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6/26/09 vs Los Angeles

Final score: Storm 69 – Sparks 67 (W) (6-2)

Attendance | 9686

Box Score | Jayda's Game Blog | Pelton's Game Blog

Game Photos | Scott E | Rick

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My expectations going into this game were that the Storm was not only going to win, buy had to win. With no Leslie or Parker, this presented a great opportunity for the Storm to take a free pass of sorts and put some early distance between them and the presumptive Western Conference leaders (at least according to the preseason talking heads). A win now (or pair of wins if things go according to plan on Sunday at LA) aren't going to be indicative of anything in the long run — that is, beating a team down two of its heaviest hitters doesn't really mean you can beat them later. But wins are wins, keeping LA in the basement as long as possible is better for you, me and everyone, and taking advantage of other teams' weaknesses is just good basketball.

The Sparks, of course, had other ideas.

Cooper was up to his normal head games starting with the opening tip. Delisha Milton-Jones lined up against LJ, but didn't jump. Instead she let LJ go up unopposed so that she could go after LJ's tip. Before the first minute of the game was done, he unleashed another of his games — beat up on LJ. D-Nasty tied her arms up with LJ, ended up elbowing LJ in the chest and managed to get a foul called on Lauren. This was just the first blow in a night-long barrage of forearms, elbows and body blows to LJ anytime she ventured into the paint.

The danger in doing all that is you take the chance of just pissing LJ off and she drops 20 on you in the first half, 32 for the game.

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Another Cooper head game — pulling his bigs from the rebounding positions during free throws and instead having his guards stand there. The way he did it was odd as well. As all the players came up to the key to take their spots, one big would step away and be replaced by a guard. Then another change. Maybe after the first free throw, they'd make another change. I couldn't tell if the idea was to save the forwards and centers the run down the court after the free throws or to try and catch the Storm napping and end up with our guards defending their bigs on the other end once the ball started back up the court. Whatever he was thinking, nothing developed out of it other than weird visuals of 5 guards lining up for rebounds around the key. I hadn't really ever seen that before.

The other team that the Storm faced were the refs, who were also playing their own head games. I feel fairly confident in saying this was one of the worst called games we've seen at the Key for a long time. It wasn't just the missed or ignored calls under the basket, it was also that a player would get mugged by two or three Sparks defenders and nothing gets called but a Storm player out on the perimeter puts up a forearm and gets called immediately. Players were getting rocked, not bumped but rocked, and no call. Players were getting undercut as they drove to the basket and no call. Ref #31, Amy Bonner led the way. If I didn't know better, I'd say she was a former Sparks player who joined the referee ranks.

Still, the Storm were able to cobble together a moderate 8 point lead going into the half. The Sparks had been competitive early but really didn't have any answer for Lauren other than to beat on her. The Storm's defense was doing the job, holding the Sparks to 28 points.

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Everything started well in the third quarter as the Storm built a 14-point lead. Then the wheels started to come off. Maybe the Storm got a little comfortable with the double digit lead. Maybe they thought that without the LA Big 2 that they could cruise for the rest of the game. Maybe having the starters play most of the game led to fatigue. Whatever it was, the Sparks took advantage. The Storm's offense went dead flat. I didn't keep track, but it seemed like they went without a bucket at the end of the third for several minutes.

The Sparks turned up their defensive pressure while the Storm got sloppy with the ball. They cut the lead to single digits. The crowd started to get nervous. They cut the lead to a couple baskets. The Storm couldn't answer. It wasn't until the Sparks tied the game at 59 that the Storm finally woke up and were able to execute on offense.

Sue hit a shot with about 4 minutes left, followed by a gigantic three and then a layup by Lauren to regain control of the game. I think everyone started to feel better, until D-Nasty beat the shot clock with a falling-sideways circus shot. If something like that could go in, the Sparks might be able to pull off the win. Ferdinand-Harris and Thompson were too deadly for a 3 or 4 point lead.

Sure enough, the Sparks hit two more baskets and got it back to a 1-point game. LJ was fouled with 3 seconds left, but only hit one for a 2-point lead.

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The Sparks inbounded the ball and Tina came around the three-point line with Swin on her like glue. Tina got about halfway past the center of the court and turned towards the basket to shoot. Swin got a hand on the ball and made what is probably the Storm's defensive play of the season so far when she got a clean steal. The clock ran out and the Storm started to celebrate.

Even without The Diva or The Diva Jr., the Sparks are still dangerous. They haven't had to deal with the confluence of egos quite yet, so Tina, Betty and Marie are still able to be the big dogs and get the playing time and shots. I really don't see how this team is going to keep it together once all the egos are really in place. In the unlikely event that they find a way to make it work, this game and Sunday's game at LA are vital for the Storm.

I'm not worried about our starters. LJ, Sue and Swin are doing their jobs. Camille and Tanisha are bringing energy and finding ways to fill up their stat lines. It's worrisome that the bench was a bit of a no-show tonight. We've seen them perform will in batches so far, and without significant playing time they can't have an effect. Put them in Coach, let them do their jobs.

Other notes:

Most of the music played during the game was Michael Jackson, including "Beat It" during the new player intro video.

The new Doppler is more active during the game and it seems like he stays out much longer than the old Doppler. He spends more time in the stands and is a little more interactive with the fans. His pants don't stay up, so some things haven't changed.

Lots of local celebs in the stands tonight, led by the NCAA champion UW Softball team. In addition to being introduced in the stands, they came down during a fourth quarter timeout to help Doppler throw t-shirts into the stands. Their superstar pitcher, Danielle Lawrie, pitched shirts passed Doppler. Even though she was taking it easy, she was still smoking the shirts passed Doppler. Facing her real speed would be scary.

There were also members of the Seahawks (not introduced by name), Jean Enersen and Kathi Goertsen, an NBA player who lives in Seattle (I don't remember his name), and Clarence, Betty's half-brother, decked out in Sparks' yellow. He got a well-deserved cheer when he was put up on the big screen.


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