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August 28, 2010 at 11:49 AM

Game 2 West semifinal thread: Seattle (1-0) vs. L.A. (0-1)

STREAK ENDS: Well, you won’t hear me talk about first-round hexes, anymore. At least for a season. The Storm defeated the Sparks 81-66 to advance to the Western Conference Finals — a first since the team won the title in 2004. Phoenix awaits and Jackson said it was important to get the sweep because the Mercury had done the same on Saturday to San Antonio. “We need as much time to get rest and focus our attention on Phoenix and making it to the Finals,” she said. The second quarter was fun with all the three-point shooting, but Cash particularly liked the way Seattle finished the game. The Storm entered the fourth quarter ahead by 10 and stretched the lead to 17 following a three-pointer by Bird with 1:52 remaining in the game. Thompson continued to fight, making layins and blocking a shot by Cash, but Abrosimova played a stellar game to be the undercurrent in sealing the win. Her defense against Toliver was really fun to watch, frustrating the second-year guard into 0 of 2 shooting after scoring 16 in Game 1. Willingham was another star in the game, finishing with seven points and seven boards. The Storm’s bench outscored the Sparks’ 17-5, both teams using the services of eight players. “Le’coe really played well tonight,” said Agler, whose team was 7-0 against the Sparks this season. “Camille got into foul trouble and Le’coe came in, she passed the ball well, she hit the three, she rebounded well, she defended well, she’s a smart player and it was her night tonight.” Jackson led all scorers with 24 points and nine boards while Cash added 14 of her final 16 in the first half and Bird had all 15 of her points in the second half. Thompson led her team with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists. Quinn added 15 and Milton-Jones chipped in 13 with nine boards. “Playing this team was a real challenge and we really had trouble stopping all their offensive weapons,” Gillom said. “In the first half Lauren really took it to us and we made some adjustments but in the second half Bird and Cash really picked them up and took the game over.” The Sparks, of course, played without 2008 MVP Candace Parker, who is injured along with Lennox. “Overall, we encountered as many trials and tribulations as I have seen over the course of my career,” Thompson said. “I felt the team competed throughout the season and we felt the team was playing its best going into the playoffs. Losing players and facing adversity is something these players must get used to. I thought our team played hard and I’m proud how we left everything on the floor.” The Storm returned home after the game and will have Sunday off. Agler said the team will rejoin on the practice floor on Monday to begin preparations for Thursday’s Game 1 against Phoenix at KeyArena.
DOOR SHUT: Bird’s duo three-pointers in the final three-minutes give me confidence to say the streak is over. Seattle is up 79-64 with 1:14 remaining in the game and will advance out of the opening round for the first time in six tries. Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against Phoenix is Thursday at KeyArena.
TECH CITY: What’s am LA-Seattle game without a tech? This time Gillom may be justified in her frustration with Mauer’s call, but getting millimeters from his ear to tell him about it wasn’t wise. Mauer called a foul on a driving Kristi Toliver against Abrosimova, who was playing some good defense. Probably a better no call or foul on Abrosimova, who was swatting, but it’s done. Seattle’s up 68-54 with 7:16 left in the game. LA has given up 14 points on 11 turnovers and is shooting 38 percent. Unlike Game 1, Toliver is getting shutdown and as we’ve said all along, the Sparks don’t have any other depth. I won’t say it, but you know what looks like it could be ending…
NOT DONE: Thompson sank two three-pointers, one with 2.1 remaining in the third quarter, to get the crowd something to cheer about. But LA is down 64-54 heading into the final quarter and the Storm is solid when leading heading into the final stanza. Shoot, they’re 13-6 when not leading going into the final stanza. Willingham has taken over for the team, getting good boards and knocking down a three-pointer that only surprised the crowd. Jackson leads all scorers with 21 points while Thompson has 16 for her the Sparks. The Storm bench is outscoring the Sparks’ 15-5, but it’s not over.
GETTING TESTY: A three-pointer by Bird is keeping the Storm ahead 55-49 with 3:05 remaining, but Jackson and Milton-Jones are getting testier as the seconds pass. Both are playing well, fighting for every bucket against each other. But the activities after the shots need to stop. There have already been delay-of-game calls against both teams. Jackson is shooting 50 percent from the field for a game-high 19 points. Cash hasn’t scored yet in the second half.
SPARKS RETURN?: The Sparks have closed within 46-44 after a fastbreak layin by Penicheiro. Thompson is doing work inside and the Storm hasn’t taken care of the ball to allow the comeback. There’s 6:02 remaining in the second quarter.
CASHING IN: OK, the Storm and second-quarter three-point shooting is becoming synonymous in the playoffs. In Game 1, it was reserve Jana Vesela. On Saturday, Cash has made four in the quarter and teammates Jackson and Vesela added one apiece to help build a 42-36 lead with 11.3 remaining. The Sparks are still sitting in a zone as the Storm nails the dagger outside shots, not sure why Gillom is doing that. But Seattle’s defense isn’t much better. They are allowing non-shooter Penicheiro of all players to cut inside for layups. Her six points in the quarter is keeping LA in the game. Cash has 14 second-quarter points.
BIGGER RUN: The Storm used an 11-5 run to open the second quarter and build a 26-25 lead with 6:23 remaining in the half. Jackson had the go-ahead bucket off a Willingham feed, sweeping in for a layin. Cash was also money (sorry) during the spurt, hitting a key three-pointer. It’s the Storm’s first lead of the game and the sparse crowd is cheering louder for free T-shirts than in-game action. On a positive note, the Staples Center music is bomb — classic hip-hop and 70s jams, can’t beat that.
END OF QUARTER: As discussed on press row, the opening quarter is about as good as LA can play and the Sparks’ lead was only five points. If the Storm turn it on, the game is over. LA’s shooting cooled to 38.5 percent, nearly matching Seattle’s horrid 35.3. Quinn led the Sparks with seven points while Milton-Jones had four boards in the quarter. Jackson led the Storm with six, while Willingham had two boards off the bench.
MINI RUN: LA isn’t going to run away with the game, at least not early. The Storm is on a 9-2 run to pull within 16-13 of the Sparks’ lead with 2:04 remaining in the first quarter. It started with a three-pointer by reserve Svetlana Abrosimova. Jackson had two tough plays inside for scores and the Storm is starting to force turnovers.
TIME: Seattle isn’t getting out to the same start it experienced in Game 1. Wright has two turnovers while Quinn is dropping jumpers and three-pointers not found in the opener. The play made Agler call timeout with L.A. leading 12-4 with 5:05 on the clock. The Storm is 1 of 5 from the field, missing three three-pointers. The Sparks are shooting 57.1 percent from the field. Neither team has gone to the bench and Agler is animated in the huddle.
SCOOP: Funny note on Milton-Jones’ reverse scoop to score the first points of the game; she did the same move in Seattle, freezing the Storm in their tracks because they thought she didn’t have a shot. Milton-Jones and teammates joked about it at practice on Friday, Milton-Jones demonstrating the technique. LA up 7-4 and the crowd is chanting “Beat the Storm” — a first.
QUICK SHAKE: Milton-Jones and Jackson shook hands! Neither looked at each other, but it was a pregame shake as part of the captains’ circle with officials.
It’s overcast and Storm PF Lauren Jackson has had her Starbucks vanilla latte, so the team was successful in bringing that little bit of Seattle to the Golden State. The players hope the vibe trickles to the court, too, for Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal matchup against Los Angeles. If Seattle wins, it would be the first time the organization has advanced past the opening round since 2004 and the third sweep of this year’s WNBA playoffs, joining Atlanta and Phoenix, which is in the midst of defeating San Antonio.
Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom said her team made some tweaks to its defense and worked on cleaning up its offense in anticipation of the rematch. L.A. gave up 19 points on 14 turnovers in Game 1, which led to an early 10-point deficit that the Sparks were never able to recover from.
But Storm coach Brian Agler is anticipating the adjustments.
“We have to really be disciplined defensively and be ready to defend them for a period of time each possession and get stops,” he deadpanned. “They put a lot of shooters on the floor and they really like to go through Tina Thompson, so there’s obviously going to be a significant focus from us there. And then offensively, we’ve got to be ready for their switching defenses. (Particularly) when they play man-to-man, they do a lot of switching, so we have to have the ability to combat that.”
The atmosphere is a little odd inside Staples Center. Co-owner Kathy Goodman was on the court about an hour before tip-off switching nets that had snags and checking in-arena video. The facility removed the original jumbotron, preparing to replace it with a $10 million high-tech version. Problem is it won’t be ready until L.A. reaches the Finals in September.
Check that, if the Sparks reach the Finals. Until then, there was a mix-up in amount of video screens and scoreboards hung around the arena, but Goodman was all over it upon entering the arena.
“A full schedule of safety testing, maintenance procedures and capital improvements take place each summer at Staples Center,” a press release said. “Due to timing issues, the replacement of the center-hung scoreboard and video display had to begin this week. Staples Center has provided the temporary screens for our fans.”
There’s also a small crowd for the noon matchup. So small to start, that the Storm fans — some in metallic green and gold wigs — could be heard across the arena.
So, Seattle appears to be ready. Let’s get you going, too, with the starting lineups:
F Swin Cash
F Lauren Jackson
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
F Noelle Quinn
F DeLisha Milton-Jones
C Tina Thompson
G Ticha Penicheiro
G Marie Ferdinand-Harris
Tonight’s officials are Cameron Inouye, Michael Price, and Tom Mauer.



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