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10/5/04 at Sacramento

Final score: Storm 82 – Monarchs 62 (W) (2-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS!

Attendance | 8,826

Anthem Watch | 4-man acapella group — the bass singer had a mutant-like low voice (for a skinny white guy that is)

Fan Psyche | WE'RE IN!

Game Highlight | LJ hitting 3 after 3, especially the one with a couple minutes left just to make sure the Monarchs have something to chew on (other than chicken) during the off season. Sue Bird giving us a record-setting performance 1 DAY after surgery to set her nose. One of these two performances would have been good for the annuals of basketball history — we got both.

Halftime | Chinese balancing artist (rode a tall unicycle and caught bowls on her head).

Flopometer | Who cares? It didn't help them. In fact, they were doing it right and left and it helped them lose the game (just like last year vs LA).

SF.O Keywords of the Game | WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS!

Game Photos | Game Photos (Scott Larson)

What can I say? How many ways can I heap praise on this team? This group of women who have come together, taken figurative and literal hits, kept faith in themselves and each other and came through it all with smiles on their faces and booties shimmying.

Sue Bird, just one day after surgery to reset her nose, had one of the best basketball games of her career. From the various comments people have made who have had similar surgeries, Sue should have been home and in bed, not breaking the WNBA playoff assist record and scoring a double double. Tough as a descriptor doesn't cut it anymore. UConn fans may disagree, but I think Sue Bird now is better, stronger, and more iron willed than she has ever been, including her championship days back in college. This has to be one of those performances that we will be watching 20 years on ESPN Classic with the deep toned voice over, "Sue Bird. Olympian. Champion. Leading her team past all opponents and into the WNBA Finals..."

Lauren Jackson. Is there a player more driven than LJ to win? Is there any player in the world who can do what she does with 2 and 3 defenders draped all over her? The intensity on her face on during this game was imposing — you knew that she would not allow this team lose. When she hit her 6th three-point shot with a minute left, you know she was sending an undeniable message to the Monarchs and to the rest of the league — she is the best and it's going to take more than slapping, flopping and trash talking to stop the Storm from taking their rightful place in the WNBA Finals. Taking, not barely winning with a last second shot — taking the win.

Kamila Vodichkova. Hit her — she'll get right back up and go right back to keeping your skinny butt out of the paint. Foul her — she'll step right up and knock down those free throws. Ignore her — she'll burn you on the rebound. They displayed her quote from the newspaper in which she said that the Czech Republic could keep the Olympics, this is why she stayed in Seattle. She may not have scored big, gotten a ton of rebounds or blocks, but she was a force in the middle and once again kept Yolanda Griffith at bay. This team would not be where it is without Kamila Vodichkova.

Betty Lennox. We needed her to score — she scored. We needed her to defend bigger and taller players — she defended them. We needed her to do her thing with stealing rebounds from the other post players — she snuck in there and got some monster rebounds. We needed her to keep her cool — she was in the game from start to finish. I hope Betty likes it here in Seattle because she has found a home and fans who want her to be here.

Sheri Sam. How good must it feel for Sheri to finally be going to the big dance? A double double with 10 rebounds and 12 points, 5 assists, 2 steals and shooting 50% from the floor. You want a third scoring threat to compliment Sue and LJ (if Betty isn't already enough for you) and an all-around player who will do all the little things your team needs to win? I give you Sheri Sam. The second that the Sol folded, I wanted her on our team — even above Ruth Riley. I was beside myself when I found out she was coming to Seattle in the preseason trade and we are all now basking in the glow of that decision. That trade is producing dividends big time and is one of the main reasons we are in the Finals.

Janell Burse — speaking of the trade. She didn't get much playing time tonight (with LJ almost personally blowing out the Monarchs, you leave her Aussie butt in the game), but when we've needed her she has reported for duty and has played through personal trauma and physical pain. I didn't know much about her before she joined the Storm, but I learned everything I needed to know when she came back after that back/hip injury and jacked her game to a new level. She has had her thigh and hip wrapped like a damn mummy every game and has to have a heating pad ready every time she sits down on the bench. She hasn't gotten a lot of press or notice, but she has been a trooper like few others. I'm a true Janell believer.

Tully Bevilaqua. How must it feel for her to hear the "Tully, Tully, Tully,'' chant every time she pulls one of her "how does she do that" scrambles to the floor or takes a punishing charge? She got fouled and fouled hard by one of the Monarchs in the first half and immediately had a big old egg pop up on her forehead. She stayed in the game for awhile and when she came out reached for the bag of ice before she made it past the coaches. I think she and Sue may have been trying to out tough each other. She didn't let it slow her down, even though she must have had an instant migraine. All I can say is Dirk, you need to be here for the Finals because the other teams keep beating up on your wife. And oh yeah, we love her to death.

Adia Barnes. Adia also didn't get much playing time tonight with Coach Donovan going with a 8 person rotation. Angie and I have been fortunate to be able to help Adia with her Foundation a little bit, and I can tell you that this woman has been working non-stop to do everything she can to help this team. Think about how far Adia has come from this time last year. She's tired of people asking about her injury, true, but it's still a huge accomplishment to come back like she has and contribute like she has. Adia is a true professional and an incredible person.

Chelle Thompson. How in the world did I not know about Chelle before she joined the Storm? Her jump shot has got to be one of the prettiest shots I've ever seen. She is unflappable on the bench — always the first one to pump up the team during a timeout and the last one to give encouraging words as the 5 starters head out for the opening tip. She came in tonight and played only a few minutes, but still had a big impact by hitting another three and ripping down 2 monster rebounds. LJ and Sue are the leaders of the team, but Chelle is the leader of the bench and I can't imagine a Storm team without her doing her thing with a towel on her head.

Simone Edwards. Another player who got little playing time thanks to the shortened rotation, but someone who takes every opportunity to get the crowd going and encouraging us to join her in supporting the team on the court. I know that Simone would rather be on the court and more actively contributing to the team's success, but instead of moping or being divisive, she is there cheerleading every play and doing whatever she can — on the floor or on the bench. I hope, like Kamila, that Simone is enjoying this win like no other. It has been a long five years for the both of them and they deserve this as much as anybody on the team.

Michelle Greco. If I could talk to Michelle for a few minutes, I would tell her that her gracious patience will pay off and she will get her chance on the court. It has been tough to watch her calmly sit at the end of the bench, waiting for Coach Donovan to say, "Greco, let's go!" Given the way Coach Donovan is running the playoff rotations, I don't know that Michelle will get much playing time in the games to come. All I can say is that we all appreciate her good natured smile and her quiet resolve to stay positive and support the rest of her team. Her time will come.

Coach Donovan. She's been here before with the Sting and she kept this team together and confident in spite of the refs and in the face of a relentless Monarchs team. In every timeout huddle, she exuded calm and control. Her confidence in this team covered them like a protective blanket and buoyed their spirits even when the game looked like it might start slipping away. It was almost like she was showing them by example how to shake off the incredibly bad calls or the slapping and jabbing from the Monarchs and come back with more intensity and determination each time. Like the trade for Sheri, I was so happy when it was announced that the Storm had hired Coach Donovan after Coach Dunn had left. She was the best possible choice when the Storm management, like so many other teams, had a lot of other poorer choices they could have made (like a former NBA player and first-time head coach). Coach Dunn laid the foundation and Coach Donovan has taken the team and molded it into a Championship contender. Now there is one more step.

Okay, enough over-the-top gushing — on to the game.

When I saw the list of refs taped to the end of the scorers table before the game, my heart sank. Talk about an Axis of Evil - Roy Glubeyan, Sally Bell and June Courteau. How bad was it? Roy looked like an almost decent ref, that's how bad Sally and June were. For all those people out there who like to bleat about how we always complain about the refs, especially saying that since we've never played or reffed ourselves that we have no place commenting at all? Take this and stick it — the guy sitting behind me tonight was a 14-year veteran ref for the Pac-10 and is now an official ref observer for the Pac-10. He watches the refs at a game, takes notes on their performance, delivers a report to them in the locker room after the game and lets them know how they did. He was in a constant state of disbelief watching how the Three Blind Mice called this game. He said it was one of the worst refereeing performances he's ever seen and was actively trying to convince June and Sally to take an early retirement. Argue with that fools.

The Monarchs came out with a lot more passion and intensity than they've shown at the beginning of either game 1 or game 2. We knew it would be that way, but it was still anxiety-inducing to see them keep finding ways to wipe out the Storm's 10+ point leads at will. During the first half, every time the Storm would get a little distance, the Monarchs would reel them back in. Guppy, Edna and Ticha were the main force behind the Monarchs' push each time. The posts were having a hell of a time getting good positioning, but because the guards were hitting their outside shots, Yo, Pocahontas and Flounder were able to cut to the basket on single defensive coverage and get some easy layups. Every time one of the Monarchs' bigs got the ball out of the paint and would try to make their move, the Seattle defense was able to consistently deny them. It was when they slipped behind the defense because the defense had to pay attention to the perimeter that they got the easier baskets.

Time and time again, the Monarchs pushed and got within 6 or 4. They took advantage of sloppy play by the Storm at the end of the first half to seemingly instantly chop a 14 point lead down to 4 and steal the game's momentum going into halftime. There were plenty of nervous Storm fans watching the Chinese acrobat do her thing with the balancing plates. Leighway was particularly bent out of shape over the Monarchs' run, asking what if they do that again? I answered that the Storm would just have to do their same performance too and since we ended the half up by 4, we'd win by 8 easy.

There are all kinds of sports cliches about one team wanting it more or one team refusing to lose. All I can say is that the Storm defined those cliches tonight. They came out in the second half and simply destroyed the Monarchs in a way that no one had even dreamed they would do. During the halftime shoot around, someone nudged me and said the Monarchs looked nervous. They did and they proceeded to fall apart while the Storm went on a 20-0 run. A 20-0 run in the deciding game of the Western Conference Finals. That is unheard of. Others may describe the Monarchs' implosion as a choke of monumental proportions. I prefer to look at it as the Storm finally putting the pieces together and playing like the team we remember from before the Olympic break. Monarchs' supporters have been saying that their team was peaking at the right time and that they were ultimately the better team. LJ's and her teammates' answer to that was, 'Peak this."

Rebound after rebound. Steal after steal. Three after three. The Storm were unstoppable in the second half. They poured it on and on and on until they had a 24 point lead. It wasn't until Coach Donovan started putting in the bench and allowing the starters to come off did the Storm turn off the jets. They utterly and in every category took this game and never looked back. What a way to win. What a way to go into the WNBA Finals — not looking back, not sliding in the easy way or by accident, but by firmly and resolutely stating that this game was theirs.

We are the 2004 Western Conference Champions and going into the WNBA Finals with home court advantage.

It's starting to sink in.

Other notes:

So many things to mention...

I cried twice at the end of this game. The first time was when the clock was winding down at about 3 minutes or so. The ending was clear. People started folding the "WIN and we're IN!" signs Angie and I made and distributed so that just the "we're IN!" portion was showing. I hadn't even thought that they would get used that way and when I saw it happening behind the basket and in the sections around us, it was real — we were in the Finals.

The second time was when the horn sounded and the team and the crowd went crazy. It was too much. 6-26 year 1 and going to the Finals year 5. It was too much.

Seeing the "Brick!" signs in action put a ****-eating grin on my face too. I turned to Angie the first time they appeared in the second half (the Monarchs were shooting on our end of the court in the second half) and said, "I made that."

Fairy Godmother. Sunday. I'm a man of my word and I'm going to show what "Bring It" really means, and on national television.

Howard Schultz almost got ejected from the game. He was livid and raving at Sally Bell every time she stood under the north basket (he was sitting right next to the basket on the Storm side because the ESPN2 broadcasters displaced him). She warned him, "One more time," after a particularly emphatic display. He quieted down, but then the Storm made yelling at the refs a moot point so he was saved.

The crowd was in-freaking-credible. How needs a PA announcer or scoreboard operator (no offense guys, you do a good job) when you have fans like Storm fans? Every play a new chant started. My new pal down on the south end of the floor was starting everything, and then Big Lo was anchoring the chants from the north end. I hope all the Sonics, Mariners and Seahawks players in attendance (there were a lot of them here tonight) liked what they saw, and got a little jealous. I don't remember too many of their games that have had crowds like ours — although I'm willing to give the Seahawks a pass since the Kingdome (RIP) also instilled fear in the hearts of visiting teams. Now, we need this place sold out — 17,000 for Sunday.

I'm a fan of the signs and there were so many good ones that I can't remember them all. I took a lot of photos, so they'll show up there. It is almost like fans are getting into a oneupsmanship contest with the signs. There are more and more every time and it makes me want to do more myself, although it's going to be tough to top 1000 signs. Do I hear 2000 for Sunday???

During one timeout, they did the match Sue's shot activity and the boy actually hit the $500 half court shot! Doppler went over to Howard to get the cash and Howard pulled out his wallet. He didn't pony up, but it was funny to watch.

Speaking of Doppler and funny to watch — he had a remote control Hummer racing around the court delivering popcorn and candy to people. The funny part, and inspired I might add, came when he dropped a little stuffed Monty on the floor and proceeded to run Monty over again and again. The Monarchs didn't look too pleased when they came out of their timeout huddle to see their mascot being crushed in effigy. That was brilliant, Doppler!

After the horn sounded, metallic confetti rained down from the ceiling. I had Angie collect some for the scrapbook.

The Conference Champion t-shirts and hats materialized out of nowhere at the end of the game and all the players and staff had them on in no time. I know the answer is much mundane than this, but I wonder if there are championship gear elves who just know what's going to happen?

I had a sign that I was keeping folded up, no peeking for anyone, in the eventuality that the Storm won. It said, "Trip to MINN: $675. Trip to SAC: $935. Trip to CONN: $1750. Seeing all Storm playoff games? PRICELESS." I just happened to have it out after the game and David Locke caught a glimpse of it. It looked like he was reading it for the radio audience. Let me know if that was the case, because that would be super cool!

I want to see the decibel level for this game. I bet we exceeded the 101 Scowl photographed last game. I say that because there were a couple of spots where my ears were hurting from the sound. I love you guys.

I know there was more, but my hands are starting to ache from typing.

We. Are. In. The. WNBA. FINALS!!!!