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2 Total Updates since July 9, 2011
almost 2 years ago Update 0 comments
The Seattle Storm's 99-80 win tonight was not simply a matter of beating up on a Los Angeles Sparks team playing without Candace Parker and in the midst of a five game losing streak.
The Storm finally started hitting shots and had a performance reminiscent of what fans were used to seeing in KeyArena during their dominant 2010 WNBA title run.
"It seems like we have been waking up a few sleeping giants lately, I don't know what the deal is," said Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom. "It just seems like everyone gets up for LA. We know we've always been a target and people just want to beat us."
Whatever the impetus for the Storm's outburst, describing what went right is probably best encapsulated by their outstanding 3-point shooting.
After having their 3-point shooting percentage plummet to near the bottom of the league this season, they shot an outstanding 53 percent tonight, including 5-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter when the rout was on. As strong as the shooting percentage is, the fact that they only shot 17 is also telling - they had a much more diverse offensive attack tonight.
"Seattle had a great third quarter run," said Sparks guard Kristi Toliver of the Storm's 32-21 third quarter advantage. "They really broke us down defensively. And they started making shots; Katie (Smith) was obviously struggling but then she hit that first one, and it got her confidence up and then they all started making shots."
In addition to shooting well as a team, reserve guard Katie Smith hitting anything at all was also a welcome sight. One of the WNBA's most prolific 3-point shooters, Smith scored 12 points and shot 3-for-6 from beyond the arc tonight after shooting a paltry 18.8 percent thus far this season. It was great to not only have another scorer, but also to have any scoring off the bench: after being badly outplayed by the Sparks' bench in their first game, the Storm bench nearly matched their reserve scoring tonight at 17-18.
However, their relative restraint from the 3-point line in the third quarter is probably more important than their improved accuracy. Both scoring leaders Swin Cash (game-high 26 points) and Tanisha Wright (21) went 7-for-8 from the free throw line as the Storm were more aggressive than they'd been all season in attacking the rim. That aggression was particularly evident in the third quarter when the Storm shot 9-for-12 from the free throw line.
"That's been a point of emphasis the last couple of days of practice," said Cash. "Sometimes when you're not shooting the three as well, you're thinking, 'Next shot. Next shot.' You can't fall in love with it. You've got to get to the rim and be aggressive. Whenever I'm doing that, I think it's better for our team."
Meanwhile, the Storm's defense stayed strong forcing 14 second half turnovers, which led to numerous transition scoring opportunities and helped them simply find scoring opportunities more easily. Sparks guard Kristi Toliver, one of two players to make a surprise start tonight, had four of those turnovers but complemented that with 17 points and five assists. The other surprise starter, rookie center Jantel Lavender, scored a team-high 21 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
"Crucial turnovers in the third quarter that really cost us," Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom said. "There's no way you can win ball games having 21 turnovers in a game and them scoring 33 points off of it. So not only did we turn the ball over, we didn't get back in transition, and they capitalized on that."
The Storm's second half performance wasn't necessarily their best of the season, but it was by far the best rhythm they've established on anyone this season. Moreso than the Sparks losing because of Parker's absence it could be said that they ran into a team that was bound to get things rolling at some point.
"It felt good because we know what everyone in this room is capable of," said Storm point guard Sue Bird, who finished with 17 points, eight assists, and no turnovers. "We've had some growing pains - figuring ourselves out, figuring out how we're going to work together. Tonight was kind of payment for that, because we knew it was right there, on the cusp. Tonight we got over the hump a little bit."
almost 2 years ago Update 0 comments
The Los Angeles Sparks made a surprising change to their starting lineup today, inserting rookie center Jantel Lavender and third-year guard Kristi Toliver in place of certain Hall of Famers Ticha Penicheiro and Tina Thompson.
And for the most part, it was effective as the Sparks took a slim 39-38 advantage into halftime against the Seattle Storm at KeyArena.
Without center Lauren Jackson, the Storm struggled to stop taller post players on their recent road trip and the 6-foot-4 Lavender had some success early with her unexpected start. Lavender grabbed a team-high five rebounds and scored eight points on 3-for-6 shooting, scoring over Storm defenders in addition to getting two re throw attempts. DeLisha Milton-Jones did some damage in the post as well scoring a team-high nine points.
For the Storm, Tanisha Wright is leading the way with a game-high 12 points but the whole team is doing a good job at remaining aggressive and getting to the free throw line at a higher rate than normal, shooting 5-for-7 in the first half. While the Sparks are scoring in the paint by working more standard post-ups, the Storm have worked the pick-and-roll well, forcing the Sparks bigs to keep up with Camille Little and Le'coe Willingham (five and seven points, respectively).
The key to the second half might continue to be the post, but more rebounding than scoring - the Sparks are not a particularly strong rebounding team with or without Candace Parker and although neither team has gotten a lot of offensive rebounds in the first half, rebounding and second chance points could be a difference-maker in the second half.
almost 2 years ago Update 0 comments
Only a third of the way into the Seattle Storm's 34-game regular season, they're already confronted with a game that could end up having playoff implications.
The fourth place Seattle Storm (5-4) are confronted with an opportunity to not only create some space in the standings between themselves and the fifth place Los Angeles Sparks (4-5) tonight, but also even the season series with superstar forward Candace Parker out for a few more weeks.
With Storm center Lauren Jackson out as well, Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com describes how today's opponents are actually on somewhat even footing, narratively.
STORM: Insider Preview - Storm vs. Los Angeles
Without their star post player, the veteran team has relied heavily on one of the WNBA's assist leaders, an all-time leading scorer and a forward nominated for the Top 15 Players in WNBA History while moving an undersized post player who started during the 2009 WNBA Finals into the lineup to fill the hole. That assessment could apply to both the Seattle Storm and the Los Angeles Sparks.
However, If their first meeting in Los Angeles is any indication, the Sparks have at least one significant advantage over the Storm: bench play.
The Sparks' bench outscored the Storm's bench 40-7 in L.A. and that's not necessarily an unfair representation of the two teams' change in fortunes this season: while the Sparks are second in bench scoring at 30.78 points per game, the Storm are last in the WNBA at 11.22 points per game. Considering that Le'coe Willingham's 7.4 points per game have since moved from the bench to the starting lineup in Jackson's absence, it has to be considered an even greater area of concern now.
So at the very least, this is a chance to get a win from the Sparks with one less thing to contend with.
Having lost Parker in the second game of their current four game losing streak, the Sparks have fallen from the top of the Western Conference standings down to just behind the Storm. They will unquestionably recover once Parker returns as they were 5-2 with her healthy, but for now it gives the Storm a chance to pick up a win without the Sparks' star in the lineup - Parker could well be back for the Storm's home-and-home with the Sparks in late-August.
Obviously, no true competitor is going to say that they look forward to picking up a win against a team that is without their superstar, especially given the outcome of the first contest. But in a 34-game season against the team just behind them in the playoff race, there's added significance to games like today's - at the end of the season, a head-to-head tie-breaker with the Sparks could loom large.