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September 16, 2009 at 6:51 PM

Playoffs Game 1: Seattle at Los Angeles

STORM LOSE: Without Bird hitting and Seattle playing lock-down defense, the Storm had no chance, dropping Game 1 70-63 at Staples Center. The postgame locker room wasn’t real down, though, everyone anxious for Game 2. Expect Bird to go off then, but can Batgirl and Cash repeat? “Sue’s healthy, she just hasn’t played for two weeks,” said Agler of Bird, who was out with what is now being diagnosed as a bulging disk in her neck. She was 1-of-9 from the field. “It’s getting back in the rhythm. She didn’t feel comfortable with her shot because she passed some up. She’s our best shooter, she’s got to take those shots.” You won’t see Jackson during this series, however. , “It’s going to be multiple weeks,” Agler said. “She’s made some improvement, but it’s going to take some time.” What the Storm can improve on quickly are turnovers and its shooting. They have one day to work out the kinks, hosting the decisive game on Friday. Otherwise it’s a fifth straight boot from the postseason.
FOUL TROUBLE II: Leslie picked up her fifth foul with 2:19 remaining as the Sparks were building a 68-56 lead. Missed shots and turnovers, a theme, is why Seattle can’t stay close after repeatedly chipping away at the deficit.
END OF THIRD: Seattle pulled within three points, continuing to get solid play from Batkovic-Brown. Yet Parker hit her first bucket of the game to make the score 52-47 LA at the end of three. Seattle shooting 4-of-14 from three-point range and getting out hustled 12-3 on second -chance points. The Storm is also getting outscored 18-8 in the paint. Yet, oddly, it still feels like they could pull out a win. LA only shooting 34.1 percent.
MINI-RUN: Sparks on a 7-2 run to push the score back up to 41-30. Seattle back to not hitting and playing soft defense. Shannon Johnson also hesitated on an open three-pointer, not a good sign. She paid for it, too, as LA got the rebound and Thompson had no problem throwing up her three, nailing it to ignite the spurt. Little is playing good defense on Parker, however. The reigning MVP is 0-for-1 from the field with six boards. There’s 6:30 remaining in the quarter.
AUSSIE CONTINUE: Batkovic-Brown is starting in place of Burse for the second half. Agler finally is not messing with what’s working. Even if it is a little unexpected. Although Batkovic-Brown did have a solid finale against San Antonio on Saturday (11 points). Seattle within 34-30 with 8:47 remaining in the third quarter.
AUSSIE BOMBER: Batgirl hit back-to-back three-pointers and grabbed a key turnover to pull the Storm within 33-28 with 1:00 remaining in the half. The Storm bench went crazy. But a foul put LA at the line and your halftime score is 34-28. Seattle’s shots were obviously from the outside, but the Sparks were mainly struggling because Leslie was on the bench, limiting LA’s opportunities to get the ball inside. Cash and Batgirl have nine points apiece while the Sparks are led by Milton-Jones and Harrower’s seven points apiece.
FOUL TROUBLE: Burse picked up her fourth foul, knocking into Milton-Jones. C Ashley Robinson replaced her in the lineup. Now Seattle’s lack of post depth is on display. But Wright hit a jumper, so…nah, Little has three fouls and Agler is going to have to get creative. LA is up 31-20 with 2:38 remaining in the half.
SPOTTED: Lakers G Derek Fisher, Orlando star Dwight Howard and Lakers reserve Josh Powell are all seated in front of press row. Ron Artest walked in during halftime.
GETTING WARMER: C Suzy Batkovic-Brown and Cash each made three-pointers to at least add some drama to this saga that is the Storm’s postseason woes. Seattle is 2-of-6 from the field in this half, an improvement if not desired. Seattle is also playing better defense. LA is up 22-14 with 7:14 remaining in the half.
LITTLE COUNTS: Seattle finally made a FG with 23.4 seconds to go in the opening quarter. Little hit a short jumper to make the score 22-6 LA. It’s the Storm’s second-lowest output in an opening quarter this season. Seattle was 1 of 9 from the field in the quarter while LA is 5-of-13. The Sparks’ frontline is making a difference. Their long limbs and tough defensive effort forced seven turnovers, scoring 10 points of the Seattle miscues. LA isn’t overwhelming, Seattle just needs to find its offense and play better defense to get back into the matchup.
NOT FREE: If either team could make a free throw, the score differential might be a little more. With Burse leaving a few hanging, the Storm is down 8-2 with 4:05 remaining in the opening quarter. Seattle has missed all five of its shot attempts, not able to get anything inside. The team also has four early turnovers, a result of trying to force the ball in the paint.
Seattle and Los Angeles’ locker rooms mirrored each other, each playing game film of matchups against each other. You’d think the teams would know everything there was to learn, facing each other for the fourth time (second consecutive) in the playoffs.
But if you’re thinking things are the same, think again.
“They’re completely different and so are we,” L.A. coach Michael Cooper said.
True, Seattle is without two-time MVP Lauren Jackson for the second straight postseason. But F Swin Cash is healthy, returning from outpatient surgery in March, and she’ll be an X-factor in this matchup. Her defense is strong and she’ll have to be on point offensively to keep the Sparks honest, instead of swarming the paint and pressuring PG Sue Bird.
Speaking of Bird, she was getting a neck massage pregame. She said she’s fine and she’ll be back in the lineup, missing the team’s final two games due to the injury. She’s practiced with the team, but coach Brian Agler remains concerned about her chemistry with the team.
His final points were along the line of defense and rebounding while Cooper emphasized transition defense and rebounding.
“No regrets,” L.A. center Lisa Leslie told local media about her goals heading into the postseason, her final of an illustrious 13 years in the WNBA.
The Sparks had a fabulous crowd and show for her final regular-season game at Staples Center last week, but ownership already is worried about tonight’s numbers. The notorious L.A. freeways are parking lots, so with 20-minutes remaining before tip-off, the arena is sparse.
“No one is going to anticipate that,” said co-owner Carla Christofferson, who was 30-minutes behind her own schedule because of traffic. “The second half the place will be rocking.”
Not many are giving the Storm a chance, including me. Cooper said his team is “very healthy” and Seattle just isn’t. Reserve G Katie Gearlds is out with a knee injury, limiting the Storm to nine available players.
It’s going to take miraculous play that the Storm is capable of, they’ve done it down the stretch of this season, but in a possible three games? With L.A. having won 10 of 13?
Well, there’s only one way to see and that’s to play the game.
“It feels like the playoffs,” G Tanisha Wright said. “It’s another game. A more significant game because we’re working to win a championship, but another game.”
So, let’s get to it with you starting lineups:
STORM
F Swin Cash
F Janell Burse
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
SPARKS
F DeLisha Milton-Jones
F Candace Parker
C Lisa Leslie
G Tina Thompson
G Kristi Harrower

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