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August 20, 2011 at 6:51 PM

Game thread: New York at Seattle

STORM WINS: Bird had a little message for the pouty Liberty following a 63-62 Storm win. “I joked with them and said, ‘Now we’re even,'” said Bird of the one-point loss in New York earlier this month. “I got fouled at their place and you think you got fouled here.” With 1.9 seconds remaining in the game, Carson make a smart play on an entry-pass by Smith, plucking the ball to breakaway for a game-winner. Bird made her move, going strong and letting the officials make the call — but she didn’t feel there was a foul. Replays also looked clean, Agler stating there was some contact but it wasn’t definitive, making the argument moot. He watched replays after the game. Whisenant felt Price “choked,” telling him so with the hand single and shout after the final horn sounded. Price mouthed “Go!” to New York, motioning them to the locker room because the non-call wouldn’t be reversed. The win, coupled with a San Antonio loss, moved the Storm (14-12) into third in the West. They’ll host the Silver Stars on Tuesday. “I’m really proud because their have been a couple games this season that we lost down the stretch,” said Bird of her teams 1-10 record when trailing headed into the fourth quarter. The one win coming Saturday. “For us to be able to pull this out, I know it wasn’t the prettiest, but we pulled it out…I was going for the ball, but in my head, I was going to get the ball clean or I was going to get the foul. There was no way I was going to let her shoot a layup to win the game. Make her earn it at the free-throw line because those are pressure shots.” Bird immediately saved Seattle after Jackson’s departure due to fouling out. She nailed a three-point and Smith’s three-pointer with 1:12 remaining was the final bucket of the game. The rest were defensive moves like a steal by Cash and Little taking a charge from a barreling Braxton. Each revving up the crowd of 7,139. “We enjoy the fans and they cheer for their home team like they should,” Whisenant said. “It’s just disappointing for me and my team that they (officials) missed an obvious call that will be on the highlights.” The Liberty is third in the Eastern Conference, one game ahead of rising Atlanta.
CRAZY STAT: The WNBA officials have had the roughest week I’ve seen. They even needed a police escort on Saturday following the Storm 63-62 win. Piling on the criticism was Jackson when I asked if she could believe Pierson didn’t have a single foul. Jackson fouled out with 4:18 remaining in the game and Seattle down two. “You’re kidding me!” Jackson said of Pierson not committing a single violation. “That’s hilarious. That’s bull (expletive). You’ve gotta love the referees in this league, I’ll tell you what. I don’t know how they don’t get fined, but anyways. Whatever. Plenette Pierson doesn’t get a foul!? Whatever.” Pierson led the Liberty with 15 points and five rebounds in 34 minutes of play. As for Jackson fouling out, the Aussie was more discouraged at herself than the officials. “My defense was a bit crappy,” she said of her first game since June 21. “Or not where I want it to be. That’s something I’m going to have to battle with the next few games until I get comfortable with everything.”
COSTLY TECH: Carson was called for a technical foul with 6:02 on the clock, throwing her protective glasses on the court in dispute of a foul while defending Jackson. The tag gave three freebies to the Storm and Seattle is within 54-52. Jackson has a game-high 17 points on 5 for 9 shooting from the field with six boards.
IRRESISTIBLE: Agler was uncertain about Jackson’s minutes but didn’t imagine her playing many long stretches. But after watching her clearly keep Seattle in the game, her time on the court has ticked to 19 — getting closer to her normal stretch. Seattle’s middle is still allowing too many points as New York leads 54-49 with 6:02 remaining in the game.
POROUS FRONT: The Storm was outscored 12-4 inside the paint in the third quarter, the main reason why it’s behind 49-45 headed into the final stanza of play. Seattle is getting lost on switching coverage and the Liberty is shooting slightly better at 37.3 percent for the game. Seattle is a chilly 31.8 percent from the field. G Essence Carson (12 points) and Pierson (12) are leading New York. Jackson (10) and Little (11) are leading the Storm.
STAT WATCH: The Storm backcourt has been doing a good job limiting Pondexter, who also was in early foul trouble. The WNBA’s fifth-leading scorer is 3 for 9 from the field for seven points and four assists. Seattle is back up 45-42 with 2:27 remaining in the third.
LIBERTY ROLL: Is this an episode of NYPD Blue? The Liberty is running game on the Storm, similar to how the Mercury charged out of the locker room on Tuesday. Would have that the Storm learned that lesson. The 12-4 run has the Liberty up 39-36 with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter. Jackson and Wright were in the lineup during the NY run.
NEW VOICE: You’ll hear a new voice on the radio calling Storm basketball games next week. Color commentator Adia Barnes is departing on Sunday for a Scandinavian tour for her other gig as Washington assistant coach. She’ll miss four games. In her place, seasoned radio personality Francis Williams will help Dick Fain call the games. On the court, Jackson just picked up her third foul and her mouth is back, too, getting after Bonner for the bad call. Seattle remains up 30-25 with 1:20 left in the half.
SPOTTED: NBA star Nate Robinson is in the house, seated courtside. Wonder if he’ll Dougie, again. He’s with one of his sons.
SCOREBOARD: Well, Minnesota remains in first in the West, clinching it’s first playoff berth since 2004 after defeating Los Angeles 87-68 on Saturday. It also eliminated Tulsa (1-22). But San Antonio may be helping the Storm’s cause. The Silver Stars are up early on Phoenix, 33-30 in the second quarter. Phoenix is second in the West. The Storm has a four-game homestand, including the NY matchup. If it could sweep, Seattle would be in primo position to nab that coveted second-place spot. The top two places get homecourt advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. Seattle is up 30-25 with 2:56 left in the first half.
RUN BUSTER: The Storm improved its defense and Jackson nailed another three-pointer to help Seattle go on a 6-0 spurt. The Storm leads 24-13 after the first quarter. Jackson leads all scorers with eight points, the Storm shooting 42.9 percent from the field overall. The Storm also only has two turnovers.
MINI RUN: With Jackson out, the Liberty started a mini 10-1 run to pull within 18-13 with one minute left in the opening quarter. Jackson did check back in with 2:18 on the clock, but the Liberty have been camping outside to get their buckets, not challenging Ashley Robinson or Le’coe Willingham much.
JACKSON OUT: With 6:27 remaining in the opening quarter and New York’s offense disrupted, Jackson checked out of the game. Agler said he was going to monitor her minutes heavily. Jackson left with five points, two rebounds, and one standing ovation from a crowd ecstatic to have their three-time MVP back.
HOMECOMING: Mitchell (Kennewick) and rookie Alex Montgomery (Tacoma) returned to their native state. Both had warm receptions, Montgomery saying she has about 50 family and friends in the audience. Her Georgia Tech defeated Washington at Hec Ed in December, the only other time she’s played in the state since starring at Lincoln High. The two have become friends on the New York team, Montgomery saying Mitchell is a little quiet.
THAT WAS EASY: Jackson has her first points of her return, albeit off a FT. She was fouled while turning to go to the hoop by Pondexter with 9:44 remaining in the opening quarter. Her next bucket was a little more splashy, a three-pointer off a feed by Bird with 9:06 on the clock. Pondexter collected a second foul and Seattle leads 5-3 with 8:16 left in the opening quarter.
STAYING PUT: For those who’ve asked, legendary Virginia coach Debbie Ryan is staying put with the Storm. She’s a volunteer coach while doing some fundraising for cancer research in the area. Ryan recently purchased a bike and says she likes in Seattle too much to leave. Her original tie to the team was coaching Storm assistant coach Jenny Boucek in college. We’ll see if the enthusiasm lasts when the rain returns — not that Seattle has had much of a summer.
GIVING MOOD?: At the Key? Be sure to stop by the Cash 4 Kids booth on the concourse and give what you can for Cash’s charity. She’s had a busy week, holding a shopping spree for 45 young women on Thursday and a scavenger hunt around downtown on Sunday. Bought a “Storm Crazies” t-shirt? Your purchase helped fund this week’s fun and learning experience.
Forget the sunshine. The Seahawks (exhibition) game. And massive traffic jam that slowed most traveling to KeyArena on Saturday. It’s all about the injury report as the Storm (13-12) hosts the New York Liberty (15-11).
For Seattle, the biggest news is the team could be together for the first time since June. Australian Olympian Lauren Jackson is back and in the lineup, Storm coach Brian Agler stating he’ll start the 6 foot 6 center. And G Tanisha Wright, captain of the defense, is back after attending the funeral of her mother. Victoria Wright, 50, died Aug. 12, Tanisha choosing to keep the details private.
“It’s definitely good to be back,” said Wright, who arrived at 11 a.m. and will not start because she hasn’t practiced with the team this week. “You get some type of normalcy. When you’re gone that long and for certain things, there’s no normalcy to your routine. It’s good to be back with some of my friends and focused on something different.”
In the Liberty camp, the injury report is somewhat positive. F Nicole Powell will start, missing the win against Connecticut with a bone bruise. She’s wearing tape over the left knee to help stabilize it, but there’s no concern of a hairline fracture after an MRI proved to be negative.
Liberty C Quanitra Hollingsworth remains in New York, however, healing a sprained ankle. It shortens New York’s interior rotation, C Kia Vaughn will start and C Kara Braxton will help off the bench, getting more acquainted with first-year coach John Whisenant’s style. Braxton was a trade pickup from Phoenix.
“With Lauren, they’re the team that dominated the league last year,” said Whisenant, who previously coached the defunct Sacramento Monarchs. “I’ve been here before with Lauren and Sue (Bird) and they can get this crowd going. Obviously we wish she would have waited another game before she made her return, but I’m sure Brian is happy. She gives them something they don’t have without her because Lauren is probably the best 6-6 player in the world. Female player.”
New York defeated Seattle 58-56 on Aug. 9 behind solid defensive play. The Storm, losers of four of their past five games, have been missing a consistent playmaker, a cause behind some of the losses in addition to turnovers. But even those can be tagged to people playing different roles.
Is Jackson healthy enough to make a difference Saturday? We’ll see, beginning with your starting lineups:
LIBERTY
F Plenette Pierson
F Nicole Powell
C Kia Vaughn
G Leilani Mitchell
G Cappie Pondexter
STORM
F Swin Cash
F Camille Little
C Lauren Jackson
G Sue Bird
G Katie Smith
Tonight’s officials are Michael Price, Amy Bonner, Byron Jarrett.

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