After a hot first half, the Seattle Storm remained in control for most of the second half of tonight's game against the Chicago Sky to win 81-70.
But Sky center Sylvia Fowles didn't go out quietly, scoring 19 points in the fourth quarter to bring the Sky within five points with five minutes left in the game.
Sky guards looked for Fowles on nearly every possession she was on the floor in the final quarter and she took advantage using an array of moves on the block to score and get herself to the free throw line to finish with game-highs of 30 points and 13 rebounds. Fowles made 11 free throws, tying Indiana Fever guard Shavonte Zellous for the WNBA quarter record.
"She plays hard and consistently," said Storm guard Katie Smith, who tried to stand her ground against Fowles late in the fourth quarter but ultimately had to resort to sending her to the line again. "She gets you deep and pinned, she's strong, she can jump, and she's just relentless. She's a handful. We have Le'coe, and Ashley and just battling and battling. IT was a team effort. We tried to make her work for everything. She's special."
Fowles entered the game 30 points and six rebounds short of becoming the second player in WNBA history to average 20 points and 10 rebounds for a season since Chamique Holdsclaw did it in 2002 with the Washington Mystics. After scoring 11 points in the first three quarters, reaching the milestone seemed even more unlikely than it did prior to the game against the defensive-minded Storm at KeyArena. But that she managed to do so while scoring 19 of the Sky's 23 fourth quarter points is a testament to not only the talent has led to the milestone but also why some people find it so disappointing that they weren't able to make the playoffs.
"We battled," said Sky coach Pokey Chatman. "We didn't shoot the basketball very well, but I thought we stayed aggressive and attacked. The bottom line is it's a loss. We're done and we have a lot of work to do in the offseason."
Yet for the second game in a row, the Storm overcame an outstanding scoring performance with the type of balanced effort that helped them earn second place in the Western Conference. Forward Camille Little had a particularly impressive night, tying for team-highs with 17 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Smith followed up her 26-point performance against the Phoenix Mercury on Friday with 17 tonight to tie Little's team-high and give Storm fans renewed confidence that they'll have a bench scoring presence headed into the playoffs.
"I said on Friday it's a mindset and just going out and playing," said Smith. "I might not have hit every shot but I'm going to take shots like I'm going to make them. It's an attack mentality. Tonight was more jumpers than it was driving to the basket, but every team is a little different."
2011 WNBA Most Improved Player candidate Ashley Robinson filled in for Lauren Jackson and while her line in the boxscore doesn't look too impressive, that +20 plus/minus is: Fowles scored nine points in 21 minutes vs. Robinson and 21 in the other 14 minutes. For Robinson, it might be seen as an almost tragically perfect end to the season: while she managed to contain a dominant player on the night she earned a place among the elite, she didn't put up the gaudy stats that might make people notice.
Staying with the milestone theme, the win was also Storm coach Brian Agler's 211th win as a women's professional basketball coach in combined stints with the now-defunct ABL and WNBA, tying him with former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor for the most in history. Agler had 72 in the ABL and now has 139 in the WNBA.
With Smith becoming just the third player in WNBA history to reach the 6,000-point plateau earlier in the night and Robinson's defensive effort, it was a nice way to end the season in front of the home fans.
"The nice thing about this is every one of those wins someone in the locker-room was a part of, with Katie (Smith) being here," said Agler, referring to his time coaching Smith both with the ABL's Columbus Quest (1996-1998) as well as the Minnesota Lynx (1999-2002). "So that means a lot. You win with players and people. And you have to have great players and great people. And we've got both. And that's the only reason things like that happen."