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August 27, 2005 vs. Phoenix Mercury

Final score: Storm 85 – Mercury 74 (W) (20-14)

Attendance | 11206

Anthem Watch | The "Gimme the Mic" winner. Mostly okay. She had some odd timing, but then I'm a nitpicker.

Fan Psyche | Kamila, we love you. Now will someone please guard Kamila at the top of the key. It's not like we don't know she's going to shoot from there.

Game Highlight | The whole game was a highlight.

Halftime | More dunking ushers.

SF.O Keyword of the Game | MVP, MIP, Coach of the Year.

Game Photos

This was a rollercoaster of a game topping off a rollercoaster of a year.

There are so many things to cover. I want to start off by recognizing Diana Taurasi and one of the classiest moves I've seen in sports. At the end of the game and the score out of reach, instead of running up her own stats, DT held the ball, motioned for Kamila to slip over to the top of the three-point line, then drove to her right and dished back to Kamila so that Kamila could take the last shot which she hit at the buzzer. In addition to putting on a great show throughout the game, Diana wanted the last visual of the game to be Kamila hitting a three. That was a great move and I think we all appreciated it. DT already had my respect for her skills and personality. Now she has some admiration too.

In no particular order, here are the highlights, thoughts and impressions from this game:

Despite David Locke trying to jinx it a few games ago by pointing out that if the Storm went 3 and 1 over their last 4 games they would match last year's record at 20-14. The fact that the Storm did in fact achieve that record for me means that Coach Donovan HAS to be seriously considered as Coach of the Year. Show me another team that lost 2 starters and their top reserve, veterans all, and then came back with the highest rookie minutes of any team in the league, overcoming injuries to 2 of their star players a sub-500 first half of the season and I'll add that team's coach to the list along with Coach Donovan for COY. The Storm finished the season going 12-4 and took 2nd place in the West. The other coaches who have been talked about winning the COY all along have taken basically intact teams with good preseason personnel additions and played to their expectations. Coach Donovan and her staff lost half a team and got nothing in return since those lost players were free agents. No one, and I mean no one, gave the Storm any real chance to be in the playoffs and certainly not finishing in 2nd place with the 4th best record overall. Coach Donovan deserves the COY and it will be an injustice if she doesn't get it.

I was disappointed in Phoenix's overall performance in this game. It seemed to me that the only two players who were acting like they had a chance at the playoffs were Taurasi and Kamila. I know that Penny Taylor is playing injured and was unable to play at her normal pace or level, but where was the drive and energy from the rest of the team. The only reason the Mercury were in the game was because Diana had close to a career night and Kamila played like she had something to prove against her old team. Diana was simply awesome. It seemed like she couldn't miss in the first half and every time she shot the ball the entire crowd sighed in resignation that it was going in. Kamila got applause with every shot she hit, even when they were daggers that eventually helped the Mercury get the lead. The two of them were the Phoenix offense tonight.

The Storm on the other hand had one of their most balanced scoring nights this season with the bench contributing 31 big time points. With LJ on the bench for the entire second half nursing a back sprain, Suzy and Simone got the call to cover the post. Suzy had a great night with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. That is the kind of bench production the Storm are going to need in the playoffs. Coach Donovan relied on the bench a lot tonight and had them out there on their own on a couple of occasions. In the first half, the Mercury were able to take advantage and momentarily take the lead while the bench was in. In the second half however, the bench did much better and not only held the lead we had at the time but built on it.

Tanisha had a very strong game and took advantage every time the Phoenix defenders played soft on her or left her for a double team against our posts. She hit some key baskets down the stretch in the second half and then hit her free throws once the Mercury started fouling to stop the clock. I was not a Tanisha fan at the beginning of the season, but I am now. Her progress has been fun to watch and I can see her assuming, finally, the role that Tully once held as that burst of energy on defense or scoring off the bench. Last season, when Sue went out there was no let down because Tully would come in and amp things up. Tanisha is becoming that player and only has consistency left as a challenge.

Sue had one of her best games of the season and again took control when the Storm went stagnant and hit the baskets we desperately needed to keep Diana at bay. It's almost as if Sue's field goal percentage goes up when she thinks the team needs her to score. With LJ out of the game, Sue was the one to pull the team together during huddles or coming out of timeouts to reiterate Coach's plan or to make sure everyone was on the same page. She made sure to find the hot shooters and to reward her teammates with the ball on offense after they had a good play on defense. It was great to see her leadership come to the fore in the absence of LJ's on court leadership.

Betty looked a lot more comfortable out there than the last game and certainly had fewer bobbled dribble or pass incidents. I wonder if having such a limited use of her injured hand hasn't forced Betty to be more in control of herself when she makes her moves to the basket. She has to measure her fearlessness against what she can actually do and I think it means that she is taking better shots.

LJ had the beginnings of a solid game, but came down with a rebound towards the end of the first half and strained her back. I don't think she was hit by anyone. It looked to me that it was a combination of her reaching for the ball with both hands and the way she landed. She kind of landed "short" — it looked like she thought she had jumped higher than she really did and landed sooner than she expected and consequently took all the shock of her landing in her lower back rather than her legs. She instantly grimaced and grabbed her back (after passing the ball out). On her way to the bench, she told Coach Donovan that, "It's my back, I hurt my back." She and the trainer went into the locker room. During the half, we got word (thanks the power of text messaging from someone who was watching the game on TV) that LJ was probably not going to come back in the second half. She did eventually come out and sat at the end of the bench with the trainer alternating between ice packs and massaging LJ's lower back. She was able to move around and didn't look to be in any great pain, but it did look stiff and she was moving with care.

As a result, the Storm had to finish the game without their MVP candidate. I almost think it was good for the team to have to play without LJ and to be facing a team, well at least facing a couple of players, who desperately needed to win this game. The Storm did a great job in not only holding off the Mercury but building their lead and taking the win without much drama at the end. LJ was able to protect her back from further injury and our bench was able to get some positive and productive minutes as we head into the playoffs. I hope that LJ's injury is minor enough that a couple days' rest will be enough to iron it out. I'm confident that the Storm will be able to beat Houston, but we're going to need LJ to do it — and some solid production from the bench.

Back to the beginning of the game.

Of course what we all wanted to see was Kamila getting her Championship ring, finally, and a chance to see her play in the Key. I'll be honest — I got a little choked up when Kamila came out for the pregame shoot around and then when the Storm held her ring ceremony. Befitting her original Storm player status, she got the best reception of the three former Stormies this season. There were numerous Kamila signs in the stands. People kept yelling out "Kamila we love you" during the warmups. She got cheers after every shot she hit, regardless of what that shot meant to the Storm's lead — something that I don't think has really ever happened before even for other former Storm players. Kamila was the rock, the foundation the Storm was built on and I hope she felt our appreciation throughout the game.

As it was Fan Appreciation night, the Storm did something a little different for the team's entrance. They did their normal tunnel huddle and then went up stairs and entered from the concourse level, all carrying signs which they handed out to fans as they made their way down to the court. I thought that it was a nice way to get the players into the stands without them getting swamped — the move caught most everyone off guard so it was kind of a surprise for many people to look up and see their favorite Storm player trotting down the stairs past them.

After the game, they all took turns at the mic and spoke a few words to the crowd. They all again had signs written "from them" which they signed and handed out to the fans as they left the court, along with shoes and a couple jerseys.

The highlight of the postgame speeches had to be David Locke announcing that Coach Donovan had signed a new multi-year deal with the Storm. Besides that begin great news on its own, I thought it to be a great way to end the regular season. The fans are secure in knowing we'll continue forward with the best coach in the league AND the whole contract negotiation thing, which always seems to get drawn out and is a distraction is done, decided and signed. After David made the announcement, Coach Donovan slid over and said something to LJ. I would pay real money to know what she said. I hope it was something like, "I signed a multi-year deal. Now it's your turn," or "You said you would if I did, now it's your turn." Crazy Mercury fan fantasies of having LJ on their team aside (I guess so they can collect all the Aussies or something), we need LJ to sign more than a one-year deal. This is her team. This is her home. Let's sign the deal.

All season long, my mantra has been that as long as the Storm make the playoffs, I think things are going to be just fine. Get to the playoffs and anything can happen. Someone on a fellow website made a point that I had been thinking over for the last couple weeks but hadn't yet brought up — the Storm are peaking right now. They have finally gotten things to work and are on a confidence roll. Minus a few unforced turnovers and getting a few more rebounds, and the Storm are playing as strong a game of basketball as they were any time last year. At the same time, the other power teams in the league have been stumbling lately — losing at home, losing to sub-500 teams, suffering injuries to key players. I think the Storm is the team no one wants to play right now. You know that this team is driven to prove that last year wasn't a fluke and that the Championship is something that will have to be taken from them.

It's playoff time. Game ****ing on.

Other Notes:

The Seahawks' drum line group performed twice tonight. I LOVED it. They were really into it and got the crowd pumped big time. I know many people don't like the college band feel of groups like this drum line, but I wouldn't mind seeing something like this for the Storm on a more regular basis. I wouldn't use them every game, but for the big games definitely.

The dunking ushers were back and were doing their thing at the basket in front of the Storm bench which meant that I got tons of great pictures of them in action. This time, they brought out fans to give it a try and most had the kind of success you would expect from non-gymnasts (let's face it, these people aren't really ushers). One "fan" launched himself so high he did a face plant on the backboard. I think he was a ringer, but it was funny and shocking nonetheless.

Bill Russell — basketball diety and 11-time NBA champion — was sitting at center court once again. He got a standing-O.

I noticed this a couple of games ago and Angie pointed it out to me as well tonight — John Curley throws his kids into the air every time the Storm do something great. It looks like he alternates kids so that they both get some air time.

The upper bowl was open on the west side, so they moved the giant Sue "Bring It" poster to the east site. The upper bowl sections looked pretty full from our vantage point. One lucky person up top won playoff tickets. Sometimes it pays to sit in the nose bleed seats.

During the postgame speeches, Suzy mentioned that when she first got here, we "intimidated" her. I take partial responsibility for that. I made her jump tonight during one tirade against the refs after they called a travel on Janell in the second half. This after missing several Mercury travel violations in the game leading up to the one they called against the Storm, including what seemed to be the most outrageous example of traveling I've ever seen not get called. I'll be reviewing the TiVo to be sure, but it looked like a Mercury player had the ball, had picked up her dribble, then jumped in the air and came back down with the ball never leaving her hands, and then moved with the ball. Believe me when I say that KeyArena was howling after that one.

A Forum member made up 3500 yellow MVP signs and distributed them to people as they entered the arena. They looked great spread out over the whole crowd. Good initiative and great job.