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9/18/04 vs Los Angeles Sparks

Final score: Storm 80 – Sparks 83 (L) (20-14)

Attendance | 14884 (new Storm record)

Anthem Watch | Most. Notes. Ever. That's okay since it was John Popper from Blues Traveler performing the anthem on his harmonica. True, it was difficult to recognize that it was the anthem in a few spots, but I give him extra points for staying to watch the game and then getting out and slingshotting t-shirts into the upper bowl.

Fan Psyche | Just... get... the... lead...

Game Highlight | Tully going after a jump ball with all she had against Thomas (I think), Janell taking a bad fall on her already sore hip and then gutting it out and doing a jump ball against Leslie, the team clawing their way back in at the end, all of them staying out on the court after the game to talk to the crowd even though we all knew they were really feeling the loss.

Halftime | Hip hop tumblers - un-freaking-believable abilities and athleticism.

Flopometer | Christi Thomas and Tameka Dixon got a couple good ones that the refs bought.

SF.O Keyword of the Game | So close.

Game Photos | Game Photos (Scott Larson)

So, last game of the regular season at home against the Diva and the Weavettes. They pretty obviously relaxed against Minnesota last night at Staples and were saving it all up for tonight because they played like it meant something. I had my doubts that they would actually come out and play because they've done the "it doesn't matter so we're resting our starters" BS to us in the past and I thought for sure that they would do it again. The LA ownership has a long history of pulling that kind of stunt.

LA came to play, as did the Storm, and LA left with the win. Okay.

Here's why I'm not bummed out about that fact:

The Storm starters came out and played better than they have for a long time. True, there were some glaring lapses that did cost them the game, but the way they handled those lapses was important.

For example, the Sparks were consistently beating the Storm down the court after missed Storm baskets and getting easy layups ahead of the Storm defense. LA used that speed and those easy points to build their first half lead. The Storm adjusted to it and were able to stop LA from continuing to do that through the second half, which is one of the reasons the Storm were able to slowly catch up to the Sparks.

The Sparks guards owned the three-point line in the first half. When the Storm had the lead, those three-point shots were the only thing keeping the Sparks in the game. Again, the Storm were able to adjust and do a much better job denying the three-point shooters. In fact, I'm not even sure if the Sparks got more than two three-point shots in the second half, and neither of them were from the guards — they were made by the Diva.

Another thing — the Sparks were shooting the lights out. The Storm were able to keep the Sparks within reach by matching them basket for basket in the second half. True, LA had a 10-12 point lead by that time and matching baskets wasn't going to close the gap. But, if the Storm had allowed themselves to panic or give up and not execute their own offense, the Sparks would have blown this game wide open. Sheri, Sue and Lauren came through in the second half so big time that they were able to chip away at the Sparks' lead until they got it down to 2 or 3.

The Storm adjusted to the Sparks' strengths and were able to give themselves the opportunity to win the game. That is the silver lining I'm seeing in this game.

Unfortunately, the Sparks kept finding ways to keep the lead and when they did make mistakes - fouls, turnovers, etc. - the Storm were not able to capitalize. The other major mistake that the Storm were guilty of tonight was foul management — they had the Sparks in the penalty at 10:00 in the first half and then stopped going into the paint. In the second half, they had four of the Sparks' starters with 4 or 5 fouls and were not able to get any of them to foul out. Say what you will about the refs not calling things that should have been called, but the Storm also were not going at the players with the fouls as hard as they should have. When the Diva was off the court, the Storm were able to take advantage of LJ against Thomas and Whitmore. Getting the Diva to foul out, even with a couple minutes left might have given the Storm the edge they needed to get over that two point lead and take the game.

I have to give credit to LJ and Sue in the last few minutes — they hit some absolutely clutch baskets including threes that got us within one with about 20 seconds left. Sue fouled Teasley who then hit both of her free throws. With 16 seconds left, Betty had the ball but wasn't able to get a clean three point shot and the horn sounded before the Storm could get a second shot up.

So we lost. I know the team is feeling it and so are we. I hope they can see and focus on the good things that came out of tonight's game — and fine tune their execution to fix the couple of bad things that hurt them so much. In my opinion, there is no reason to get bummed from this game and ever reason to get pumped up heading into the playoffs. If the team plays as well as they did tonight, with a couple minor fixes, they will walk over Sacramento or Minnesota in the first round. Then, later on, we'll see what the Diva and her minions really have.

The playoffs are coming and we're ready to rock baby!

Other notes:

The pregame rally and march around the Seattle Center was a qualified success. We made some noise and got some attention, but it would have been cooler to have 200 fans participating instead of the 50 or so that we had. The rain clouds parted and we were able to do the whole march route without getting soaked. Hopefully, we made a dent and a few more people will check out the Storm to see what all the hoopla was about.

Signs were plentiful and in the Sparks' faces the whole game. My personal favorites were "Most Violent Princess" (which got an appreciative laugh from Coach Donovan) and the "Our MVP has class" multipart sign that seemed to travel around the arena to a different group of fans each time it popped up. Also, Stormfan7 had "Leslie did it" and promptly had it out every time the Diva did something nasty — which was often enough. The fun part was watching the Sparks players try and read the signs without looking like they were reading the signs. They couldn't very well acknowledge the signs since that would only encourage us even more — but they were reading them. Honestly, all the "Beat LA" and the signs, while fun, probably just fired them up to shut us up. Oh well. We never did shut up and if anything got louder as the game went on regardless of the score.

On that note, I was once again proud of the Storm fans at the Key. Yet again this crowd proved how good a group of fans they are by not waiting around for the announcer to start the "Defense" or "Let's Go Storm" chants. I've never seen a crowd take the initiative as much as the Storm crowd. The signs, the dancing, the yelling at refs when they deserved it (and when they didn't), calling out for the correct foul, 3-second call or travel when the refs were blind to it all — all of it makes me truly believe that the players are sincere when they say they've never seen fans like us with any of the previous teams they've played for. You guys are the best.

I want to give a special mention to the guy who sits behind the south basket — the Pirate Guy some people on the north end call him because of the way he wears the Storm bandana. I don't know his name, but he has to be the best fan in the arena. Talk about "bringing it." He has and does every game. If any fan at KeyArena deserves some recognition (and a game ball — hint hint to the Storm staffers out there), it's him. Give me 20 Pirate Guys on a road trip and I would guarantee a win — he's that good.

It was fan appreciation night, so we got to see a number of videos capping the season, players thanking the fans and a special video honoring Kamila and Simone for being the only two original Storm players still on the team. I was honored to be one of the fans whose comments about these two amazing women were taped and added to the video. Like I said on the tape, without Kamila and Simone, the Storm would not be the same team they are today and would not be in the same place they are today. I hope they are with us for another 5 years.

The guys who performed during halftime were simply awe-inspiring. I could only think back to the Olympics gymnastics competition and how even those world-class athletes couldn't maintain a tumbling run — height and speed — across the mat when these guys were going nearly corner to corner on the court with no let up. In fact, a couple of them even speeded up. All I can say is "Wow."

The upper bowl was indeed opened and most of the seats were filled. The ends were still empty — I don't know if that meant that the seats were unsold or if people just didn't show up. They missed a good one. I was talking to someone after the game who would have liked to have had a win to give all those newbies something to come back for. I hope that they recognized that, even in a loss, the game was exciting, fun and is worthy of supporting in the future, especially in the playoffs. I remain hopeful that fans who are true fans of sport and not just fans of dunks or sure wins will find the same things in the WNBA that has attracted all of the regulars. Tonight's game hit all the high points, except for that win. Hopefully, some or most of those new fans will be back.

Two things I noticed about having the curtain pulled back — one, it was lighter than I thought it would be, especially when the lights were off and the only source of light was the scoreboard (like during the intros). That curtain really sucks up the light. It also sucks up the sound because there was a concussive echo off the ceiling once the whole crowd got going that I haven't heard before. There were a couple instances towards the end of the game when the sound level got so loud that it started to crackle almost. It certainly was loud enough that you could feel it. It could have been the extra 5000 people, but I think that curtain has been holding us back. I bet that if it were lifted, even a crowd of 8000 or so would sound louder than with the curtain. Something for the Storm front office to consider perhaps?

Lastly, as I do each year at the end of the regular season, I'd like to revisit my year one prediction. Before the Storm even played a game, Angie asked me how I thought they would do. Being the realist, I predicted the following: 8-24 year one (we went 6-26), 12-20 year two (we went 10-22), 16-16 year three and the first round of the playoffs ( we went 17-15 and were in the first round), 20-12 year 4 and the second round (18-16, no playoffs) and 24-8 year five and the championship. Well, here we are 20-14 and heading back into the playoffs with a legitimate chance at the Championship. I can accept being off a couple of games here or there, as long as that trophy makes it to the Emerald City. I don't know about you, but I'm feeling pretty good about that happening this year, right now.