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8/18/06 vs Los Angeles

2006 Playoffs, First Round

Final score: Storm 84 – Sparks 72 (W) (1-0)

Attendance | 9686

Anthem Watch | Pat Wright, 'nuff said.

Fan Psyche | We can do this.

Game Highlight | LJ stuffing LLL back into last week, Izi steal and pass ahead to LJ for a basket and 1, Izi with a late 4th quarter three-point monster basket, Sue with a huge first half, TJ with a big third quarter — take your pick.

Halftime | Russian strength dudes — impressive, but a little creepy too.

SF.O Keyword of the Game | Loud — vibrate the concrete floor kind of loud.

Game Photos

It's fun to win. It's fun to beat LA. It's fun to watch The Diva make her "I'm the Diva, why are you calling me for fouls" face over and over and over again. It's fun to have the fans be so loud that the building itself vibrates.

It's also fun to be the only lower seeded team in the playoffs to win the first game of their first round series.

We've all wanted this 1 vs 4 match-up in the first round of the playoffs. Sometimes, you have to be careful what you wish for. Tonight, it was almost like Coach Donovan was lighting up a cigar and saying, "I love it when a plan comes together."

Outside of Seattle (well, inside too if you read the Times' Sparks in 3 prediction), the Sparks are the heavy favorites. Thankfully, the Storm aren't paying much attention to what everyone is saying or predicting. The team looked as confident out there as they have against any opponent. They certainly weren't playing like huge underdogs.

I think this was most apparent through the third quarter lull. Maybe the team needs to try a new Gatorade flavor or something in the locker room at halftime, because whatever they're drinking now is making them move at about half speed to start the third quarter. The Sparks came out much more aggressive and fairly quickly took control of the game and built a 5 point lead (I could have sworn it was as much as 7, but the box score lists 5 as the largest Spark lead). The Storm didn't break down, lose their focus or start getting sloppy with the ball. They kept their heads and whittled the lead down to 2 at the end of the quarter. Tiffani Johnson came up big and helped lead a 7-0 run while LJ was on the bench.

The Storm took complete control of the fourth quarter and, buoyed by the psychotic KeyArena crowd, took the game going away.

Because they were able to adjust to their normal third quarter fade and keep the Sparks in reach, the Storm were able to play with a more focused and efficient energy instead of a panicky energy that, as we've seen too many times this season, usually leads to bad shots, turnovers and bigger leads by the opponent.

This focus and efficiency was clear in how few turnovers the Storm had and how many turnovers they were able to force on the Sparks. The Storm had 8 turnovers and 7 steals. Add that to 22 assists and you have a team that is executing their offense well and protecting the ball.

The worrisome elements of the game were rebounding and minimal production from Betty, Izi or the bench (not counting TJ).

If there was one element of the game that the Sparks totally dominated, it was rebounds. They had an amazing 17 offensive rebounds. That cannot be allowed to continue if the Storm hope to win at LA. We are also going to have to get more out of Izi, Betty and Barbara. I remember looking up at the scoreboard in the late third/early fourth quarters, seeing goose eggs for Izi and Barb and thinking that we aren't going to win without them doing something quick. Izi came through at the end with a three and some free throws, but she needs to be much more active earlier in the game.

Betty came limping off late in the game and stayed on the bench through the stretch. She was mostly ineffective through the game although she did hit a couple baskets. She did most of her damage by getting the ball to other players, racking up 7 assists. I think Betty has to acknowledge that her injuries — knee and wrist — are limiting her ability to drive and to control the ball. When she does a one- or two-step drive, stops and shoots a mid-range jump shot, she does just fine. It's when she takes that third or fourth step that she gets into trouble. Her defenders are able to crowd her and either strip the ball or force her into a bad pass or shot. Her offensive efficiency drops dramatically with each step she takes on a drive. I hope that she and/or the coaches are finally recognizing this and that she can more readily adapt her game to fit her injuries. Right now, she can't play normal Betty Ball™.

The last thing the Storm need to prepare for on Sunday is that they won't be getting the calls and the disparity in free throws will be favoring the Sparks. Tonight, the Sparks were fouling and getting called for it. I don't expect them to get called for half of what they did tonight and the Storm will need to adapt and find a way to fight through that.

The good news is that this season's Storm team is as good or better on the road than they are at home. They will need to play a more consistent defensive game in LA than they did here tonight in order to win, but I think they can certainly do that. The biggest thing for Game 2 will be to not let the Sparks build too big a lead. If the Storm can keep the game in single digits at the end of the third quarter, I like our chances to take Game 2 and sweep the Sparks.

Then, we can all light up cigars and be happy that the plan came together.

Other Notes:

Simone Edwards and Jamie Redd were sitting courtside with Karen Bryant. Simone helped Doppler throw t-shirts and she danced with the kids during a timeout. Jamie looked a little uncomfortable and didn't really get into any of it.

Sonics' perpetual bench warmer and player most in need of a hair makeover Robert Swift was at the game... for about 5 minutes. He and his little entourage (of 2) were there long enough to sit in the first row and get mentioned on the big screen. He pretty quickly got up and left. Maybe one of his publicists should take notes from Petro's publicist about how her client should act in public.

New (deal pending ) owner Clay Bennett was supposedly at the game. I didn't seem him in the stands, so he might have been in a suite. I remember reading someplace that he or the other OKC boys criticized Howard for sitting in the front row and being all visible like. Say what you will about Howard (and I've said plenty), but he definitely got into the games he attended.

I have to get a decibel meter. It was damn loud in there tonight. I need to start recording how loud.

Again with the multiple "Aussie, Oi" chants from competing sections. Doing it 5 times doesn't make it 5 times better.

Izi and Wendy won the Stormy award for their movie clip and were very funny in their "acceptance" speeches. The movie clips and this little fan vote thing were yet more great ideas this season. Whoever came up with them needs a raise (and needs to still have a job in Seattle for years to come).