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No sports fan can walk into KeyArena for a Seattle Storm game and ignore the fact that the atmosphere is markedly different than that of any other professional sporting experience.
Not just the big red furry mascot running around during stoppages in play, but the kid-friendly activities -- most clearly represented by the late game train dance on the court with Doppleer -- and the fact that there are so many young girls there.
As Chris Daniels of King 5 Sports describes in his brief segment from last night's game (above), if the WNBA has any cultural impact on the Seattle community, it's for those young female sports fans.
Seattle Storm brings out young fans | KING5.com | Seattle Sports News and Information
"I am just really happy to have this opportunity to give them a role model to look at, to give them people to aspire to and people to be proud of," said Trudeau.
Trudeau says now, with local ownership, the franchise is secure in Seattle. More than a year ago, the franchise signed a 10-year-lease to play its games at KeyArena.
We can debate whether the role model theme will ever effectively sell tickets for the WNBA. But it is unique among professional sports leagues in that it's hard to make a case that it's just about basketball: while some will appreciate the game strictly as a different type of basketball, it's impossible to deny that the longest running women's sports league doesn't mean a little extra for young female sports fans.
Why "Money Isn't Everything": How the WNBA Represents an Opportunity to "Release the Imagination" - Swish Appeal
...the value of the WNBA is not just in inspiring female basketball players or even female athletes more broadly. What it represents is a small departure from a world in which women were once told there were things they cannot do. It lets them know that there is something beyond what some people still espouse as common sense about women’s limitations.
It's hard not to watch those videos -- or be at a game for that matter -- and not acknowledge that a Storm championship will mean a lot more value to the city than the hardware that comes with it.
Photo by Kailas Images.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been to a couple of Seattle Storm games during the regular season and last night he came out on the court during the fourth quarter along with Chester Pitts and Lawyer Milloy to toss some shirts into the crowd.
For more game photos, check out Swish Appeal's Facebook Page.
Nobody will tell you that the Seattle Storm’s 87-84 win over the Atlanta Dream in KeyArena tonight was an example of how beautiful basketball can be.
“Sometimes, especially in final games of any sort, championship games, it’s never going to be — you can’t expect it to be — pretty,” said Storm point guard Sue Bird, who finished with eight points and four assists. “You’re not going to go out there and win by 20 and everything’s going to be honky-dory; it’s just not going to happen. You gotta grind it out.”
Grinding it out in Game 2 meant the Storm had to withstand the Dream’s pressure defense that forced costly turnovers throughout and led to unforced turnovers in the latter stages of the game as well as the Dream successfully setting the pace once again.
“I think everybody was just focusing on leaving early and looking out ahead — rebound and run, that’s our game plan all the time,” said Dream guard Iziane Castro Marques who tied Angel McCoughtry for a team-high 19 points. “Tonight anytime anybody got a rebound, we were saying ‘push the ball’ and we were fortunate in doing that.”
While the Storm did seem to get caught up in the pace of the game, got badly out-rebounded 11 to 4 on the offensive glass, and struggled to ever fully put the Dream away, the bottom line is they won this game. And in a championship series, all that matters is that the Storm are now within one win of achieving their ultimate goal of a WNBA championship.
“It’s almost like everybody is disgusted with how we played the last two games,” said Storm coach Brian Agler. “The point is we’re up 2-0 and we’ve made plays; we’ve made basketball plays. We have not played perfect, we haven’t played our best, granted, but we’ve made basketball plays.”
Most important is that some of the biggest plays of the night came from players who were less productive in Game 1, demonstrating the Storm’s impressive balance once again.
After having a quiet scoring night and more turnovers than she’d like, Tanisha Wright got going early with a jumper from the top of the key mid-way through the first quarter and then visibly more confident and decisive got hot in the second quarter. With the crowd on edge and the Dream countering every Storm basket with a run of their own, Wright made play after play to keep the crowd involved in the second quarter and help the Storm maintain their lead: a three pointer as the shot clock expired to put the Storm up seven with three minutes left in the quarter, a steal that led to a Camille Little layup to maintain that seven point cushion, and another steal with under a minute.
“She played better, shot the ball at a high percentage,” said Agler of Wright, who finished with 17 points and a WNBA Finals record 5 steals. "We put her in pick-and-rolls quite a bit and she made great plays. She played great defense, she was poised out there, and, you know, it was good. We needed that secondary ball handler tonight."
Meanwhile, forward Swin Cash showed that she was going to be no less aggressive after foul trouble in Game 1. Cash scored from all over the court with a combination of jumpers, post plays, and fast break layups to finish with 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
Yet the biggest contributor should be no surprise: Lauren Jackson came up with a team-high 26 points once again and showed her versatility by putting it up in a different fashion than Game 1. Jackson went 13-for-17 from the free throw line and finished with seven rebounds to help the Storm keep pace with a 37 to 23 advantage from the free throw line.
All the Storm did tonight is demonstrate what fans have known all season — even in an ugly game, they have enough weapons to find ways to win. They don’t have to play perfect basketball, but they find ways to make plays when they need them.
Nevertheless, Jackson is no more confident about beating the Dream now in Atlanta than she was prior to mounting their two game lead.
“At this point in time, I don’t feel overly confident in going to Atlanta,” said Jackson. "I think that home court advantage plays a big part in the series and going back to Atlanta it will be difficult for us to get the win. So I think we’re going to have to keep doing what we do, play defense, better defense all game, and then try to get the win down there."
In a nationally televised championship series game between teams who have been playing otherwise exciting basketball this season, you hate to see the referees dominate the game.
And it was almost impossible to ignore the refs in this one.
Of course, when the calls are so arbitrary that the amped up KeyArena crowd ceases booing or applauding and instead responds to fouls with bewildered silence, I suppose you can say that ultimately it was a wash.
Somewhere in between whistles, there was a game of basketball played and the Seattle Storm managed to win that 87 – 84 in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals to take a 2- 0 lead and sit one game away from the WNBA title that they’ve been working for all season.
Once again, the Dream did manage to establish their style of play early in the game, pushing the tempo with quick shots early in the shot clock and hitting the offensive boards hard – the Storm went into the half up 49-47 after the Dream held them to one offensive rebound and none in the second quarter.
Although the Storm never really overcame their rebounding struggles against an aggressive and athletic Dream squad, the game never really escaped the influence of the refs with the Storm winning on the strength of free throw shooting: the Storm had 37 free throw attempts to the Dream’s 23 and made 27. Storm center Lauren Jackson was the biggest beneficiary of those free throws going 13-for-17 and finishing with 26 points and seven rebounds. Forward Swin Cash rebounded from a Game One marred by foul trouble with 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting and going 5-for-7 from the line.
Iziane Castro Marques and Angel McCoughtry tied for a team-high 21 points and McCoughtry added nine rebounds but shot a rather inefficient 7-for-23.
The Storm now head to Atlanta for Game Three on Thursday with an opportunity to pull off a sweep for the franchise’s second title.
The Seattle Storm defeated the Atlanta Dream 87-84 in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. The Storm took care of business at home, winning both games at Seattle’s KeyArena.
Lauren Jackson, WNBA MVP and Storm forward, led all scorers with 26 points. Forward Swin Cash added 19 points and guard Tanisha Wright had 17 points for the Storm.
Iziane Castro Marques and Angel McCoughtry each had 21 points for the Dream.
The WNBA Finals head to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4. Game 3 is scheduled for Thursday night at 5 PM and will be televised on ESPN2.
After three quarters of Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, the Seattle Storm lead the Atlanta Dream, 69-65.
Seattle’s Lauren Jackson continues to lead all scorers with 22 points. Storm forward Swin Cash and guard Tanisha Wright have chipped in 16 points and 11 points, respectively.
Atlanta has been paced by forward Iziane Castro Marques, with 17 points, and Angel McCoughtry, with16 points.
The Storm withstood a solid Atlanta run early in the third quarter to regain control of the game near the end of the period.
Storm guard Sue Bird has 4 fouls, as does Dream forward Sancho Lyttle.
The Storm are one quarter away from holding serve at Seattle’s KeyArena and taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the WNBA Finals.
At halftime of Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, the Seattle Storm lead the Atlanta Dream, 49-47.
Seattle’s Lauren Jackson and Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry lead all scorers with 14 points each.
McCoughtry shot just 1-10 from the field in the first quarter but shot 4-5 during the second quarter, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer right before the half.
The Storm are hoping to hold serve at Seattle’s KeyArena and take a commanding 2-0 lead in the WNBA Finals.
The Atlanta Dream lead the Seattle Storm after the first quarter of Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, 21-19.
Seattle’s Lauren Jackson leads all scorers with 9 points.
Atlanta Dream star Angel McCoughtry shot just 1-10 from the field in the first quarter. Seven different members of the Dream scored during the opening period.
The Dream are looking to steal a road win in Seattle's KeyArena and even the WNBA Finals series at 1-1.
The Seattle Storm are up 1-0 in the WNBA Finals, but Atlanta Dream forward Sancho Lyttle objected to framing their situation as down 0-1.
"We aren't down," said Lyttle emphatically. "We played hard yesterday. And it came down to the last 10 seconds or how ever much it was. But you can't be down on yourself about that because we fought as much as we could and that was the result and we have four more games to go."
But at this point, it's difficult to imagine that anyone really believes the Dream are still somehow out of place in the Finals, despite the fact that they still feel the need to make the point. Even if someone hadn't watched their performance in the playoffs, it should be quite clear that they're able to play with the Storm who steamrolled the league during the regular season.
So putting aside any pretense of the Dream being unable to compete, the question for Game Two is how they can come away with the win they fought hard for in Game One.
1. Stay with the defensive strategy, but close out on shooters better
Despite her final line, the Dream actually did a pretty solid job on Lauren Jackson.
"You have to give good players respect and know that at any given time they can go off and once they do it's hard to stop them," said Lyttle. "We tried to do as much as we could. She got her points, but she could have done more than that if she had the chance to."
However, in focusing on stopping Jackson, Dream coach Marynell Meadors also noted that they gave up too many open shots on the perimeter.
"On defense we would get sucked in and they'd kick it out and they'd shoot a three and they'd make it," said Meadors. "I just think that we're trying to stop a very good team and we try to help each other if we get into some kind of difficulty -- if somebody gets beat we try to rotate over. But the thing is that Seattle did a great job with is they found the open shooter and the shooters made it."
While the immediate reaction to Meadors' observation might be to critique the Dream's overall strategy of going under screens -- especially given the final defensive possession of the game -- that was quite effective at disrupting Jackson, as Lyttle said.
Part of giving up those perimeter shots might just be a reality of playing the Storm -- they're the type of team that has been together for a while and thus extremely adept at moving the ball to find open shooters. But part of it is the Dream finishing out those defensive possessions by rotating out onto the shooters.
2. Utilizing their depth.
Dream point guard Kelly Miller came into the game during the fourth quarter after being injured for the duration of the playoffs and that will unquestionably give the Dream more depth. But what they showed in Game One as well with McCoughtry out is how balanced they can be.
"We've not gone to Angel -- we don't run plays for Angel; we don't run plays for Izzy; we don't run plays for anyone," said Meadors. "They bring what they bring every game and some nights they have better nights than other nights, but I just think that we've got great balance and that's the reason we were able to hang with them."
However, the Dream could stand to leverage that balance even further.
Little Things Mean A Lot: How Unsung Heroes Stepped Up in Game 1 - Swish Appeal
Alison Bales and Yelena Leuchanka who had been significant contributors off the bench during the playoffs only played 4:10 each during the same stretch, which certainly means the Dream could stand to leverage their depth more effectively.
During the third quarter when Jackson got hot, the Dream were playing with one post player whereas during the second and fourth quarters -- their most successful -- they were playing with two posts because McCoughtry was out of the lineup. It should come as no surprise then that they were more effective on the offensive boards during those quarters and as a result more efficient overall.
If they can maybe extend their post rotation a bit in Game Two to where it was earlier in the playoffs and force the Storm to respond, the outcome could certainly be different.
3. Angel McCoughtry will play more
There is of course a dilemma when comparing Game One to Game Two in that it would be reasonable to assume that if McCoughtry hadn't gotten in foul trouble the Dream would have had a better chance to win, a point that Meadors made both during her post-game comments and before practice yesterday.
"I think being out of the game for almost 20 minutes probably affected the outcome of it a little bit for us, yeah," said Meadors yesterday.
So there will be a choice -- the Dream were overwhelmingly more effective in quarters where they played two posts, even with McCoughtry out.Part of that is offensive rebounding and part of that is helping to contend with Jackson -- de Souza as the sole post guarding Jackson was not a favorable matchup for the Dream in Game One. So they could figure out some way to integrate McCoughtry with two posts, which didn't happen often in Game One. But they could also stick with the plan to go small as they've done throughout the playoffs.
The same goes for Kelly Miller: Miller came in during the fourth quarter and had an excellent assist ratio of 40% and a turnover percentage of 20%, meaning she was extremely efficient as a ball handler in addition to being a three point shooter that can spread the floor. If she plays more minutes, who loses minutes? How does that affect them defensively, where Meadors said the biggest impact of changing starting guards was?
The only thing for certain with the Dream for Game Two is that there is a lot of uncertainty after Game One, much moreso than normal because of their post-season lineup shift. How Meadors handles that uncertainty may be as important as McCoughtry's performance on the court in more minutes.
The Seattle Storm have been lauded all season for their resilience.
They finished the regular season 13-6 when facing fourth quarter deficits and for the entirety of 2010 are 15-1 in games decided by two possessions or less.
So it might at first sound odd for Storm coach Brian Agler to suggest that mental toughness was the reason for their turnovers -- resilience might seem to inherently be an indicator of mental fortitude. However, Agler suggests a distinction between the type of mental toughness required for closing out games and the type of mental toughness that helps a team control the ball.
"I think there's different phases of mental toughness," said Agler. "I think we have the mental toughness to execute when we have to. We have shown that. But during the course of the game there has to be a toughness of decision-making: just because you think someone's open, doesn't mean they're going to be open. You have to have the ability to read the situations and make the right decisions."
What Agler described as a lack of mental toughness on the offensive end might have had its strongest influence on the third quarter when the Storm's 26.59% turnover percentage was largely responsible for allowing the Dream to hang around despite the Storm shooting 50% to the Dream's 33.33%. The turnovers continued in the fourth quarter to the tune of a 22.52% turnover percentage and the Dream combined that with much better shooting and rebounding.
1. Decreasing their turnover percentage
Without McCoughtry out of the game or injured for long stretches, had the Storm not been throwing away possessions in the second half it's quite possible that they would have put the Dream away much earlier.
So there is almost no question that turnovers are the number one thing to watch from the Storm's perspective in Game Two.
"I just thought it was some poor decision-making," said Agler. "Just not being mentally tough. They take two or three things away and you gotta be able to play under control and find out what the fourth or fifth option is. Not picking up your dribble. Not being loose with the basketball. But they're a team that will create turnovers and thrive off that."
By far the biggest contributor to those turnovers was guard Tanisha Wright (38.63% turnover percentage), who echoed Brian Agler in saying that her turnovers were due to decision-making. Forward Swin Cash, who only played about 19 minutes due to foul trouble, had a turnover percentage of 28.57%. And aside from the fact Wright had a higher turnover percentage, her turnovers might be more costly because the team runs much better when she is handling the ball efficiently next to Bird.
2. Patience against the Dream's constantly shifting defense
At one point in the game, someone noted that the Storm looked like they were standing around and watching one another go one-on-one. There are two reasons for that: first, the Dream were making rotations extremely quickly, using their athleticism to their advantage to switch and recover. But second, as Agler alluded to, the Dream created so much disorder that at some point the Storm began to second guess decisions that they normally make without thinking.
Storm | Amped-up fans a key for Storm in WNBA Finals? | Seattle Times Newspaper
"It was one of those games where I was really indecisive about everything I was doing," said Storm guard Tanisha Wright, who committed five turnovers while Cash had four. "I'll be more focused. I don't think I did anything outside of myself, it was just the decision-making at the end of what I was doing wasn't timely. But it isn't anything I'm going to stress about."
The Storm were at their best when they moved the ball well and forced the Dream to play for a full 24 seconds instead of essentially bailing them out with quick jumpshots. The Storm have a number of players -- from Camille Little to Svetlana Abrosimova -- who are outstanding at both recognizing opportunities to cut through gaps off the ball and finding others. It's no coincidence that they are two players who are at their best when acting on their instincts and trusting the system and their teammates.
3. Moving Jackson around the court offensively
The Dream have got to be pleased with holding Jackson with 12 points on 3-for-10 shooting outside of the third quarter.
"We played through Lauren a little bit more in the third quarter and I think that we can do a good job of playing through her more consistently," said Agler. "But there's no question they're putting a lot of attention on Lauren: there's a lot of congestion, maybe they're trying to deny her in the post and help on the backside. So we're going to have to make some adjustments to combat that."
The biggest upside of "playing through" Jackson might have been that she was also getting different opportunities.
The Dream did an outstanding job going under screens and rotating help to Jackson for most of the game. However, Jackson is almost impossible to contain if she moves around the court as she did in the third quarter -- she had half of her eight threes during that time as well as half of her four offensive rebound. Everybody talks about how the regular season doesn't matter and the records certainly don't. But if watching the Storm during the regular season proves anything, it's that there is not a player in this league who can effectively contain Jackson for 40 minutes when she's moving between the interior and perimeter like that.
If there's anything to be taken from Game One, the third quarter was probably the best: during that time the Storm moved the ball well and created diverse opportunities for Jackson. If they cut down on turnovers -- as they did in the first quarter -- they'll be difficult to beat in Game Two.
For most of the season, the key to beating the Storm has been evident: force them into turning the ball over.
Although that is certainly no easy task, it's something the Atlanta Dream did well and Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com describes why that might be the most critical aspect of Game Two.
STORM: Insider Preview - Storm vs. Atlanta (Game 2)
From the Storm's perspective, the most critical aspect of Game 2 could be taking care of the basketball. The team had 18 turnovers in Game 1, which led to 27 Dream points. Atlanta scored 1.5 points per possession after a turnover, nearly double the team's scoring rate on other possessions.
"That's not acceptable," said forward Camille Little. "Most of their points came from the turnovers we had. That's something we can control - having better composure and taking care of the ball."
It's always difficult to say whether one factor alone will dictate the outcome of the game -- in Game One, although the Dream did force a significant turnover margin the Storm did everything else well enough to eek out a win. Yet it's clear that if the Storm aim to make any significant adjustments in Game Two, it would have to be cutting down on turnovers.
Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com describes a familiar refrain from both the Atlanta Dream and Seattle Storm in her preview of Game Two of the WNBA Finals.
Atlanta Dream not looking to make many changes for WNBA Finals' Game 2 - ESPN
The Storm don't necessarily expect the Dream game plan to change a whole lot, because what Atlanta did Sunday was almost good enough for a victory.
"They may try to get more aggressive on the defensive end and come up with more steals," Cash said. "That fuels their transition game. So I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to trap more on the pick-and-roll or double-team down low. But what we have to do is get better execution and be able to pick them apart. Make them pay for gambling."
However, even if both teams come in focused strictly on themselves rather than deliberately changing the game plan, Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans alludes to the fact that rather significant changes are almost inevitable.
Storm | Amped-up fans a key for Storm in WNBA Finals? | Seattle Times Newspaper
The matchup wasn't characteristic of either team. In addition to Cash's foul trouble, Dream All-Star Angel McCoughtry had three fouls in the opening half. And Seattle's defense held Atlanta below its 91.8 playoff scoring average.
While a change in the foul situation could certainly change the face of the game, there are a number of other tactical matters that both teams could be expected to adjust in Game 2, ranging from rotations to who gets touches.
Little Things Mean A Lot: How Unsung Heroes Stepped Up in Game 1 - Swish Appeal
There were so many unusual variables at play in this game that it's difficult to determine much about the matchup. Yes, McCoughtry was in foul trouble and injured, but Storm forward Swin Cash was also in foul trouble and limited to 19:19. Alison Bales and Yelena Leuchanka who had been significant contributors off the bench during the playoffs only played 4:10 each during the same stretch, which could certainly leveraging the Dream's depth. The Dream put Kelly Miller on the floor for the first time in a while during the fourth quarter, which worked out well overall - it was arguably the team's best quarter - but that might have changed things.
Then back to the Storm, if you truly believe that a team can consistently hold Lauren Jackson to 3-10 shooting over three quarters - even discontinuously - you haven't been paying much attention to the Storm this season. It doesn't happen often.
With rather significant anomalies all over the court in Game One - especially from an Atlanta Dream team that replaced two starters right at the beginning of the playoffs - it's hard to know what to expect from Game Two.
And so the anticipation builds.