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Gritty Win In Western Conference Finals Opener Reaffirms Value Of Storm Bench

After such a dominant season, a game like the Seattle Storm’s 82-74 win over the Phoneix Mercury in Game One of the Western Conference Finals is not exactly what WNBA fans had hoped for.

Nevertheless, one win away from the WNBA Finals after an outstanding regular season season, the Storm certainly aren’t going to wallow in despair about winning a game in which both teams started out missing layups and neither team finished shooting over 40% from the field. As they’ve maintained all season – in big wins or games they should be fortunate to have credited as wins – it’s one game at a time with the last one in the past as soon as they’re done talking to the media about it.

Yet the fact that the Mercury were within striking distance late in the game while 2010 scoring champion Diana Taurasi fouled out with nine points on 2-for-15 shooting and six turnovers could be taken as a discouraging sign this late in the season as the two teams head to Phoenix for Game 2 on Sunday (Noon PST, ABC).

"Last time I saw this from Diana was in 2007 – I think it was a game in Detroit," said Mercury coach Corey Gaines. "Next game she came out and had thirty-something. I’m not worried about it. It’s gone, it’s over. She doesn’t have any more of those. It happens."

And yet games like these are why the Storm’s bench has been such a magnet for attention this season — even on a night when center Lauren Jackson was honored as 2010 WNBA MVP and scored game-highs of 23 points and 17 rebounds to show why she deserved the league’s top individual honor, the Storm’s bench showed why they’re a contender for the league’s most coveted team honor.

All season long, Svetlana Abrosimova has come off the bench to give the Storm a spark, whether it be with solid defense, hitting big shots, and making the right pass in half court sets. Tonight exemplified her value to the team this season as Abrosimova came off the bench to give the Storm a lift in the first quarter and finish with 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 3-for-4 shooting from the three point line. Former Mercury forward Le’coe Willingham came off the bench to score 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting.

On the other side of the court, the Mercury’s bench combination of Sixth Woman of the Year DeWanna Bonnder and mid-season acquisition Kara Braxton combined for 18 points with Braxton going 5-for-7 from the field. So in a game that turned out to be something of a battle of the benches with the starters struggling, the Storm emerged victorious with their bench helping them hang on to their early lead even when the Mercury showed flashes of that high-powered offense that they’re known for throughout the game.

So if anything positive is to be taken from this game, it’s that a Storm team that finished last in the league in points off the bench and has had notoriously erratic bench play for the past few years was able to rely on their bench to contribute 26 of their 82 points and outscore the opponents’ bench by eight points in a game of this magnitude. Although this was certainly not the type of dominant victory that the Storm have that defined the Storm in the early season, it did showcase an aspect of this team that probably won’t receive any end-of-season accolades.

It’s probably not a stretch to say that without strong bench play, the Storm would neither have that dominant 28-6 record nor have pulled out 13 of 19 games in which they trailed entering the fourth quarter. Even if the game leaves fans uncertain about a championship that might have seemed inevitable when the Storm were in mid-season form, it should also serve as a strong reminder of how valuable the bench has been in addition to the undefeated home record and having the luxury of playing with the Most Valuable Player and center of attention.