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5/22/04 vs Los Angeles Sparks

Final score: Storm 93 – Sparks 67 (W) (2-0)

Attendance | 9686

Anthem Watch | Excellent - not quite a verklempt-inducing performance, but just the way it should be sung.

Fan Psyche | Beat LA (and Minnesota, and Phoenix, and...)

Game Highlight | Umm, everything but the first 5 minutes or so.

Halftime | Awesome trampoline slam dunk group, featuring StormInCali making an "attempt"

Game Photos | Game Photos (Scott Larson) | Game Photos (Christine Nelson)

Wow. There are a lot of things to talk about with this game, but there were 2 major elements of the Storm's performance that I think ought to be emphasized and should give Storm fans everywhere much hope for this season.

First, THIS was our home opener. The Minnesota game was really the Storm's final preseason game where they were able to expose their own strengths and weaknesses and still eke out a win. I know some fans will be looking at the Storm team who played the Lynx and then the Sparks and wondering if our team is going to once again be the schizophrenic type which plays great against great opponents and struggles against the bottom feeders. After watching how smooth and confident tonight's Storm played, I'm confident that THIS is the real Storm.

Second, and this point is what really has me excited as a fan — the Storm, from the MVP through the end of the bench, played the Sparks straight up. They weren't intimidated, cowed, or afraid to go toe-to-toe with anything the Sparks were dishing out. If there is one word right now to describe this team it is fearless. Not out-of-control or brash fearlessness — it's a fearlessness that comes out of the knowledge that they are just as good as anyone they face and that they are the team to beat, not the other way around. The Storm matched the Sparks step for step in intensity, toughness and, dare I say, talent. As one person commented to me at the half, it almost seems like the Storm were built to beat the Sparks. I'd agree with that and I think this game put the Sparks on notice that the Storm aren't scared of them anymore.

Another person I talked to said that as Betty goes, so goes the team. True enough, if you compare Betty's performance tonight to the Minnesota game you will see a perfect example of both of my points from above. Betty played with more confidence tonight in both herself and her teammates. She threw herself into the fray time and time again like she did against the Lynx, but tonight she took advantage of opportunities to score instead of forcing opportunities to score — and that's all the difference. Her turnovers were down, her shooting percentage went way up and she was called for fewer fouls. So goes the team - fewer turnovers, fewer fouls, better shooting equals kick-sand-in-your-face butt-stomping win. I think that Betty still has a big target on her back for the refs and she will be dealing with foul trouble all season unfortunately, but I think if she continues to play as she did tonight — and not obviously drop her shoulder as she forces a drive to the basket, that target will fade away. I also think that Betty made believers out of a lot of fans tonight.

LJ didn't have as dominant game tonight as she did against the Lynx, but then she didn't need to. The Sparks' defensive mind-set early on was focused on muscling LJ out of position and keeping the ball out of her hands. I'm sure that this will be the case for most of the season — she is the MVP after all and will be seen by our opponents as the number one threat. It will be up to the rest of the Storm, as they did tonight, to force the other team to change its defensive approach and to get the other team off their game plan. Even with the added pressure from the Sparks defenders, LJ was able to pick her spots within the flow of the game and play her game instead of playing L-squared's game.

Sue again had "quiet" night, or maybe it would be more accurate to say she didn't have to have a "loud" night. Sue is in an interesting spot as a player right now. She is not necessarily the second or even third scoring option. Her role is much more of a traditional point guard than it has been for the last 2 seasons in Seattle. On the one hand, this is great — she is being freed up from having to score a lot of points and is able to direct the Storm more effectively and find her scoring opportunities instead of forcing them. On the other hand, this situation may feel less than great — she is being supplanted by new players who are getting the highlights and the attention she used to get. I think how she will handle this change in her overall role is rooted in how she played at UConn where she was not necessarily the biggest star nor was she always the focus of the Huskies' offense. I think she did pretty well in that situation. In fact, seeing how uncomfortable she was at times over the last two seasons being the focus says to me that she may welcome a little sharing of the load. I also think that Sue is the type of player who knows what it takes to be a championship team and one of the most vital elements is that each player knows her role, is able to play to her strengths and has other players around her who can do the same. So if Sue has more "quiet" nights, I think that may be a good thing.

Kamila is probably the one Storm player who isn't looking very comfortable right now. I don't know if it's due to a minor injury of some sort we haven't heard about, or that she is still readjusting to the ball or the WNBA style or what, but she's not quite at the same level she was last season pre-injury. The Sparks forwards were attacking her with almost as much intensity as they were LJ, so that had a lot to do with Kamila not being able to assert herself. Whatever the reason, I'm hoping it is something temporary that she can work through, because new players or not, we need her rock steady presence inside.

Sheri had her hands full of Mwadi Mabika — not an easy task for any player. Mabika may be one of the best players in the league and it is a credit to Sheri and the other Storm players who matched up against Mwadi that M2 only had 15 points tonight. I think that Sheri's stat line doesn't tell the whole story since she was expending more energy on the defensive end than she was on her own offense. In an slightly twisted way of looking at Sheri's game, I would almost label her few drives to the basket in which she continually drew fouls as defensive-minded offense. Whaaa? It's simple really. She started forcing the Sparks to expend energy defending her and also forcing them to adjust how they play as they racked up the fouls — all of which made her own job as a defender a little easier, hence her defensively-minded offense.

One of the other big time stories from this game is that all the active players got some PT and they all produced when given the chance. It is important to point out that Coach Donovan did not hold her deep bench in reserve until the lead got to 30. No, she played a 10-person rotation tonight throughout the game, which is what helped get that 30 point lead.

Knee brace or not, Adia was out there kicking some butt and tearing away rebounds, not to mention a little up-and-under lay-up that I don't think the Sparks were expecting. Coach D. kept calling Adia in to be a defensive stopper and to help out against Mabika and the Sparks guards, which she did again and again.

Janell was using her long arms to disrupt passes, pop the ball out of players' hands, tap rebounds out to her teammates and to plant well-timed elbows into her opponents. She also knows exactly what to do with offensive rebounds — take it directly to the basket, no dribble to get ready and to let the defense get set. Get the ball and slash directly to the rim. She did pick up 5 fouls, but at least a couple of those were loose ball fouls during rebound scrums that could have just as easily gone against one of the Sparks.

Simone didn't have much PT tonight. Looking back at our history against the Sparks, she never really plays that well against them and tonight was no different. I try to point out the good stuff, but Simone wasn't out there long enough to really have a lot of opportunities. She missed a couple chippies and that's all I can unfortunately remember.

Tully, Tully, Tully. Normally, when a 5' 7" guard finds herself defending a 6'+ forward, the taller player usually has the advantage. Tully makes her own advantages. I can remember 3 times she found herself facing DNasty or Baby Spinach and was able to bat the ball out of their hands or get in their grill enough to force them to pass the ball away. Height is not an issue when you've got the savvy and determination of Tully Bevilaqua. I heart Tully.

In my opinion, when I saw Michelle Greco on the floor in the first half and play, as I said of the whole team in my opening, with confidence, intensity and no fear of the Sparks, I knew I was seeing the "real" Storm. It was telling I think to compare how Michelle played to how the new additions to the Sparks played, even the headhunted veterans. She was calm, in control and aggressive. They were passive, timid and, except for one around-the-back drive and layup by Raffaella late in the game, playing like they were expecting the Diva to save them from getting their butts kicked. Greco looked like she was out there to win, even if she was only out there for 10 minutes. That my friends is a sign of good things to come.

I'm not going to waste any time talking about the Sparks, except to say that their "excuse" for their performance was that this was their first game while it was Seattle's second. Whatever you need to tell yourselves. Just remember that your worst 2 losses EVER didn't come at the hands of the Comets or the Liberty or some other 7-year team, they were laid on you by the Seattle Storm and we've got more where that came from.

Other notes:

So many things to note...

The Storm introduced a new DJ tonight. Sacramento has a DJ during their games and Leighway sent in a comment form last season saying that we ought to have one too. I don't know if the Storm listened to the sage Leighway or came up with the idea themselves, but we gots ourselves an in-game DJ.

Many, many out-of-towner Storm fans were in attendance tonight and a couple of them got some quality ArenaVision time. Storm Fan in Comets Land (SFICL as eclair calls her), had a great sign she made (I got a pic of it in the game gallery) out of a Beat LA sign with all the other WNBA cities attached to it. She won a prize pack for best sign of the night. StormInCali (currently SICko) was picked to take a try on the slam dunk trampolines at halftime (hopefully we'll have a video clip of this to share) and failed majestically. She then posed triumphantly for her adoring public. Also gracing the Key with their presence were WNBATalker from NYC, NewSocks and hubby from So.Cal., Trinity from Mid.Cal. and Shed from Australia. I think the Socks need to be here for every Sparks game since, as NewSocks pointed out, the Storm have won every game against the Sparks that she has seen in person. Sounds like a good luck charm to me.

The Storm bench was having too much fun during the second half. Janell Burse again led a fastbreak, which had the bench cracking up. They were up and joining in on the "Beat LA" chants and giving a lot of "she didn't just say what I thought she said" looks after hearing some of the more colorful language coming out of the both the Storm and Sparks players. Yes kids, when Sue Bird or Sheri Sam get a sharp elbow in the chest, they do exclaim some bad words. And Mwadi Mabika's "F You" to the ref after getting her technical ought to have gotten her tossed from the game.

The coaches were all smiles too. Normally during the timeouts, the coaches will step out from the bench to discuss their options before joining the huddle and giving the players instructions. During the last few minutes of the game, every time the coaches stepped out, they all had big time smiles on their faces and there was little discussion, other than to come back and tell the players to keep on doing their thing.

Baby Spinach. A few of us had informally decided to yell out "Baby Spinach" every time the Diva shot free throws due to her Subway commercial. Well, Stormfan7, Shed and SICko started a little early and were yelling it during the Sparks' shoot around. The Diva ignored them of course, or at least gave them no reaction. Teasley and Dixon, however, were definitely laughing. Teasley walked over in front of the 3 amigos to get a loose ball and I think they may have told her what Baby Spinach meant. She was chuckling as she walked back. Dixon was also smiling when she came over in front of them and heard it too. So even if the Diva ignored them, you know Teasely and Dixon told her about it later. Excellent.

The halftime trampoline slam dunk group was simply awesome. Yes, I'm sure they were gymnasts and yes they were using trampolines and landing pads to achieve the amazing moves they performed, but DAMN all the same. I think they pulled SICko and the other fans out to give it a try just to show how hard it really is. Again, DAMN.

Coach Donovan also had a big assed grin on her face at the beginning of the game right after the fan "instructional" video they play on the big screen to get people up before tip off. Sheri Sam had the "make some nooooise" clip on the video and the Key freakin' erupted. The lower bowl sellout combined with thundersticks got our normally stoic head coach smiling with appreciation.

Yes, it was a lower bowl sellout and yes there were empty seats. All I can say was for those fools who bought tickets and then decided to not show up — what were you thinking?

Finally, I would like to end on the word of the day, "Brilliant!"

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