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2010 WNBA Playoffs, Western Conference Finals, Game 1

Final score: Storm 82 – Mercury 74 (W) (1-0)

Attendance | 9686

Box Score | Jayda's Game Blog | Live from Press Row

Game Photos | Scott E | Rick | Scott L | Toni

This game delivered the hype. Everyone from the league to the sports writers had been pegging this one as a battle to watch, and neither team disappointed.

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I know that I was nervous about this game. Phoenix is dangerous. I don't care what their regular season record was. I don't care that the Storm beat them 5 times, or that the games were overtimes, blowouts or tight to the end. Give Diana Taurasi a chance and she will find a way to hit the big shots, get the calls or find one of her teammates to do it for her. They can score a ton of points in no time at all and if they get into their running game, they can sprint away with a game. I think we all knew coming into this game that if the Storm could just play their style of game and keep the Mercury from being the Mercury for 40 minutes, they should come away with the win.

If, if, if. Nothing left to do but toss up the ball and let them play.

Except it took three times to get that right. I'm not sure what the refs kept seeing, but they kept getting do overs on the tip off. LJ finally won it clean and we got started.

The Storm certainly didn't start the game in any way to alleviate my pregame nervousness. They came out fairly unfocused and a little sloppy with the ball, missing point blank shot after point blank shot. Phoenix was straight up faster than the Storm and were able to get back and stop two Storm fast breaks before Sue could score herself or find a trailer for an easy layup. Luckily, the Mercury started the game just as cold and were unable to get anything going either.

It started to come together for the Storm at about 5 minutes into the game, or shortly after Le'coe and Sveta came into the game. Talk about your sparks off the bench. They came in and the Storm started clicking. Their defense clamped down on the Mercury, hard, and their offense went from standing around and holding the ball to snappy passing and finding the open shooter for easy baskets.

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The Storm had a stretch through the first quarter during which they held Phoenix to one basket and a couple free throws while the Storm cranked out a string of 10 - 12 points. Phoenix looked lackluster while the Storm dominated. Things started to feel like a blow out... until the Mercury got three quick scores and reeled the Storm right back.

The switch over from dominating Storm to run and gun Mercury happened very quickly. They got a couple baskets in a row and all the sudden seemed to take control. The Storm went back to missing their chippies and not fighting for rebounds, or worse, tapping the ball around instead of grabbing it with two hands and allowing the Mercury to get it. Any time they got a rebound, they treated it like a steal and sprinted down the court for a quick score.

The Storm were helping a little bit by seeming to choose the outside shot first over going into the paint. Miss and then let the rebound go and off go the Mercury. They got the lead down to 8 from 14 and then as the clock wound down on the first quarter, fouled Svet as she shot a three. With .9 seconds on the clock, she had three free throws... and missed two.

I can guarantee that one of the main things Coach Agler drills into the Storm's heads between now and Sunday is free throws. The Storm really shot themselves in the foot with their poor free throw shooting tonight. They missed 9 free throws out of 29 attempts, and it seemed like they came at the worst times like when Svet missed two out of three to end the first quarter. Hit them all and the Storm are up by 11. Miss two and the Mercury get that psychological boost of only being down by single digits, even after the Storm had a pretty good quarter.

As the second quarter started, I made a note that the Storm needed to do a better job of rebounding and get back to their good ball movement, both of which would limit the Mercury's ability to run down the court and get easy baskets.

Um, not so much.

The Merc hit a quick three and then the Storm have a sloppy offensive set that ended up with a turnover as LJ stepped out of bounds. Coach Agler called a timeout to get his team back on track, but it didn't help immediately. The Storm followed that with an offensive foul on LJ for an illegal screen and then a Taurasi three. What could have been an 11 point lead (if Svet had hit all her free throws) quickly became a 3 point lead.

The momentum had completely shifted to the Mercury. They were looking sharper than the Storm. Taurasi had that gleam in her eye and had that tilt to her body language that said "I'm going to score and score a lot." The Storm had been dominating the game, but gave the Mercury just enough daylight to allow them to get their own style of game going. Time for the Storm to knuckle down.

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LJ started guarding Taurasi and got her to drive into the middle of the lane on one play, straight into a waiting Swin who had great position and got a charge called on Diana. That seemed to get the Storm going a bit and they brought more energy on both ends of the court. They started boxing out and fighting for rebounds and stopping the Phoenix fast attacks.

It didn't last long though and the Storm seemed to be having some on-court communication problems. Sue and LJ really got into it after one botched play. LJ was yelling about getting the ball and Sue was yelling right back. That had me worried. Shortly after that and another bad offensive set — lots of slow perimeter passing and waiting for post players to get open leading to a turnover right before the shot clock was going to hit zero — LJ got a technical foul called for complaining to the refs. It happened on the south end of the court, so I didn't see what see said, but the refs didn't wait long before calling it.

And then, back the game goes to the Storm and they start playing much smarter ball. Back to the fast passing and reversing the floor until they got a mismatch underneath or found a wide open jump shot. On defense, they limited the Mercury to single shots and only gave up a couple baskets on broken plays when the Merc were able to sneak someone open under the basket. The Storm rebuilt the lead up to 14 at the half.

While the dogs ran the court for halftime, I wondered which team would come out with the most impactful adjustments. For the Storm, it seemed fairly straight forward — rebound to keep the Mercury from running and be decisive and clean on offense.

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When the third quarter started, the Mercury's adjustment was clear — give the ball to Candice Dupree and let her go to work inside. The first four plays for the Mercury all went into Dupree and she either scored or got fouled on all but one of them. On the last of those four, the Storm tried to anticipate the pass in to her and were able to tap it about, but she got it anyway, got the basket and a foul.

Next play down, again Phoenix went inside but on the miss, the Storm started to tap the ball around instead of grab it. Of course it went back to the Mercury and with a quick pass out to Penny Taylor, they get a three instead of a two. To top it all off, the Storm were fouling like crazy and got themselves into the penalty with more than six minutes to play in the quarter.

The only thing keeping the Mercury from completely wiping out the Storm's 14 point halftime lead was the MVP. I swear she was automatic from just about anywhere on the court as soon as she got even a sliver of open space from her defenders. With her popping jumpers and hitting, she helped the Storm ride out the Mercury's offensive push until they could get their minds back into the game and start to reassert themselves.

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The Mercury were able to chip away and get the lead down to 4, but the Storm finally got back and with a couple straight baskets — a three from Le'coe and one of Sue's patented "the team needs me to score now" baskets — they got it back up to 9 to end the quarter.

Back and forth. Both teams were able to take control for short stretches. So far, the Storm were able to have more "time of possession" for game control and were able to keep the lead. On to the fourth quarter — nerves still twitching.

To begin the fourth, LJ was on the bench getting a much needed rest. She was getting banged up out there to be sure. I remember thinking, "So where's the scoring going to come from," right as Tanisha drained a three, followed by another three.

Penny Taylor answered by going inside and draining some outside threes of her own. What is it with Australian post players and their near-automatic three point shooting. I think Taylor is even quicker on the three point trigger than LJ. She did get a little shock to the system however that might explain why she stays outside — she started a drive in and got rocked by Le'coe. It looked like Penny ran into a damn wall she went flying back so hard. I honestly think Le'coe had solid positioning, but got the foul called on her because of the severity of Taylor's hit. I don't think Penny flopped either, she really got rocked that hard.

The Storm hit another slow patch and came up empty on three consecutive offensive sets. Of course, the Mercury took advantage and started to chip away at the score again, getting it down to 7.

On the next Storm possession, the Mercury played them tough and got the shot clock down to 2 before knocking the ball out of bounds. On the inbounds play, the Storm tried one of their lob plays to LJ. She got the ball and had great position for the layup. Dupree didn't even try to play defense and just wrapped up LJ as the shot when up. I was a little surprised that Dupree gave up on it so quickly. She could have just as easily gone for a block. LJ hit both free throws putting the Storm back up by 9.

With a little over 3 minutes to play, the Storm seemed to be milking the shot clock as much as possible. They aren't at their best when they slow it down that much, but they kept getting bailed out by Phoenix fouls. That would have been great except they weren't hitting their free throws. With a couple minutes left, the Mercury were still in it but were running out of time.

The Storm kept playing the slow down game, almost willing the clock to go faster. With under a minute left and the game basically won, Tanisha drove to the basket and Taurasi fouled her. It was an obvious foul and it was Diana's 6th. Of course, the Key went crazy. I, however, think she took the foul to purposely foul out. She is one of those players who knows exactly what's going on in the game, not only how many fouls she has but she could have probably told you how many fouls all the Storm starters had, how many timeouts both teams had and what brand of underwear Kurt Walker was wearing. She had incredible game awareness. She knew she was going to foul out and did it on purpose. My guess is she was making a point to the refs and going for a little civil disobedience. It was her way of complaining about the foul calls without getting fined. I guarantee that she gets more calls in Phoenix in game 2. Guarantee.

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Either way, the Storm won. They did it even though they had some rough patches and allowed the Mercury to dictate the pace of the game for short stretches. That really was the important thing — keeping the Mercury from running wild for more than a couple minutes at a time. Each time Phoenix looked like they were going to break the game open, the Storm found a way to clamp it back down, rebuild the lead and take back control. It also didn't hurt that they got so much production out of Svet and Le'coe. LJ had an MVP kind of night with 23 points, 50% shooting and 17 rebounds, but our two spark plugs gave the Storm 26 points and 10 rebounds. They were a huge lift off the bench. Add in Sue's timely scoring, her 10 assists and the defense both Swin and Tanisha played on Taurasi and you had a great team win.

I think the Storm have a good chance to beat the Mercury in Phoenix in game 2. The Storm are the better team, top to bottom. They know what they need to do and have done it on the road many times this season. And yes, Corey Gaines, one team can beat another one 7 times in a row. The Storm have already done that and they can do it again. It won't be easy. Diana will be in prime form and the refs will give her the benefit of the doubt. The Storm just have to do the same thing they did tonight — keep the Mercury from running for more than a couple minutes, play solid and consistent team defense and then play their style of offense.

Do all that and it's on to the big show.

Other notes:

Brandi Carlile sang the anthem. I think only Pat Wright from the Total Experience Gospel Choir has ever done a nicer job on the anthem for a Storm game. Beautiful job, Brandi.

Tons of signs again, but the sign of the night and perhaps the season had to to be the one on the north end of the arena, which read, "Even Chuck Norris is afraid of LJ."

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Tanisha was given her award for being named to the league's All Defensive Team. LJ got her third MVP and Coach Agler got his Coach of the Year all before the game. Tanisha looked like she enjoyed it. LJ looked uncomfortable and Coach Agler looked like he just wanted it done so he could get back to work.

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Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkins were both sitting courtside tonight.

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