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July 19, 2005 vs. New York Liberty

Final score: Storm 87 – LIberty 78 (W) (11-10)

Attendance | 7361

Anthem Watch | A young girl who started out with the same old American Idolesque style, but settled down into a decent rendition.

Fan Psyche | Oh crap! LJ is down!

Game Highlight | Suzy leading a fastbreak and dishing to LJ. That 6 or 7 minute run in the first half when the Storm went crazy with the defense and fastbreaks.

Halftime | A marching band.

SF.O Keyword of the Game | Ankle Sprain.

Game Photos

Nothing like having your team leader, All-Star and MVP-candidate go down with a sprained ankle to take the wind out of a huge win.

Not only did the crowd go quiet like someone pulled the amp fuses, but so did the Storm's energy and composure for about 5 minutes — just long enough for the Liberty to go on a tear and chop a 20 point lead down to 7 and put some fear into all of us. The Storm regained enough control of the game to keep the lead with a couple key baskets in the last couple minutes and then gut-check free throws as the Liberty started fouling.

You have to give the Liberty some credit for not throwing in the towel after Izzy hit that three with about 7 minutes left, after LJ went out, to push the lead back out to 20. They came at the Storm with a sudden burst of intensity and took advantage of the Storm's shocked state after watching LJ being carried out. The Liberty could have written the game off and let it slide. They ran out of time and were held off once the Storm shook off their confusion and started playing again.

Not counting the nightmare-scenario of seeing LJ grimacing in pain, this was a great game. The Storm took complete control in the first half with stifling defense and aggressive, attacking offense that had the Liberty on their heels and unsure about themselves. For one of the first times this season, the Storm were actively forcing turnovers and stealing pass after pass — and then turning those opportunities into points. For all the fatigue talk we keep hearing, the Storm ran the Liberty out of KeyArena. Even better was that the Storm were able to maintain that 20 point lead into the second half. It's pure speculation at this point, but I'm confident that that lead would have held through the end of the game had LJ not gone down. The Storm were simply not giving the Liberty any openings to put together a run.

This performance was as close to the level of play we saw last season when the Storm were rolling and beating everyone.

The early good news is that LJ should be okay. In fact, one of the training staff came out of the locker room after LJ had been back there for awhile and said that LJ wanted to come back out and play. The coaches of course said no. She's got a brief break until Saturday against the Shock — a game I think we'll definitely need LJ — and then a 6-day break between that game and the next one. Depending on how things go on Saturday, I'd hope that LJ would be back in gear by the Charlotte game and back to normal for the LA game after that.

We got to see impressive play from several Storm players tonight.

Izzy exploded for 20 points, a career high, and looked like she could keep draining threes all night. Her shot is a little goofy looking and she releases it so quick that it never seems like she's fully set, but they were going in tonight. One of the other things she does that I like a lot is her passing into the post. She's one of the few players I've ever seen on the Storm that doesn't wait around for the post defenders to get set — she gets the ball into our post's hands quickly and usually in good position. It does no good to telegraph a pass inside, which is what most guards do, or hesitate long enough that you end up allowing the defense to anticipate the pass and the post move. Izzy doesn't hesitate — on her shot or her passes.

Janell was working hard on offense and defense, scoring a double double and getting two blocks. She showed a lot more intensity and determination than we've seen in the last few games. There were a couple rebound scrums where she refused to give up on the play and was able to either muscle the ball back out to the perimeter or muscle it up for a lay-up. She also put a sweet spin-to-the-baseline move on Baranova with a speed you don't usually see from her. She wasn't getting pushed around by the Russian or the Belgian (waffle).

Vodo had a short stint out on the floor, but she continues to improve and show a lot of confidence. It's interesting watching her and Sue together — it's obvious that they developed a good rapport in the offseason playing in Russia and we're enjoying the payoff. Vodo was the recipient of a fastbreak pass from Zara which V turned into a layup that had the Key rocking. She didn't have as much production tonight as she did against LA the other night, but if she can continue to provide solid minutes she might be one of the factors that helps the Storm get over the .500 hump for good. Watching her play with so much energy got me wondering if Coach Donovan didn't hold her back a bit in the first half of the season in order to have a fresh secret weapon down the playoff race stretch run. She kind of did this same thing last year with Chelle Thompson, and now we're seeing it with Natalia.

It wasn't all good — even with the 20 point lead. The Storm were still getting stuck on defensive switches and only avoided getting burned more than they did because the Liberty didn't recognize some of the glaring mismatches. When you end up with Sue guarding Baranova, there was a missed defensive assignment someplace. Had Becky Hammon been on the court more during the first half, I'm sure some of those Storm errors would have been more costly. As it was, Becky had early foul trouble so we didn't have her court vision picking the Storm defense apart and were able to survive the lapses.

The other troubling stat was that the Liberty ended up outrebounding the Storm. There were more instances this game of the Storm fighting for rebounds with the same intensity as their opponent, but we still saw rebound after rebound get tapped around until it ended up being controlled by the Liberty or the ball slipping through Storm players' hands. Grab it with two hands. Oh, and please box out a little more forcefully...

That said, the Storm are visibly improving game after game. Yes, they allowed a lot of points tonight, but I think if the game hadn't been disrupted by LJ's injury, the Liberty would have ended up with something like 63 or so instead of 78. The Storm have put together a nice, and quite timely, 3 game win streak. Depending on how they respond to LJ's injury and how serious the injury really is, they are finally positioning themselves strongly for the push to the playoffs. It only gets harder from here. Detroit may be struggling a bit, but they play us tough. Saturday will be a big test, but I think the Storm are finally prepared to face these kinds of tests and beat them.

Other Notes:

Angie stayed home sick — one of the very few home games she's ever missed.

The refs didn't completely suck.

LJ's parents were at the game. During the second half, they were shown on the big screen with a title under the picture with their names. The funny thing was that the video was shot from a low angle, so the young couple sitting in front of the Jacksons were front and center in the picture. It looked like someone was playing a joke or something and trying to say that these two were LJ's mom and dad. They eventually got the video up so that we could see the real Jacksons.

Baranova's shoes have small Russian flags on them and "Elena" embroidered down the back. I think they were the same kind of one-off Nikes that Sue and LJ have.

The crowd was slow to get into the arena. Leighway suggested that because the Indigo Girls were playing down at the Lake Union Summer Concert series, we'd probably have a lot of no shows. I asked her what kind of stereotype was she alluding to. I also said that if people were real Storm fans, they'd be here tonight and go see the Indigo Girls second show tomorrow. Get your priorities straight (no pun intended), people.