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July 23, 2005 vs. New York Liberty

Final score: Storm 74 – Shock 71 (W) (12-10)

Attendance | 8819

Anthem Watch | A singer from Canada - good form until she hit the last couple of notes and went all minor key on us. I kept expecting her to break into "Oh, Canada." Also, at the "home of the brave" line, Swin Cash ran behind the line of Shock players from one end of the line to the other. I guess it's okay for Diva-wannabes to disrespect the anthem.

Fan Psyche | Just gut it out a little longer... and oh yeah, someone put a #&$*# body on Nolan!

Game Highlight | LJ going off, ankle or not. The bench coming through. Everyone contributing.

Halftime | Uh, don't remember.

SF.O Keyword of the Game | Rebounds.

Game Photos

Whew. That was a tough game. The Storm were pushed non-stop by a very physical Shock team and found ways to overcome a terrible rebounding deficit, the Devil's Rejects ref trio, and Deanna Nolan being able to hit every shot... except the three-pointer for the win.

This was one of those nerve-wracking games in which neither team really established a solid flow or was able to dictate the pace. Partially due to the 66 fouls called - that's one foul every 36 seconds of game play — and partially due to the national broadcast timing (jump balls were a little delayed, TV timeouts seemed longer) — the pace of the game was choppy and neither team could get off a run. There were few fastbreaks — maybe 3 for each team.

The Storm did run out to a great start and actually built a 15-point lead, but the Shock — mostly behind Cheryl Ford's relentless rebounding and Deanna Nolan's unconscious shooting — clawed their way back into the game and tied it at the half. Of course, the other thing keeping the Shock in the game in the first half was foul shooting. I could be wrong, but it seemed like most of the fouls called against Seattle were shooting fouls that put Detroit at the line while on the other end Seattle didn't start shooting until Detroit got to the penalty limit.

It's kind of hard to blast away at the refs since they were consistently bad on both ends. We had the Triumvirate of Darkness, the Refs from the Ninth Circle of Hell — Roy, Darla and June. The mere fact that the Storm were able to keep their heads during this game to me showed that they are finally accepting that being the defending Champs, having a league and a finals MVP, or having multiple Olympians on the team means squat when it comes to getting a fair shake from the refs. It really means that the refs will call more on you than not. Back to complaining about the Axis of Evil — one thing that I will go on about are the missed out of bounds calls. Why do we even have a ref on the baseline if that ref will defer to the sidelines ref, who is 30 feet away from the play, on an out-of-bounds call? Roy was standing 6 feet away from the action when the ball went out off of Cheryl Ford and he defers the call out to Darla who we know had such a clear view of the play since she was behind it and had other players between her and the ball. She of course calls it off the Storm player.

The refs were booed out of the half... and just for good measure were booed as they came back in for the second half.

The best news of the game was that LJ's ankle injury didn't seem to slow her down one bit. She wore a brace (picture to follow), but I didn't see her favoring it or limping at all. Her shots looked good (well, if you call her flat arcs and crazy ball-spin "good" — it works) and she didn't look like she was in pain. She even came down on it pretty solidly once when I was focusing on her and I didn't see a hint of grimace. Detroit wasn't banking on her being slowed down because they were throwing everything at her to no avail. She still shot in the 40% range — would have been higher if she hadn't pulled the trigger on a couple of those quick threes — and then burned the Shock from the free throw line going 11 for 12.

One thing I haven't written much about this season that was again evident in the huddles and on the floor is that LJ has taken on the leadership role more than ever. She's the one who is talking to / yelling at her teammates, urging them on or reminding them of what they need to be doing. She's the one who is pulling other players aside and giving them instruction or encouragement. She does this most with Suzy, which makes the most sense given their long relationship and Suzy's need to get up to WNBA speed in a hurry, but LJ also does it a lot with the other new players too. She doesn't do it much with Betty, but then neither does anyone else. I don't get the impression that anyone short of Coach Donovan tells Betty what to do. Sue gets a free pass from LJ as well. Since Sue's injury, she has stepped back from the vocal leadership role. She focuses more on Tanisha and Zara, which makes sense, and has allowed LJ to be the vocal one. LJ got fairly emphatic a couple of times today, but seemed to take the lead-by-example route in the face reffing situation and slap-happy Detroit defense and kept her head on the court and encouraged her teammates to do the same on the sideline.

The second half was tight with every possession important. The game was within a 5 point range most of the way with both teams trading the lead. The Storm took and held the lead from about the 7 or 6 minute mark — I'm not sure (without referring to the play-by-play) because it seemed like the end of the game took forever. The Storm gutted it out and maintained a 2-3 point lead. Nolan went for the win with a three-point shot on their last real possession, but missed and the Betty got the rebound. She was fouled with 4 seconds left, hit one of two free throws (Betty — make your game icing free throws!) and Detroit could only launch a 1/2 court shot to try and tie. It missed and we all got to wipe our brows in relief.

While the Storm defense has picked up considerable compared to earlier games — they forced a 24-second violation late in the second half, had 5 steals and held some of Detroit's big guns to single digits — the defense had no answer for Deanna Nolan. She lit up Betty and Sue. The only thing slowing her down was the fact that the Shock didn't get the ball to her more often. You have to appreciate her speed and ability to hit shots on the run, but it was frustrating to watch the Storm allow her to run wild.

The other Shock player that requires some commentary is Swin Cash. She's gunning to be the new league Diva, even before the Dainty T-Rex retires and turns over the crown. Apparently, Swin is under the impression that she is due something more than anyone else on the court because Detroit won the championship 2 years ago. Honey, if the reigning champs aren't getting squat from the refs, you certainly haven't earned anything yet either so shut yer yap. She was yammering at the refs constantly, even when she did get the calls. She also is the first player who seems to have scouted Izzy — she immediately went at Izzy with arms flailing and acting like every bump was a skeleton-rattling body blow. As soon as Izzy went to the bench with 2 quick fouls, the flailing stopped. Next time Izzy was defending her, Swin went back to the "I'm drowning here!" method of posting up. Luckily, and I can't believe I'm saying this about him, but Roy has a low tolerance for the floppers and quit calling Swin's crap. As a fan of the game, it is frustrating to see good players resort to Diva-level theatrics instead of just playing the game (one of the main reasons I'm the leader of the Anti-DeMya League (ADL for short)). Swin — play the game and leave the attitude for the Sparks. That or just go ahead and ask for a trade so we can keep the Diva BS localized in one spot.

On the Vodo Watch, she continues to impress and is now getting the second most playing time off the bench (Suzy gets a couple minutes more). She has been a key part of our 4 Bottle Blonde line-up (LJ, Suzy, Fran, Vodo + a brunette to be named later), a combination that opponents seem to have a lot of trouble with. Having Vodo at the 3 spot has allowed Coach to play her much maligned 3 post offense without moving LJ outside of her natural position. I fully expect that we will see this line-up as the playoff race tightens and as Vodo improves. I don't think it is a coincidence that the Storm are on a 4-game win streak at the same time that Vodo is getting more playing time. With respect to our other bench players, Natalia is giving us that punch off the bench that we've been lacking and that was one of the major reasons the Storm went all the way last season. With respect to a couple of players who were cut in training camp, I can see now what Coach saw in her offseason scouting — Vodo is the real deal. She's young, has speed, a great shot, quick hands (she had 2 steals in this game), can rebound and presents an unknown for opponents. Coach is starting to look like a genius again (not that I ever doubted her. Those that did — you know who you are).

Sue appears to have adjusted to the mask and is back to quietly racking up the points and assists. Her stop and pop is working again to great affect and she shot 50% today. She isn't forcing anything and better yet she isn't hanging her head in frustration on every miss. I think what may have gotten her over the hump was getting whacked in the face a couple of times in LA. She took one elbow from Mabika full in the face, right across the bridge of her nose, and after a little bleariness walked it off and went back to playing. She knows that the mask is doing its job. She can play with confidence that she isn't going to hospital every time someone pulls a judo chop across her face. Since then, her shot is back, she is driving more and we're back to winning. Note to Storm coaches — if Sue gets into another slump, have someone elbow her in the face to build up her confidence.

This has been a long one, but this was an important game. We're on a 4-game win streak and right back in the thick of things for the playoffs. We're only 2 games out of first and virtually tied with 4 other teams for the remaining 3 playoff spots. I keep saying it, but it only gets tougher from here on out. We've got 3 more games against the East (Charlotte next, LA, and then a 2-game East trip) and then all the rest are against the West. It's going to be a wild August. If the Storm can keep playing the way they are, and keep improving on defense like they are, we are in great shape.

Other Notes:

Another Diva move courtesy of Swin Cash: the high-five kid line for the Storm's entrance before the game was a little longer than normal and was apparently offending her Righteousness. She came over and moved the end of the line.

There were a group of Brazilians in the crowd waving flags every time Izzy did something good.

Sonics' head coach Bob Weiss was here sitting with Howard Schultz and a couple of guys who I didn't recognize but must have been new Sonics' players.

No Foam Finger Guy again.

New Socks and Dirty Socks made a surprise appearance and quickly made their impact yelling at the refs. They also schooled those sitting around them on the correct usage of foam fingers.

Angie talked to the guy who won the LJ All-Star jersey bidding on the WNBA Breast Health auction recently. He and his family are the ones who sit behind the north basket wearing the green and yellow afro wigs. While I was disappointed at losing that auction, it's good to see that it went to a local Storm fan and season ticket holder.

The Dunking Ushers made another appearance and added a girl to their group.

We got Rebecca Lobo in our laps as she made her way behind the Storm bench a couple times.