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June 4, 2011 at 11:29 AM

Game thread: Phoenix at Seattle Storm 2011 home opener

SEATTLE WINS: Seattle quit on the game about two-minutes early but was able to win 78-71 in a margin that should have been a lot bigger. Taurasi scored 11 of her game-high 31 points in the final two minutes of the game, but surprising couldn’t get the officials to notice her deliberately trying to draw a foul in the waning seconds to possibly win the game. “She was playing like she had something to prove,” Bird said of her close friend. Instead, Cash was left open for a layin as everyone else quit on the game, scoring the bucket to end the season-opener. All of Seattle’s ghosts have been properly exorcised as the Storm won its first game following a championship ring ceremony. In 2005, the Storm was dismantled by Los Angeles. Playing before 11,548 fans — the largest since May 2008, Seattle showed there’s plenty of work to do. But Little looked solid, the bench outscored the Mercury’s 19-4 and the Storm has its defensive bite, outrebounding the Mercury 38-28. The Storm should also be commended, as Agler mentioned, for their ability to play well following a fun ring celebration. Jackson said it was difficult because she still doesn’t feel she’s properly celebrated it with the city. “We did a great job of making the transition smoothly,” said Cash, who finished with 10 points and four boards. “After the ring ceremony was done, we got in a huddle and were like, ‘This is what has to be done right now, focus.’ I think T said 2010 is officially over and we all were feeding off each other, talking.” The Storm (1-0) will take Sunday off and return to practice on Monday. They host Minnesota (0-1) on Thursday at KeyArena.
INJURY REPORT: Bird actually fell on her right hand and has a bruise above her thumb. She said she’s fine, finishing with 10 assists and 13 points for her 19th career double-double. Little has a right knee sprain and is listed as day-to-day. “It’s pretty good,” Little said afterward, the knee encased in multiple packs of ice. “It’s just scary. Somebody ran into it and it was nerve-racking to feel. I’ve never been in that position before. So, it was really scary. But it’s intact and I’ll be fine.”
SPOTTED: First-year Washington coach Kevin McGuff and his staff were at KeyArena along with former LA Sparks assistant Steve Smith. Husky legend Kayla Burt, Seattle University coach Joan Bonvicini and athletic director Bill Hogan were also seen. Courtside was graced by politicians in Governor Christine Gregoire and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
LITTLE DOWN: Little, who has a game-high 18 points, put another scare into KeyArena when she went down with an apparent right knee injury with 3:49 remaining in the game. She clutched the knee closely while repeating “Oh, my God.” Little was able to walk off the court on her own and is currently being treated. She was 8-of-13 from the field for 18 points and nine boards in 23 minutes. Seattle is up 75-56.
THIRD PLACE: Jackson moved into third place on the WNBA’s all-time scoring list on a layin while being fouled. She made the ensuing FT and has 13 points to total 5,770 in her career. Smith has 5,768 with her eight points against Phoenix. And yes, I realize this will flop back-and-forth until one of the players retires. Seattle is up 69-54 with 5:38 remaining in the game.
FOUL TROUBLE: Taurasi picked up her fourth foul, smacking former teammate in Willingham in the face. Jackson has nailed three baskets in the half to spark some offense and The Storm is up 58-44 with 2:35 remaining in the half. Smith was called for a tech, thinking a ball was tipped and complaining to the refs.
HALFTIME: The Storm takes a 40-35 lead into the break, Bird further proving she’s fine after the hard fall with two buckets. Jackson is a non-factor, getting one shot attempt and making three fouls. The ball is being evenly spread around and she’s slaughtered any time she does touch the ball. Little leads Seattle with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting form the field. She also has a team-leading four boards. Taurasi started to warmup late and has a game leading 14 points. Braxton is doing solid work inside with six rebounds while Taylor has nine points. Seattle’s bench has outscored Phoenix’s 12-0, the difference in the game so far.
CLIPPED BIRD: Fans shouted, “Whoa!” in unison as Taylor clipped a driving Bird, sending her landing hard on her elbow. If the court were a swimming pool, someone would have shouted “Cannonball.” Bird got up on her own, wincing just a bit and holding her arm. She’s had back spasms during training camp and last year, so there was reason for concern. Bird remains in the game, making the ensuing free throws, and Seattle leads 36-27.
STILL LEADING: Uh, so that tweet I made about Jackson moving into third on the all-time scoring list? May have a little trouble with that. She’s 0-for-1 from the field for three points from the field. Meanwhile Smith, who led Jackson by three (5,760) for third on the WNBA’s all-time list, is 3-of-5 from the field for eight points, getting Seattle a 32-21 lead with 5:20 left in half.
TECHNICAL: Johnson was called for a technical after scoring a driving jumper on Bird, unnecessarily shoving Smith out of the way. Jackson made the free shot and Seattle is up 23-18 with 7:19 left in the half. Agler is running a three-guard lineup with Little inside and Jackson at PF. Not getting much from it so far.
WIRE OFF: Taurasi was called for an offensive foul and, of course, Gaines didn’t like it. KeyArena erupted, however. He untangled from his wire (used to get in-game sound) after his theatrics. Little and Bird scored on back-to-back plays to put Seattle up 22-16.
IMPROVED: Robinson played a minute in the opening quarter, but had a nice layin off a feed from BIrd that KeyArena hasn’t seen. So, she’s on the right track. Willingham and Wright won the EuroCup for their Israeli team this past offseason, getting a two-man game going and it showed — the buckets just didn’t drop. It was Cash’s wicked spin in the paint (dropping G Marie Ferdinand-Harris to her backside) that got Seattle a 18-16 lead at the end of the opening quarter. Taurasi and Taylor lead all scorers with six points while Cash and Little have four apiece for Seattle.
NEW BLOOD: Key went nuts when Smith tore off her jersey to check into the game with Le’coe Willingham with about 5:07 remaining in the opening quarter. Or maybe the cheers were for Willingham? Nah. Fans love her, but it was clear the cheers were for Smith when she dropped a three-pointer (her second attempt) with 4:45 on the clock to tie the score at 10 points apiece. It’s the first action Smith has had in a Storm jersey, missing both exhibition games to deal with an Achilles injury. You could feel the shift in the energy on the court with both players as Seattle started getting some rebounds and drawing charges. Mercury shooting 50 percent while Storm is shooting 40 percent. Game tied at 12 points with 3:55 left in quarter.
SHOOTING BLANKS: Seattle got to the hoop three times and couldn’t convert on the layins. Finally Little dished the ball out to Wright for a three-pointer with 8:00 on the clock in the opening quarter. Seattle also caused two turnovers to start the game. Add a little layin off a pass from Bird and the Storm is up 5-2.
CUE SMOKE: In case you haven’t cheered for the team enough, game operations busted out the smoke and lights for the real intros. Now it’s game on. How does the Key look on TV?
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Two-time WNBA champion Katie Smith turned 37 on Saturday. She said all she planned was a Storm win to celebrate. You expected something else?
SNELL OUT?: Agler said G Belinda Snell might dress for the game, but probably wouldn’t play due to a sprained ankle suffered in the exhibition opener in May. She’s currently not on the floor.
NEW DUDS: You may have heard about the new jerseys. Well, those came with new warmup suits, too. The Storm is in all green, looking like a flashback Sonics team. Phoenix didn’t wear there’s to take the court the final time, but it’s aluminum-silver. I like it, but already they’re being suspected by some fans of trying to summons aliens with the flashy look.
BLING, BLING: There wasn’t a platform, players’ raising of the banner or smoke, but the Storm hosted a touching ring ceremony. In a nice twist, new president Laurel Richie didn’t handle all of the introductions. After being introduced to the crowd, she tossed off the duties to the front brass, who tossed it to Agler, who allowed each player to introduce each other and accept their rings. The change made the ceremony more personable and fun. Especially when Agler tapped Robinson to be a candidate for the WNBA’s Most Improved Player. Didn’t expect that, but could happen. Another nice touch was the owners including Anne Levinson in giving the ring out to players. She was a big part of forming the group of businesswomen but parted ways in November 2010.
BannerTowel.jpgIn a Seattle rarity, it’s oven hot inside KeyArena. Summer is truly here and the Storm is kicking off the first possible 80-degree weekend with its season opener against Phoenix. Force 10 Hoops, the now three-member Storm ownership group, are flashing their championship rings, accented with emeralds in the middle, a twist on the all-diamond version players and coaches will receive in a ceremony scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m.
There’s plenty of excitement circulating the building with rock music playing on the concourse, people gobbling up the new foods, and waving green rally towels given away at the door (pictured right). Storm coach Brian Agler said he has enough veterans on the team to make the switch from the emotional moment of reflecting on the title to playing in the season opener against a team hungry to get its first win against Seattle since 2009.
The Mercury, which added bulk inside, was 0-7 against the Storm in 2010, losing to the Storm in the Western Conference Finals. Phoenix returned seven players, including the starting five. Stars like F Candace Dupree and C Kara Braxton have had two years in coach Corey Gaines’ system, so the flow should be better.
“The keys are going to be in rebounding, keeping the tempo the way we want it and (watching) turnovers. If we give them turnovers, they score points,” Gaines said. “So, keep the turnovers down and hit shots. We’ve got to hit shots.”
Phoenix All-Star Diana Taurasi said she’s happy to be part of the Storm’s opener, especially following a championship ceremony. She won titles in 2007 and 2009 for the Mercury. The native Californian grew-up playing ball with Ashley Robinson via AAU select teams and won college titles with Storm All-Stars Swin Cash and Sue Bird at Connecticut.
Her only grumble was the team taking a three-hour flight on Friday, practicing afterward and needing to be at KeyArena at 10 a.m. for the afternoon game airing on ABC.
“It’s like less than a 24-hour trip,” said Taurasi, who hasn’t played competitive basketball since being wrongfully suspended from her offseason Turkish league due to an overturned doping allegation last winter. “It’s a grind. But it feels good to be back on the court, be back in the setting. I’m excited for the guys I’ve known for a long time, but at the same time I want to get them back.
“Whenever you’re playing a team and you know you’re going to see them down the road, there’s something to be said about knowing you can beat them. And last year we couldn’t beat them. That was the facts. We have to find a way to change that.”
Seattle is 0-1 in openers featuring a ring ceremony, but 7-4 in home openers overall. We’ll see if the KeyArena dominance prevails, especially the 17-game win streak. Or if the Mercury found the key to defeating the Storm.
Let’s get started with your starting lineups:
F Candace Dupree
F Penny Taylor
C Kara Braxton
G Temeka Johnson
G Diana Taurasi
F Swin Cash
F Lauren Jackson
C Lauren Jackson
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
Today’s officials are Clarke Stevens, Michael Price, and Brenda Pantoja.



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