Sparks coming out and shooting that poorly again while the Storm shoot 60% from the field through three quarters. But it's also difficult to imagine keep the Storm -- the league's best rebounding team by percentage this season -- off the offensive boards for a second consecutive game.
And if there's anything the Storm demonstrated this season, it's that they're both resilient and able to adjust to the style of play of just about any team in the league. As point guard Sue Bird said in her diary on USA Today, the team has worked hard to get to this point and as veterans they know what it means for each player to fulfill their given role on the team.
Diary: Sue Bird, Storm bracing for Game 2 against Sparks - USATODAY.com
We're expecting a battle when we get to L.A. The first game was rough. I expect we're going to be spending a lot of time in the film room, making adjustments. But at this point in the season, I truly feel as though our team has put in most of its work. Now, winning is all about getting rest and treatment and preparing mentally. Personally, I have to focus on controlling the game and the tempo; on deciding when to push the opponents and when to make certain calls.
More reactions to the first game and prep for tomorrow's game:
Why the Storm call Jana Vesela "Dirk" and other playoff notes - Swish Appeal
Seattle Storm forward Jana Vesela might have surprised the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, but she didn't necessarily surprise her teammates.
After Tuesday's practice, Veselá and teammates joined color analyst Adia Barnes on a cruise to Tillicum Village on Blake Island in Puget Sound. Celeste Keaton, the partner of Lisa Brummel from Force 10 Hoops L.L.C., led the group and encouraged the players to get in touch with their surroundings.
"We walked around there and enjoyed the nature," recalled Veselá. "Celeste saw a tree and said, 'Let's hug it.' We were taking the energy from it, so we hugged it. That's our secret."
Prior to the Seattle Storm’s 79-66 victory against the Los Angeles Sparks, they unveiled a new banner in the rafters of KeyArena dedicated to the fans.
"We are so appreciative of our fans," said Storm forward Swin Cash after the game. "Our fanbase is unbelievable. And when I mean they are diehard Storm fans, they are diehard Storm fans. They come out, they're loud, And when it gets to a point in there where we're making a run, it's hard for us sometimes to even [hear] -- we're often like using sign language to call plays. But I would put these fans up against any fans in the WNBA and say they definitely are the best home court advantage."
You hear the Seattle Storm players say this repeatedly: the past with the Sparks is simply irrelevant to this team in this year against this Los Angeles Sparks team.
As much as the Storm have four players who never experienced the first round losses to the Sparks in three of the last four years, two of the Sparks’ leaders established themselves with other teams around the league and superstar forward Candace Parker is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
But more importantly, the Sparks have been playing considerably differently without Parker in lineup partially because the ball has been distributed around to their stars differently based on their performance against the Storm on Saturday. With the Sparks definitely peaking late in the season to the point that they were a much different team in August than the rest of the season. Here’s what we might be able to state:
What the Sparks need to do to win
Where the Sparks improved significantly in the second half season was in cutting down turnovers, which is good because they were third worst in the league in points off turnovers allowed. Where they were at their best on Saturday is when they moved the ball around, forced the Storm to play defense for the majority of the shot clock, and waited for gaps in the defense as the Storm rotated. Another major factor was rebounding – the Storm are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league and if the Sparks don’t keep them off the boards, they’ll be in trouble.
What the Storm need to do to win:
The Achilles heel of the Storm all season has been turnovers that make their second ranked offense less efficient. In the last two home games they’ve had an interesting trend where their turnover percentage actually goes down in the fourth quarter — last game they had one. Agler claims the reason for the improved ball control in the fourth quarter has been that they got the ball in the hands of the right players — Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright. Other than that, it’s a matter of rotating on defense and staying with possessions when the Sparks try to mix up the pacing by taking good looks early in the offense or slowing the game down to a crawl.
Prediction: Storm in two
Ultimately, it’s hard to imagine this game going a whole lot differently than the Storm’s season has gone: simply two balanced and too talented for the Sparks to keep up in a series. That said, given the outcome of Saturday’s game, there’s no reason to believe they’ll blow the Sparks out either.
The Seattle Storm will insist that their 5-0 regular season record against the Los Angeles Sparks is irrelevant with the playoffs beginning, especially since the last game on Saturday was probably the best representation of the Sparks team they'll see in the first round.
"Well I think we look at what we gotta do to get better and how they played well in the big picture, but I also think we have to focus on them right now because this is the team that they have and they've been playing like this for three or four weeks," said Storm coach Brian Agler.
Nevertheless, in case you missed any of the season series -- which is indeed mostly irrelevant because the first three games were played before superstar Sparks forward Candace Parker suffered a season-ending injury -- here's a quick overview of what happened.
Game 5 (Seattle): Storm 76, Sparks 65
Storm vs. Sparks: A Battle Of Point Guards Fully Capable Of Winning Without Scoring - Swish Appeal
Key statistic: turnover percentage
Although the most significant factor in the game was probably the Storm beating the Sparks 31% to 19% in offensive rebound percentage, the more interesting factor was definitely turnovers. Aside from the fact that the Storm won the turnover battle for the game 16.09% to 21.62%, once again they managed to just stop turning the ball over in the fourth quarter with one turnover at a rate of 6.25%. A large part of that could be attributed to Bird, but it's also a credit to the unit as a whole.
Game 4 (Los Angeles): Storm 75, Sparks 62
Sue Bird Returns With 11 Points and 7 Assists in 75-62 Win Over the Sparks - SB Nation Seattle
However, it’s starting to look as though the Storm’s success is due to more than chance: at 15-2, they have put together among the best first half starts in WNBA history, according to Kevin Pelton of StormTracker.
Game 3 (Seattle): Storm 82, Sparks 60
Bird's aggression, Little's energy lead a balanced Storm attack against Sparks - Swish Appeal
In last night's 80-60 win over the Los Angeles Sparks at Key Arena, the Storm pretty much determined the outcome of the game before the Sparks even got started.
After forcing the Sparks into a 24 second violation on the first possession of the game and Sparks guard Ticha Penicheiro hit a driving layup for the first score of the game, the Storm proceeded to showcase the balance of their starting lineup with an 8-0 run before a Sparks timeout. Two Candace Parker turnovers and steals by Camille Little led to Storm layups by Lauren Jackson and Swin Cash. Sue Bird hit a jumper and then Little got the first of her career-high 5 steals that led to a failed Tanisha Wright fast break attempt before Wright actually got herself on the board with a jumper.
"They just came out really aggressive, but that's their style," said Sparks forward Tina Thompson who finished with 10 points on 4-8 shooting, most of which came in the third quarter. "They come out really aggressive with a lot of energy, trying to push the score up against whoever they play. At that point, we just didn't match their intensity."
Game 2 (Los Angeles): Storm 79, Sparks 75
Why Svetlana Abrosimova is "precisely the kind of edge the Storm have needed" - Swish Appeal
Offensively, she gets into the flow of the game very well off the bench and as Patrick alluded to, she takes risks with a very good feel for knowing when something needs to happen and then trying to make it happen. That was evident in last night's game against the Sparks. After a timeout with 2:33 left, she scored on a pass from fellow reserve forward Le'coe Willingham, made a beautiful pass to forward Swin Cash for an assist, and then Cash returned the favor with an assist for a three at the end of the quarter.She can do a little bit of everything off the bench and in spurts like that it gives the team a little boost - just knowing that bench players can come in and help maintain the lead is huge for the Storm.
"I'm getting more comfortable and I'm just trying to bring that energy off the bench because the starting lineup plays a lot of minutes and they need help," said Abrosimova after the Atlanta game. "I'm just trying to be as aggressive as possible."
However, her bigger impact on the team might be as a playmaker. During last night's game, that pass to Cash was a perfectly timed entry pass as Cash was cutting to the basket - it wasn't an easy pass from the top of the key into traffic, but again, she recognized the opportunity and made it happen.
Game 1 (Seattle): Storm 81, Sparks 67
Storm's gritty season opener showcases what makes WNBA basketball appealing - Swish Appeal
One could argue -- and some people do -- that Parker is the single most dynamic individual player in the game. Stopping that type of player who at 6'4" has skills that seem to have no positional bounds can be a nightmare for most teams. So for those that might not have an eye for defensive play in the heat of a basketball game, what made the Storm's defensive performance impressive is not only that they held Parker to 10 points -- it's that during the fourth quarter, Parker did nothing on the right side of the box score, where the assists, steals and blocks are. Jackson -- as well as reserve center Ashley Robinson -- did a truly outstanding job of neutralizing the versatility of one of the best players in the game after the Sparks entered the 4th quarter with a one point lead after outscoring the Storm 22-14 in the third quarter.
"Candace Parker is a great player," said Agler. "There’s no question about it. But Lauren Jackson’s defense tonight was unbelievable. We were just talking about we have some who can stay with Candace, and a lot of teams don’t have that. They have to gimmick and do different things with zones and things like that. I’m sure Candace will have some big games against us. She played well tonight. She played 39 ½ minutes and had her opportunities, but Lauren really did a great job and I told her that afterward."
The hype about the 28-6 Seattle Storm and the seeming inevitability of winning the franchise's second WNBA title isn't entirely unfounded.
They steamrolled through the league en route to a 22-2 record through July -- the best start in the history of Seattle professional sports -- and finished the regular season with a 17-0 record at KeyArena. With the best record in the league -- tied for the most wins in league history -- the Storm will have home court advantage throughout the playoffs so winning a championship would seem to be a matter of continuing to do what they've been doing.
Yet the Storm are fully aware that a championship is not inevitable and not just because the Sparks are peaking, but because no regular season record will simply lift you to playoff success -- more than one player has acknowledged the reality that their record as of today is 0-0.
"We try to talk about respecting our opponents," said Agler when asked about the post-season expectations framed by their regular season success. "We take it game by game and we talked with our team that after the regular season's over, now, it goes back to Ground Zero -- everybody's record is 0-0 right now. And I think, to me it did anyway and I told our team this on Saturday, that LA definitely got my attention after that game and I think all the players would agree with that. So, I mean, everybody's going to have their opinions on that and have their predictions about what's going to happen, but we're definitely not looking at it that way."
But looking closely at the overall record also shows that even the path to regular season success wasn't easy.
The Storm are 8-1 in games decided by five points or less and 13-6 when facing a deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter. While one way to look at that is as a measure of veteran resilience and strong coaching, another way to think about it is that they've been closer to losing more than a few games than their dominant overall record might imply.
So as dominant as they've been, they aren't exactly invincible either.
There may be no better example of that that than the fact they needed a difficult jump shot along the baseline fading out of bounds from Tanisha Wright to defeat their first round opponent, the Los Angeles Sparks, 76-75 this past Saturday. And no, they weren't exactly resting their starters and a game away from the playoffs, Agler was attempting to make sure the team was sharp.
"It's not like we have to turn it on right now -- we've been doing that here the last week," said Agler. "Two weeks ago we got some people some rest and now we've played a couple of close games here at home even. So I'm hoping that will get our juices flowing."
Moreso than other teams, the Storm have been in preparation mode for some time. Given that their approach the entire season has been to see the regular season as preparation for now, perhaps what we can say about the regular season as the playoffs begin today is that it lost a significant portion of its relevance when it ended on Saturday.
This is not a team that had to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs -- it was virtually a given they were going to get there after jumping out to a huge lead in the standings early in the season, it was clinched in July, and they've had a month to get themselves mentally ready to move forward. So without an in-depth analysis of how the Storm dominated teams during a regular season that essentially became a means to tune up for now a month ago, the best way to describe what they Storm bring to the post-season is focus, poise, and immense confidence.
They never allowed themselves to get to get too wrapped up in the hype of the regular season records and did a remarkable job of maintaining a focus on what needed to be done to put themselves in position for the playoffs.
"Fans are into the whole hoopla of the records and this and that," said Wright when asked about their regular season success. "But ultimately, when it comes down to it, it's all about if you can win at the end. So this would be all for nothing if you don't go and capitalize at the end. When it gets to that time of the year, it's a whole different beast - everybody knows that."
Part of that poise in the face of such historic success comes from the championship experience of the multiple veterans on the roster. Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson were with the team when they won the franchise's first title in 2004. Swin Cash won two titles with the Detroit Shock coached by infamous former Detroit Pistons player Bill Laimbeer. Reserve forward Le'coe Willingham won a ring last year with the Phoenix Mercury. Not only do they know what it takes, but they're all hungry for more and know what it means to remain focused.
Another reason that can't be underestimated is the coaching of Agler, who is a strong candidate for Coach of the Year not just because of his ability to lead the team to tying a league record for wins, but also because of all those close games they pulled out.
Who Should Be the WNBA Coach of the Year? - Swish Appeal
It might be a surprise to some readers, but I would have picked Brian Agler to be named the best coach by the metric. He came close, just a half-point away. Seattle was 8-1 in games decided by five points or less. Imagine, say, Steven Key at the head of the Storm (who had a 3-7 record in such games) and the Storm might have hit double-digits in losses.
The most impressive thing about Agler from a leadership perspective is that he got the team to buy into his mantra of maintaining tunnel vision and staying focused on improving with each game in preparation for what they expected to come down the road.
But ultimately, sticking tangentially with a Coach of the Year discussion, it's not like a team with three leaders with championship experience needed a whole lot of prodding to stay focused on adding another to their resume. It's a team that's built to win and hungry to make it happen.
"We're mature enough and we've been in this league long enough where we know to look big picture," said Bird. "And big picture for our team was getting ready for the playoffs no matter what that meant for our record, for the record in terms of most wins, for anything."
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