Photo by Kailas Images.

Seattle Storm WNBA Finals Run: Games 2 & 3 See Increased Ratings

Keeping track of the Seattle Storm's quest for a second franchise title in the 2010 WNBA Playoffs.

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Photo Sequence & Video: Was Sue Bird's Shot The Result Of A Great Or Moving Screen?

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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.

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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

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Storm Win Game One, But Dream Show They Belong

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.

"It was a great game -- it was hard fought by both teams," said Dream coach Marynell Meadors. "I think it proved to our players and coaching staff that we belong here. We never gave up. I thought my team showed a lot of courage throughout the game."

If there is such thing as a moral victory, the Dream got one -- they had nothing to lose coming into an arena where nobody has won all year and arguably did enough to win the game. Yet with both teams bound to make adjustments prior to Game Two on Tuesday, it's also possible that this really was the Dream's best chance to steal a game on the road. 
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The Final WNBA Finals Preview: Why The Seattle Storm Aren't Sleeping On The Atlanta Dream

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.

Continue: Five reasons why the Dream could push the Finals to five games

For more:

How the Atlanta Dream Transitioned From Scrappy to Efficient to Make the WNBA Finals

What are the odds of the Dream sweeping the Storm?

WNBA Finals matchup analysis: Dream and Storm share strengths, but the Storm have an edge

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Why Lisa Leslie Picked The Seattle Storm To Win It All

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.

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Seattle Storm Title Run: The Atlanta Dream Headed To KeyArena To Begin WNBA Finals On Sunday

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.

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Seattle Storm WNBA Playoff Push: Who Might Be The Storm's Most Favorable WNBA Finals Opponent?

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.

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Seattle Storm Playoff Push: A Preview Of A 'Post-Positional' WNBA 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.

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Seattle Storm Playoff Push: The Phoenix Mercury And Their (Newfound?) Defensive Intensity Await In Second Round

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.

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Seattle Storm Playoff Push: Agler Doesn't Mind Winning Ugly

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.

STORM: Veselá Harnesses the Power of the Tree

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."

Women's Hoops Blog | Playoff links--No. 1 seed Storm vs. No. 4 seed Los Angeles | Seattle Times Newspaper

Storm Use An Early Run To Defeat The Sparks, 79-66

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Seattle Storm Playoff Push: This Should Be The Year To Get Over That First Round Hump

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.

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Seattle Storm Playoff Push: Storm (5) vs. Sparks (0) Regular Season Series Review

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."

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