PHOENIX - JULY 14: Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm smiles in reaction to a foul call during the WNBA game against the Phoenix Mercury at US Airways Center on July 14 2010 in Phoenix Arizona. The Storm defeated the Mercury 111-107 in triple overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Sue Bird Scores 4,000th Point In 63-55 Seattle Storm Win

The Seattle Storm and San Antonio Silver Stars meet for the fourth time in their regular season series for their final game in KeyArena. With playoff seeding at stake, it's a big game for both teams. For more on the Storm's season, visit our Storm section. For more on the Liberty and the WNBA in general, visit SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal.

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2011 WNBA Playoff Race: Seattle Storm Win Tiebreaker With San Antonio Silver Stars

Tonight was a very good night for the Seattle Storm (15-12), who are starting to find some offensive rhythm with center Lauren Jackson back in the lineup.

With their 63-55 win over the fourth place San Antonio Silver Stars (13-13), the third place Storm gave themselves 1.5 games of breathing room which could only increase over the next five days: while the Silver Stars play a pair of games against the first place Minnesota Lynx (21-6), the Storm will the last place Tulsa Shock (1-24) and fifth place Los Angeles Sparks (12-15) at KeyArena.

The Sparks also helped themselves tonight by winning an overtime game with the Washington Mystics' (5-21), whose ineffective late-game execution cost them the game as much as anything that Candace Parker's recent return to action might have. In any event, the Sparks are now 1.5 games behind the Silver Stars with their win and tonight is yet another perfect example of why the Sparks still have a chance to make the playoffs even as they play subpar basketball even with Parker in the lineup - while the Silver Stars are busy traveling to KeyArena and Minnesota, the Sparks get rewarded for a suspect performance against the Mystics with a home game against the Shock.

It's almost just bad luck for San Antonio that Danielle Adams is out for them in the middle of a rough patch while the Sparks get Parker back in the middle of one of the easiest stretches of games the league could possibly offer; it's not even that the Silver Stars are playing that poorly overall, they've just gotten a tough draw with a key player absent and need to do more to beat these teams.

"We competed and we're getting better, but getting better is not necessarily good," said Silver Stars forward Sophia Young. "We have to get there and win a couple games in the next stretch coming up because these games are very important to us."

In more good news for the Seattle fans, the Phoenix Mercury's (15-11) home loss to the New York Liberty means that the Storm are now half a game out of second place in the Western Conference with their next game also against Tulsa on Thursday.


Seattle Storm Vs. San Antonio Silver Stars Final Score: Storm Pull Away Late For A 63-55 Win

It's amazing how much more confidently the Seattle Storm have played with in two games with center Lauren Jackson back from injury, even if she's only playing limited minutes.

Everyone has looked more decisive, the offense is more dynamic with guard Tanisha Wright both posting up and driving to the basket with Jackson drawing post players out of the key, and passes into the pain that most players would never catch suddenly look good when they fall inside the 6-foot-6 center's reach.

Down the stretch of tonight's game against the San Antonio Silver Stars, all of that was on full display as the Storm woke up from a two quarter slumber to pull away and win 63-55. After the Silver Stars cut the Storm lead to two points with 4:34 left, the Storm rallied behind typical Jackson plays to subdue the visitors' run.

"I thought we started playing with a purpose at the end," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "I didn't think we played with a purpose early in the game. I think Lauren made a couple of Lauren Jackson plays - turnaround jump shots, drop steps, things of that nature. We got to the free throw line a little bit in the second half."

Most encouraging in the context of this season, the Storm committed only one turnover in the fourth quarter and only 11 for the game after committing five in the first period against a team that forces a high rate of turnovers. With the offense running a bit more smoothly and Jackson's ability to create scoring opportunities, the Storm shot 53.84 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes to help them withstand the Silver Stars run despite being held to only one offensive rebound in the second half against the league's lowest ranked rebounding team.

"(Jayne) Appel got some offensive boards on us - I thought we did a poor job in that area, but I think they've gotten better as well," said Agler. "So if you take the turnovers which we had, we didn't have a lot of them, but they still scored points off those, and second chance points, that's where they hurt us."

In just under 25 minutes in her second game back from injury, Jackson again matched her season-high with seven rebounds in addition to 13 points. Storm guard Tanisha Wright led all scorers with 16 points and 7 rebounds in addition to leading a defensive effort that held Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon to four points on 2-for-10 shooting.

"We really focus in on her and make her give the ball up and let other people make plays," said Wright of Hammon, who tied Bird with a game-high five assists. "We get tons of help from our post players. They do a good job of forcing her to make the next pass and then recovering. They have a bigger assignment than we do. Our job is to try to stay in front of her, but they help us a lot."

Sophia Young led the Silver Stars with team-highs of 14 points and eight rebounds, but as further testament to the Storm's defense they held Young to only four second half points. The Storm held the Silver Stars to 29.2 percent shooting in the third quarter, but still found themselves down 42-41. 

"I thought we did a lot of things we'd hoped we would do - we outrebounded them and things like that, but the reality was we needed a fourth quarter that could separate us," said Hughes. "But they went to (Lauren) Jackson and (Sue) Bird a little bit, and (Tanisha) Wright hurt us, all in the fourth quarter, which gave them the separation."

With the win, the Storm not only move a 1.5 games ahead of the fourth place Silver Stars in the Western Conference, but will also win the regular season series giving them the tie-breaker if it comes to that.

"We need to finish those easy buckets that we had, keep rebounding the ball and run the floor to get some transition buckets, so easy things like that will be beneficial for us winning," said Young. "Obviously these next couple of games are important for us to win so we have to get it in our minds that it's a must-win."


Sue Bird Becomes First WNBA Player With 4000 Points, 1500 Assists In First Quarter Against San Antonio Silver Stars

Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird became the 16th player in WNBA history to reach the 4,000 point milestone with a pair of free throws with 19.4 seconds left in the first quarter of tonight's game against the San Antonio Silver Stars at KeyArena.

Naturally after the game, Bird downplayed the milestone a bit.

"I joked that it just means that I've been playing a long time," said Bird of the milestone. "I think looking back on my career it will be something that will be special. You're in an elite group when you think about people who have done that. It's got a little bit of meaning to it. I think the assists will always kind of mean a little bit more."

It's fitting that the assists mean more as Bird also became the first player in WNBA history to reach the 4,000 point, 1,500 assist milestone with the free throws.

She became only the second player in history to reach the 1,500 assist milestone last season, joining Los Angeles Sparks point guard Ticha Penicheiro.  Bird also became the youngest player to reach 1,000 assists in 2007. Tonight's  milestone cements her as among the best point guards ever to play the game, if there was ever any lingering doubt.


Seattle Storm Vs. San Antonio Silver Stars Halftime Score: Poor Second Quarter Rebounding Leads To 28-26 Deficit

After clamping down on the San Antonio Silver Stars in the first quarter and holding them to only 3-for-16 shooting, the Seattle Storm faltered on the boards in the second quarter and went into the locker room down 28-26 at halftime.

After getting out to a 10-0 start in the first quarter, the Storm only shot 26.7 percent in the second quarter while getting beat 12 to 6 on the boards. Perhaps most troubling about the Storm's rebounding struggles in the second quarter is that guards Jia Perkins and rookie Danielle Robinson are leading the team with four apiece.

Sophia Young carried the Silver Stars in the first half scoring 10 of their 28 points, really hitting her stride in the second quarter with Hammon again having a quiet night against the Storm.

Tanisha Wright led the Storm with eight points and four rebounds while Bird complemented her with six points on her milestone night. Lauren Jackson started again and found herself in early foul trouble, picking up two in the second quarter.


Seattle Storm Vs. San Antonio Silver Stars: Three Keys For The Storm

The Seattle Storm have every reason for confidence against the San Antonio Silver Stars tonight.

In addition to the boost that a healthy Lauren Jackson gives them, the Silver Stars simply haven't played well in three meetings against the Storm this season.  As Kevin Pelton described on, that begins with the Storm shutting down All-Star guard Becky Hammon.

The Storm's defensive effort has started with All-Star guard Becky Hammon, who has had a tough time scoring on defensive stalwart Tanisha Wright and the Storm's help defense. Hammon is averaging 9.0 points against the Storm, as compared to 17.6 against the rest of the league. Part of what the Storm has done a good job of is simply keeping Hammon from getting shot attempts. She's gotten up just 15 shots in the two games at the Key.

So on the one hand, we could say that the Storm just need to keep doing what they've been doing, whether at home or on the road.

But with Jackson back, the Storm might find themselves an additional advantage.

Three keys for the Storm:

  • Winning the rebounding battle: The Silver Stars rebound at the lowest rate in the league (46.3 percent) and the problem hasn't gotten any better since losing All-Star rookie forward Danielle Adams. Although they do an admirable job at preventing opponents from scoring on second chance opportunities despite their rebounding woes, it also prevents them from getting second chance opportunities on the offensive end as they score the third least second chance points in the league (9.60 second chance points per game). The problem becomes particularly significant when they struggle to score as they have in previous games against the Storm.
  • Making someone other than Hammon and Sophia Young beat them: As Pelton notes, the Storm have done a very good job of stopping both Hammon and Young in their previous meetings. But even if Hammon isn't scoring, the most important thing is to keep her from penetrating and kicking out to open teammates around the perimeter. When teams do prevent Hammon from getting penetration, the Silver Stars very quickly turn into an inefficient jump shooting team, which they simply don't play through well as the core of their identity is ball movement, efficient decision-making, and patience.
  • Limit turnovers: It's a key every game for the Storm, but with Lauren Jackson back in the lineup on Saturday the problem was minimized to a certain extent - with more balance between the interior and perimeter, the Storm did a much better job of playing the patient style of basketball and letting Bird and Jackson put pressure on the defense to help others find scoring opportunities. But the additional reason for concern against the Silver Stars is that they are very disciplined defensively and force the third most turnovers in the league (16.6 per game).

Seattle Storm Vs. San Antonio Silver Stars On ESPN3: A Game With Big Playoff Implications

The Seattle Storm and San Antonio Silver Stars meet for the fourth time in their regular season series for their final game in KeyArena.

With playoff seeding at stake, it's a big game for both teams.

For more on the Storm's season, visit our Storm section. For more on the Liberty and the WNBA in general, visit SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal.

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