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May 22, 2010 at 6:47 PM

Game thread: Seattle at Phoenix

STORM WINS: Whoa! That was a finish that didn’t have to be so wild. Agler appeared to get frustrated that some calls weren’t being made, getting a technical foul for an outburst. That put Taurasi on the line at an inopportune time, making a FT with 23.2 seconds remaining to tie the score at 82 all. Jackson then missed and the game went into overtime. Now, who knows what might have been had Agler not slammed down the clipboard. But before the reaction, Taylor missed one of two free throws and Seattle looked ready to leave with a well-deserved, albeit closer than needed, win. Instead, Cash had to come alive in extra play, scoring seven points to regain control of the game. Jackson and Little helped to finally shut Bonner down, but she’s on her way to being impossible in the paint. Seattle won 95-89, attempting a franchise-record 94 FGs. The previous mark was 91 in a quadruple OT win against Washington at KeyArena. But the most eye-popping stat was the Mercury’s 24 turnovers that the Storm converted into 31 points. Phoenix prides itself on not bobbling the ball, so to have that many is a red flag. That’s them; however. The Storm is off to a 3-0 start, a first since 2008 — Agler’s first season with the team. They host Washington at home on Tuesday. Jackson led all scorers with 25 points and four steals while Bonner had 24 points and 12 boards.
SMITH TO RESCUE?: OK, Bonner got some help inside, getting blocks and a nice layin from vet Smith. Couple that with Bonner’s turnaround layin and two free throws from Taylor and Phoenix is only down 82-80 with 1:31 remaining in the game.
TRAIN TIME: Phoenix stole the train from Seattle, grabbing kids out of the stands for the fourth quarter mayhem. There’s a good crowd here, though, spreading all the way to the upper deck. Too bad their team is jammed up from Seattle’s defense, totaling 19 miscues for 23 Seattle points and trailing 82-74 with 2:58 left in the game. Bonner is having a good outing with 22 points and 8 boards. She just needs backup.
BIG LITTLE: Bird had a nice dish inside to little and the post made another while being fouled (no call) to help Seattle stay ahead 78-71 with 4:56 remaining in the game. Bird spoke about which team would impose its style and Seattle is winning. The defense is slowing Phoenix down and the Storm is clicking offensively. Phoenix has only led by one-point in this game.
BISHOP DEBUT: The fouls are spreading. Cash and Willingham have four and Seattle is only up by three with 45.5 remaining in the third quarter, so Australian rookie Abby Bishop is in the game with Ashley Robinson leading the frontline. Wright and Bird are the only starters on the court as Agler tries to stretch to the fourth quarter. He made it. But it was raggedy.
BREAKDOWN: The Storm opened on a 11-5 run to build a 55-45 lead with 6:00 remaining in the third quarter.
HALFTIME: So much for the Phoenix offense really running through the PF spot. Mercury coach Corey Gaines squawked about how Dupree would be a huge asset, not discounting what Cappie Pondexter did for the organization, but stating that it could be filled by Dupree. Well, maybe on another night. So far, Dupree has been swarmed by different defensive looks from Seattle to account for five turnovers at the break. She’s 3 of 5 from the field for six points. Phoenix is shooting 57.7 percent from the field, but has only taken 26 shot attempts compared to Seattle’s 44. Jackson leads all scorers with 15 points while second-year vet DeWanna Bonner has 10 off the bench to lead the Mercury. Willingham is having a solid night, scoring eight points to help Seattle’s bench total 12 points. The Storm is up 40-44.
SPOTTED: It’s Women of Inspiration night in Phoenix and Billie Jean King is being recognized. She’s sitting down at halfcourt for an interview and after the game I’m told she’s going to speak to both teams.
FOUL TROUBLE: Taurasi picked up her third foul playing against Willingham. She’s having another off night, shooting 2 of 5 from the field. Willingham made the free throws to put Seattle up 44-36 with 38 seconds on the clock. Smith and Cash also have three fouls apiece.
BLOCK THAT: Jackson took a charge against Taurasi and blocked a shot by Taylor, so there’s no love here despite the players being friends of Jackson. Seattle had a few turnovers and gave up some shots, but their defense remains way better than Phoenix’s. The Storm is up 38-34 with 2:52 remaining in the first half.
MERCURY RISING: Phoenix is on 6-0 run, finding gaps in Seattle’s defense and getting rebounds to convert into buckets. Dupree also is finding her game with Jackson no longer primarily guarding her. The rookie Alison Lacey had a nice steal, but bricked the three-pointer that could have kept Seattle’s flow going. There’s 6:07 remaining before halftime and Seattle leads 32-29.
WHO’S BAKING?: It’s turnover city inside US Airways Center. Three consecutive missed passes with the Storm reserves on the bench allowed Seattle to go up 24-19. Jackson made an open lay and Phoenix responded with a driving layin by Ketia Swanier to close the quarter at 26-21 Seattle. The Storm only has one turnover while the Mercury has eight, which were converted into 13 points for the visitors. Seattle’s bench is finally productive, totaling six points, two assists, and one rebound.
CZECH THAT: Storm free agent Jana Vesela is on the court, making her WNBA debut with Seattle. She checked into the game during the timeout with 4:07 remaining in the first half. Seattle is up 20-17 with 2:53 on the clock.
SOLID START: The Storm is looking good and so is Phoenix. But Seattle is up 20-12 at the first break with 4:07 remaining in the opening quarter. The highlight was actually when Agler substituted Willingham and Svetlana Abrosimova in the game with 5:05 remaining. Willingham’s first play was a pretty reverse layin against Dupree. Minutes later, Abrosimova collected a Bird miss and made a put-back. Dupree then fumbled the ball against Cash’s defense and a timeout was called.
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: Storm coach Brian Agler was right, Phoenix laid it on thick for Willingham. They played “We are the Champions” as GM Ann Meyers Drysdale presented Willingham with her ring three-minutes before tip-off. Former team prez Jay Perry also came over along with a hoppy Tangela Smith. In fact, both teams crowded around to applaud Willingham. Meyers Drysdale took the ring back and the game is about to start.
Phoenix has had a week to prepare for the matchup against Seattle and really the season, opening on May 15 – days (hours?) after leaders Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi arrived from overseas play. The WNBA moved its season up from its regular June start-date to accommodate for the World Championships in September, meaning many teams had to deal with late arrivals.
Around US Airways Center, however, the mini-training camp is expected to be a benefit. But it could work against the defending champion Mercury (1-0), too. There could still be signs of rust since it’s difficult to simulate a game. Seattle (2-0), meanwhile, has had two competitive matchups to exploit its biggest issues.
The Storm used fourth quarter rallies to win, but played two different games in one impressive defensive game (Los Angeles) and one offensive game (Minnesota). Maybe both parts come together on Saturday.
Former Phoenix player Le’coe Willingham stepped out on the court and received a big cheer and hugs from all of her former teammates during pregame warm-ups. She played two seasons for the Mercury, starting for the title team. The banner is in a far corner of the arena and Willingham’s name is on a side panel.
Everyone is healthy, including reserve C Nicole Ohlde, who missed the opener due to an injured right foot.
Phoenix owned Seattle last season, winning three of four regular-season matchups. If the Mercury wins Saturday, it would be the fourth time in franchise history that the team started the season 2-0 –reaching the WNBA finals when it happened in 1998 and the league title when it happened in 2009.
Here are your starting lineups:
F Swin Cash
F Lauren Jackson
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
F Penny Taylor
F Candice Dupree
C Tangela Smith
G Temeka Johnson
G Diana Taurasi
Tonight’s officials are Clarke Stevens, Penny Davis, and Roy Gulbeyan.



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