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August 25, 2010 at 7:52 PM

Game 1 West semifinal thread: Seattle (0-0) vs. L.A. (0-0)

STORM WINS: One postseason curse has been broken. The Storm won Game 1 for the first time since 2006. Bird’s leadership running the team offensively and the Storm’s defense were key. The PG finished with 12 assists in the 79-66 win. The WNBA high was her 14 set against Sacramento in 2004. Most on Wednesday were in transition to Cash, who had a game-high 20 points. “Swin was really energetic,” Agler said. “She was active and getting out in transition and running the floor. She’s a very, very big competitor and finds ways to get things done. In a lot of ways, she’s the heart and soul of this team.” Bird missed the opportunity for a double-double, leaving a FT short at the end of the game. A frustrated Quinn was called for a tech, pinging the ball at Gulbeyan when a call didn’t go her way. The move sent Bird to the line with 2.3 seconds left in the game. Gillom pulled Penicheiro well before that meltdown. The former Sacramento star had one assist in 21 minutes and injured her left thigh. The team is traveling home for Game 2 Saturday afternoon, so she’ll have time to recover. Whether Wisdom-Hylton can show up is another story. The Storm had far too much depth, but the Sparks still matchup well against their rival. Seattle (1-0) will practice at home before leaving for LA (0-1) on Friday. It’ll be interesting to see the adjustments made because the Storm did allow their lead to slip to six in the third quarter, eight in the fourth. Bird said she wouldn’t expect to crush a team in the postseason, but the Storm did so against Sacramento in 2004. I think it’s possible with a depleted Sparks squad. “It was a hard-fought game, we just didn’t make shots,” said Thompson, whose team gave up 19 points on 14 turnovers and shot 40.7 percent from the field. “We played pretty good defensively.”
NO SHAKE: If you noticed Milton-Jones not going throw the postgame handshake, it was a statement. “It was intentional because I was rather upset for several reasons and I just decided to go in and not bring that negative energy to anyone out there,” she said. Milton-Jones finished with eight points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes.
BARE BENCH: Gillom must not like what she was getting from Wisdom-Hylton because the former Purdue standout has only played six minutes. Gillom has kept her bench to just Toliver, who has 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the field. Agler has gone nine deep, but Seattle is teetering with a 63-55 lead with 5:43 left in the game. Willingham and Robinson haven’t scored for Seattle.
STANKY LEGG: It’s become a “Fan Dance” y’all. For the second consecutive game the Storm has done a “Stanky Legg” contest inspired by Agler. It’s hilarious and here’s hoping it spreads across the nation. With the clip of Agler dancing, of course.
TICHA RETURNS: Gillom has to put Penicheiro back in the game after Quinn collected her fourth foul. The former UCLA star is having a rough night, anyway, shooting 1 of 6 from the field for four points. Seattle is up 59-49 with 10.3 seconds left in the quarter.
TECH: Jackson was called for a technical foul after contact against Milton-Jones. It looked like a fight would break out, but teammates restrained the pair. Milton-Jones missed both ensuing FTs, but Thompson made the FT for the tech. Seattle is up 52-40 with 6:08 left in the third.
TICHA HURT?: Penicheiro was taken out of the game, colliding with a Storm player and apparently injuring her already hurt left leg. She tried to continue on offense, but Gillom called a 20-second timeout to get her out of the game. Seattle leads 45-37 with 8:35 remaining in the third quarter.
DISHING IT: Bird is second all-time among the WNBA’s assists leaders. She has nine so far against LA and a career 1,624 in nine seasons in the league.
FOUL TROUBLE: LA may have gone and pissed Jackson off. Milton-Jones collected her third foul against Jackson, nearly clothes-lining her after Jackson cleanly denied Milton-Jones’ attempt at a turnaround jumper. Jackson had to be calmed by teammates. But Seattle couldn’t capitalize, committing two consecutive turnovers to all the lead to shrink to 40-33 with 1:25 on the clock.
OH JANA!: Vesela must mean “three-pointer” in Czech Republic. The rookie has nailed three in the second quarter alone to help the Storm build a 40-29 lead with 2:55 remaining in the half. Vesela also played good defense on Milton-Jones, when the latter was in the game. Vesela has 11 points to lead Seattle overall. Toliver is getting involved in the bench game, scoring eight point so far. But the Sparks don’t have many playmakers and appear to not have an extra level, like the Storm. It’s unusual because the franchise is known for the way it takes it to another place for the postseason. That was then…
WRIGHT BACK: To the bench. Wright picked up two quick fouls and was immediately substituted out by Agler, probably predicting he’ll need her if LA makes another massive fourth-quarter comeback. Seattle up 30-21 with 7:28 remaining in the half.
ROBINSON’S NEIGHBORHOOD: Storm reserve Ashley Robinson got the Key hyped with her quick defensive plays, including two steals. Actually, LA must have thought she was LLL because the pass was right to Robinson, who’s 6-4. Anyway, the turnovers resulted in Cash getting transition buckets to help build a 25-15 lead. Cash leads with eight points. Thompson has seven for LA, but Quinn is scoreless in two missed attempts. Seattle is shooting 64.7 points from the field, outscoring LA 14-8 in the paint and 6-2 on fast breaks. The Sparks are 4 of 11 from the field with just one assist. Did we mention Penicheiro averaged 10 during the regular season for the month of August? Hopefully she’ll get the team turned around in the second quarter.
WILLINGHAM IN: Agler has gone to his bench, keeping the same flow in rotations that he had during the regular season. Willingham and Svetlana Abrosimova are in the game for Wright and Little. Seattle is up 18-8 with 2:51 remaining.
POST UP: Oh, LLL, you’re missed to start this game. At least by LA. The Sparks are letting Cash and Jackson post-up inside, which has helped lead them to a 12-6 lead with 5:46 remaining in the opening quarter.
Storm coach Brian Agler wanted to relax a little bit before his team played a Game 1 matchup against Los Angeles on Wednesday, so he clicked on the Eastern Conference semifinal matchup between No. 1 seed Washington and No. 4 seed Atlanta.
It worked until the final.
“It relaxes ya a little bit, but it’s not relaxing to see a four-seed beat a one-seed,” he said of Atlanta defeating Washington 95-90 in the WNBA postseason’s kick-off game.
The Storm is a first-time No. 1 seed in the postseason, playing an unlikely four-seed in the Sparks, which started the season at 3-11 and lost stars Candace Parker (shoulder), Betty Lennox (knee) and Lisa Leslie (retirement).
And the possibility of Seattle following the route of Washington isn’t a reach, even with the historic 28-6 season where the Storm went 17-0 at home. Seattle has bad juju against LA in the postseason that no “Beat LA” chant has been able to scurry away.
The Storm is 3-8 all-time against the Sparks in the playoffs, losing to their nemesis the past two consecutive seasons without All-Star Lauren Jackson. But even with Jackson in the lineup, the Storm has been drop-kicked in the opening round of their past five postseason appearances.
“Obviously there’s more ridding on this and I’m sure there’s going to be intensity out there,” Storm All-Star Sue Bird said. “There’s a lot more focus in the locker room. But as far as our team is and how we’re preparing, it’s the same as the first game of the season.”
Well, that was an 81-67 pounding of Los Angeles at KeyArena. A lot has changed since then, though. First, the Storm has drawn back part of the black curtains, selling more than the lower-bowl 9,686 seats. Then there’s the chemistry the Storm has created amongst itself, especially the confidence reserve center Ashley Robinson has received from teammates believing in her and getting more playing time.
Lastly, the Sparks have re-configured their rotations after losing Parker. With veteran PG Ticha Penicheiro running the team, there’s more continuity. But coach Jennifer Gillom had a talk with her bench, knowing with a nine-player rotation, she’ll need reserves like F Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and G Kristi Toliver to make an impact.
“We have a chance at winning because we’re playing our best basketball right now,” Gillom said. “I think the difference is for our bench to show up because they didn’t (in the one-point season finale loss on Saturday). If they show up, it can be a different story.
“I can tell within the first minute or so if the bench is ready to play. I didn’t see it in their eyes and you just go with your gut. They’ve shown up in games, getting awesome rebounds and good stops. I put it on them a little bit. I said I know our starters are going to matchup up with (Seattle), but it’s a matter of our bench coming out and making a difference.”
Storm F Le’coe Willingham will return to the rotation after missing the past game with a sprained left ankle. And everyone else is healthy, so it’s possibly time for Seattle to enjoy the postseason again. Let’s get you started with the starting lineups:
SPARKS
F Noelle Quinn
F DeLisha Milton-Jones
C Tina Thompson
G Ticha Penicheiro
G Marie Ferdinand-Harris
STORM
F Swin Cash
F Lauren Jackson
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
Tonight’s officials are Denise Brooks, Lamont Simpson and Roy Gulbeyan.

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