It wasn’t exactly a “must-win” game, but after losing in the first round of the playoffs for each of the last five seasons the Seattle Storm would have to set a different tone if they wanted to dispel the ghosts of the past.
If there were lingering doubts about the hype around this year being different, the Storm took care of those rather quickly en route to a 79-66 win over the Los Angeles Sparks in front of 10, 589 fans who didn’t even bother with “BEAT-L-A!” chants until things started to sputter in the second half.
“I thought in the first half we had way too many turnovers and we just didn’t take care of the ball and it resulted in a 10-point lead right away,” said Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom. “That’s one thing we took care of in the second, third, fourth quarter, but we just let them get too big a lead in the first quarter.”
While the game started off exactly as a casual fan might expect with Sue Bird getting an assist off a pass to Lauren Jackson in the post, fellow All-Star Swin cash was dominant after that. Cash simply outworked the Sparks in getting down the court, scoring eight of her game-high 20 points in the first quarter off a number of fast-break layups that came primarily as a result of Sparks turnovers.
“Anytime you can turn a team over you can get some easy baskets and they did against us in the second quarter,” said Storm coach Brian Agler. “Swin got some layups and Lauren got us off to a big start. They did a pretty good job on her. Swin was really energetic tonight. She was active and getting out in transition and running the floor. She’s a very, very big competitor and finds a way to get things done. In a lot of ways, she’s the heart and soul of this team.”
Cash also finished with five rebounds while Jackson had 17 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Bird was no small part of their first quarter success, tying a WNBA record with 9 assists in the first half and finished with her highest total of 2010 with 12.
However, as Gillom noted, the Sparks pretty much stopped turning the ball over so often after a rough first quarter — 6 of their 13 total turnovers came in the first 10 minutes. But although the Storm starters were considerably quieter in the second quarter, the Storm played even with the Sparks based on the performance of rookie forward Jana Vesela, who played all 10 minutes and shot 3-for-3 from the three point line and had all 11 of her points when the Sparks stopped turning the ball over.
While some observers may have been surprised by the performance, this is what many of her Storm teammates have been expecting of her.
“She’s very effective in Europe, so to have her come out tonight and hit a couple of threes, she got her hands on a couple of balls, that’s what we’re going to need in this playoff series because she’s so versatile. It’s really hard to match her with a guard, and if a post player is on her she can go to the basket. She just gives us a different look on the offensive end.”
The Storm were able to maintain their 10 point first quarter lead and went into the half up 43-33. While the Sparks ended up getting solid contributions from Marie Ferdinand-Harris who finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting and Tina Thompson finished with 16 points and Kristi Toliver matched that with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
The Storm have maintained that the past had no bearing on this year’s series and that’s pretty much what played out tonight. They have the opportunity to close out their first playoff series win since their 2004 title run on Saturday in Los Angeles at noon.