The Seattle Storm overcame a slow start and withstood a run by a scrappy Los Angeles Sparks team in the third quarter to sweep them in the first-round Western Conference playoff series Saturday, 81-66. It was the Storm’s first post-season series win since taking the WNBA Championship in 2004, and their first playoff win against the Sparks, who have knocked them out of the running four years in the team’s decade-long history.
Lauren Jackson led Seattle with 24 points and nine rebounds, while teammates Swin Cash and Sue Bird put up 16 and 15 points, respectively. Tina Thompson was the high-scorer for the Sparks with 18.
“It was very important to us to get this win,” Jackson said. “We didn’t want to go to three games with them.”
Los Angeles got off to a fast start and lead by as many as eight midway through the first period. But the second quarter belonged to Cash, who made four three-point shots and two free throws for 14 points. The Storm also began feeding Jackson in the post more, and she had 10 points in the period. Seattle pulled ahead for good with just over four minutes to play on a Cash bucket.
The Sparks surged in the third quarter and cut the Storm’s lead to 46-44 at 7:06 on a Ticha Penicheiro driving layup, and Thompson also had 10 of her points in the period. But it was not enough to slow the Storm, who were up by 10 going into the fourth.
Bird put up 10 points in the last period, including two threes, which helped fuel a 14-3 Seattle run that put them up 71-54 at the 6:48 mark. Los Angeles never recovered.
Storm Coach Brian Agler acknowledged his team’s slow start, and how they had to turn things around.
“They came out and played well, making big shots and being aggressive, while we were offensively stagnant,” he said. “Then we started hitting out shots, getting an outside presence and keeping them off the free throw line.”
Seattle shot 48 percent from the field, which included 55 percent three-point shooting. The Sparks shot 38 percent.
The Storm confounded other teams all season long en route to a WNBA record 28-6 regular-season finish. Saturday was no exception, as they continually moved the ball quickly up court, around the perimeter and inside to the bucket. But Agler downplayed his team’s pace.
“Offensively, we run similar to what others do, but we’re not afraid to share the basketball.”
The Storm and their fans have said often that they wanted to finally beat LA in post-season play, but Jackson shrugged off the question, saying only that the Sparks are the team’s “number one nemesis – a great rivalry in sport.”
First-year Sparks Coach Jennifer Gillom said that her team’s surge over the past five weeks from last place in the conference to a playoff spot surprised many.
“I think we got a lot of respect around the league because they didn’t expect us to be here and didn’t expect us to play Seattle that well,” she said.
Gillom said that Sparks players believed they could win until the last couple minutes of the game, and she gave special credit to Tina Thompson, who was named WNBA Player of the Month for her high-scoring efforts.
“Tina Thompson is the reason we’re here today,” Gillom said. “She’s been our go-to person all season long.”
The Storm begin play in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs Thursday evening. They will play Phoenix, who swept San Antonio 2-0 in the other Western semifinal series.
- Delisha Milton-Jones appears to be praying at the end of the National Anthem.
- Midway through the first quarter, a very small contingent of Sparks fans to my left actually try an anti-Storm cheer, complete with a sign (!). “Beat! The! Storm!” they yell. I’m impressed for a quick second, but the cheer dies down fast, for no particular reason. Sad.
- Rally towels are really the way to go. They handed them out to fans coming in today, and the crowd was waving them during the game. It makes for a great visual.
- The JumboTron was taken out of Staples Center for maintenance, because apparently they couldn’t wait until 2 p.m. to have a whole week until the next event at this place to fix the thing. So they put up screens on the sides, but the color turns everyone sea green a few times. It’s kind of nauseating.
- Good lord the Storm move the ball quickly. Up the court, around the key like lightening, and usually into the middle to Lauren Jackson. They’re so fast they make the Sparks look like they’re standing still on offense.
- At 8:43 in the fourth, some fans decide to do a “let’s go Sparks!” cheer, but like the anti-Storm recitation, it dies out fast. I’m not trying to bag on LA – I do live here. But I don’t understand LA sports fans.
- It occurs to me during the last period that this game hasn’t been nearly as ugly as the one at Key Arena in Seattle Wednesday night. Wonder why? Glad it’s not, though. I like clean games.
- The Storm has a sizable contingent of a crowd sitting behind them, and they all get on their feet and applaud the team’s first post-season series victory since 2004 for the entire last minute of the game. Seattle will face Phoenix in the second round, beginning Thursday.