STORM WINS: Oh what a night. Seattle (25-4) whipped out its 13th fourth-quarter comeback of the season to win 80-70 against Atlanta, which is on a three-game losing streak and dropped to third in the East with the loss. The Dream couldn’t shoot (29.5 percent) and their allowing Seattle open looks at three-pointers hurt, as Jackson and Little nailed two late to propel the team to a 15-3 run to take the win. Jackson finished with 14 points and eight rebounds while Wright had 14 and seven. Both said entering the game with the mentality of not playing the second-half, messed with their mojo, so they understood Agler benching the starting five, five-minutes into the game. Lyttle did have 10 first-half offensive rebounds, after all. “To their credit, approaching a game like this is not the easiest,” he said. “I just don’t think they came out sharp. There’s no use for (the starters) to be out there if they’re not sharp.” The bench was ready and Abrosimova was a good floor leader with Wright, playing 31 minutes and dishing out six assists. Abrosimova’s biggest was to Jackson, who nailed the trey with 3:11 remaining to deflate the Dream (18-12). The win completes the Storm’s final goal — securing homecourt throughout the postseason. “I’m glad we were able to win like that in Atlanta,” Jackson said. “Atlanta and Indiana are going to be our biggest trouble winning the championship.” Jackson added that getting that final goal without having to wait for Indiana to lose, made the night even better. “We’re finished, nobody can touch us and we did it on our own through the fault of nobody else,” she said. “I definitely feel like the pressure is off and, to be honest, I feel tired. So it’s good.” Vesela said she’s suffering from a headache after colliding with Castro Marques. Agler said the rookie will be given a test for a concussion on Wednesday, but she didn’t show any signs on Tuesday. The Storm departs for Connecticut in the morning, which is in danger of missing the postseason after losing to Washington on Tuesday.AND LEAVE?: Wow. Wright connected on a pick-and-pop to give the Storm a 77-70 lead and fans are literally getting up and leaving Philips Arena. It was a good, loud crowd, too. Very disapointing that people aren’t staying to support the Dream who has hot enough shooters to still win it.
GET UP!: Lehning and De Souza skipped to the bench flapping their arms in the air, asking their fans to get wild as a quick 6-0 lead gave them a 67-63 lead with 4:42 remaining in the game. Castro Marques had the jumper that made Seattle call time. The Storm starters aren’t themselves, probably expecting to walk through the motions, not play in a thrilling fourth quarter. Jackson has missed layins and Cash is MIA, getting five fouls.
FOR THREE: Bird gave the Storm a 62-59 lead with 6:41 left in the fourth quarter on a three-pointer. She’s scored her team’s past six points to keep Seattle in the game. Agler is obviously keeping the starters in for the second half and now they can go for the win, their possible 13th when trailing after three quarters.
PLAYOFFS CLOSER: Washington beat Connecticut 84-74, so Atlanta only needs a win to get into the postseason for the second consecutive season. But the Storm isn’t making it easy. The Dream leads 57-56 with 8:00 remaining in the game.
AUSSIE! AUSSIE! AUSSIE!: Atlanta immediately countered, but Alison Lacey FINALLY nailed a three-pointer with 1:24 left in the third quarter. The bench and radio broadcast team erupted. Seattle is down 55-48 with 34.3 on the clock. Lacey was 1 of 24 from the field and 0 of 18 from three-point range on the season.
MOURNING: Abrosimova and Bird were mourning the loss of Russian center Olga Iakovleva. Neither Storm player knew Iakovleva well, but both played against her in the Russian league. Abrosimova also competed against Iakovleva in national training. “She’s was always a good spirited person,” Abrosimova said. “It’s a tragedy, what happened. You hear about these things happening when a person is in the ocean or guys getting drunk and swimming at night. You don’t expect something like this to happening to a normal, healthy woman in her prime just going swimming with her teammates. It’s really sad. I’m going to send an e-mail to one of her best friends after the game.” Seattle is down 44-41 with 3:33 remaining in the third.
STARTERS BACK: Bird is coaching the team at halfcourt as the second half gets started with them on the floor. Seattle is up by one and Agler still expects to rest them, but will probably slowly trickle them out instead of a sweeping lineup change as he did in the opening half. Bird hit a jumper with 9:28 to go in the third to make the score 34-31.
VESELA OUT: Vesela is getting five stitches to close the laceration over her right eye. She will not return for the second half. The Storm starters are back on the court warming up with the rest of the team, looks like they’ll start the second half.
HALFTIME: The Storm reserves plus Wright outscored the Dream 21-15 in the second quarter to take a 32-31 lead into the break. Abrosimova, Bishop, and Willingham have seven points apiece for Seattle. The Dream is outrebounding the Storm 29-22, getting 10 offensive boards from Lyttle. But Atlanta isn’t shooting well (23.3 percent) and is surprisingly letting Seattle’s bench block them out inside to get outworked 14-12 in the paint. Jackson, Bird, and Cash are scoreless playing five minutes apiece. Not what you’d expect when you look over a boxscore like that. McCoughtry leads her team with eight points while Castro Marques has seven.
STORM LEADS: The Storm took a 32-29 lead on a smooth reverse layin by Willingham.
CASTRO MARQUES BACK: Castro Marques has returned to the game.
TIE GAME: Bishop tied the game at 28 points apiece with a deep three-pointer with 2:59 left in the opening half. She committed a foul on the defensive end, so Atlanta will have a chance to go back up after a timeout, but it’s impressive that the bench with Wright have worked their way back into the game. As was known and is now proven, some are good enough to be starters in this league.
EATING BAIT: McCoughtry is skillful at luring the Storm into shooting fouls with a classic lean-in move a la Alana Beard. Wright has been tagged twice while Cash had a ghost foul, not even touching McCoughtry, but Pantoja called the foul anyway. Seattle is down 28-25 after a three-pointer by Wright with 3:26 on the clock.
VESELA HURT: Castro Marques and Vesela collided right in front of the scorer’s table, Vesela suffering a deep cut over her right eye. Castro Marques broke her nose against Tulsa about two weeks ago and is wearing a facemask similar to Bird’s in 2004, which apparently sliced Vesela’s skin on the collision. She’s headed back to the locker room while Wright replaces her on the court. Seattle is down 20-13. Castro Marques is also in the locker room being evaluated.
BENCH RUNNING: Lauren who? The bench has outscored Atlanta 7-4 to end the first quarter only down 16-11. Robinson is playing huge in the paint, getting blocks while Willingham has some key rebounds and Vesela added the kicker — a snaking layin with 11 seconds on the clock. The Dream isn’t doing well against the energy the bench is putting out.
TIME!: Atlanta called a quick timeout as the Storm reserves are playing better against the Dream. Robinson had a monster block on McCoughtry and was able to retain the ball to help setup a Abrosimova jumper with 2:47 remaining in the opening quarter. Seattle within 16-9 of the lead.
LINE CHANGE: Agler has had it with the starters. The bench is in for the starting unit. It’s Svetlana Abrosimova, Jana Vesela, Ashley Robinson, Le’coe Willingham, and Abby Bishop on the court. Seattle down 12-4 with 4:55 on the clock.
MEMOREX?: The Storm is supposed to play the opening half as if it were a real game. If so, this is a rocky start. The Storm does have three impressive blocks, but also has three sloppy turnovers and is shooting 1 of 5 from the field to fall behind 11-4 with 6:25 remaining in the first quarter. The Dream is pounding the ball inside, getting eight points in the paint.
The definitely don’t call it Hotlanta for nothing. It’s a sweat box outside Philips Arena and there’s no water in sight, the only thing Atlanta F Iziane Castro Marques doesn’t like about her new WNBA city.
Castro Marques was acquired by the Dream in 2008 when the Storm left her unprotected in the expansion draft. At first the native Brazilian was uncertain about the move, but as she hosts her former team on Tuesday, Atlanta is vying for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Dream needs a win and Connecticut loss to secure a playoff berth.
Now Castro Marques is startled walking around the city, getting stopped by fans who recognize her as a player.
“It’s really growing,” she said. “The past three games, I think there were 8,000 people in there and they were really loud into the game. Before they were very quiet and not expressing. Now, there’s like ‘Let’s go!’ So, they know the moment when we really need them. The Sixth Man is really there. It took a while, but they finally came.”
The Dream is 10th in the 12-team league in attendance, averaging 5,971. It’s an increase for the inaugural season when Atlanta only won four games, but Castro Marques is used to the Storm’s often packed KeyArena (9,686). Seattle ranks fourth in attendances this summer (8,293).
Atlanta changed ownership and hoped to draw from the ABL days when the Glory was an entertaining team. But even that squad with Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards struggled to draw crowds. The city’s other sports — the Falcons and Hawks — have also experienced trouble.
“Seattle already had a basketball base and were very passionate about women’s basketball team there,” Castro Marques said. “Here, we have to bring those people and get those people to start liking us and embrace us. But they’re starting to know. I’ll go somewhere and people will be like, ‘Oh, you play for the Dream?’ Last year, that’s not going to happen.”
Castro Marques described owner Kathy Best like Force 10 Hoops, the four businesswomen who own the Storm. Seattle’s owners travel and are often in the locker room post game talking to players. They also treat them to dinner and attend concerts with the players.
Best is no different.
“Our owner is always with us,” Castro Marques said. “She goes to practice and from nowhere she’ll come into the locker room at away games. She’s very into it and really living this with us. You can feel the support, not just financial but she likes what she’s doing and enjoys having a basketball team.”
It’s particularly fun when you win. That may be easier Tuesday since Storm coach Brian Agler said he’s going to stick to his decision to rest his starters in the second half. The Storm does need one more win or Indiana loss to secure the overall best record in the WNBA, but health is outweighing that last goal for Agler.
“You debate it back-and-forth, but the main thing is we’ve been so tunnel vision up to this point — and it’s got us in a good place — but now there’s not a whole lot more that we can accomplish,” Agler said. “We want to make it happen, there’s no question about that, but we want to try to get Sue (Bird), Lauren (Jackson) and Swin (Cash) some downtime along with some other people.”
Agler isn’t forfeiting anything. The team had a solid practice on Monday to work on defense and Agler wants to keep everyone sharp. But, again, rest is important.
Let’s see how it all plays out, getting you started with the starting lineups:
F Swin Cash
F Lauren Jackson
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
F Angel McCoughtry
F Sancho Lyttle
C Erika de Souza
G Shalee Lehning
G Iziane Castro Marques
Tonight’s officials are Sue Blauch, Brenda Pantoja, and Clarke Stevens.