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2010 WNBA CHAMPIONS

2010 WNBA Finals, Game 3

Final score: Storm 87 – Dream 84 (W) (3-0)

Attendance | 10522

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

Game Photos | Scott E | Scott L | Toni

They found a way.

That has to be the moral of the story, the key takeaway, the overarching theme for the 2010 WNBA Champion Seattle Storm.

They found a way.

As we stood there behind the Storm bench, the hundred or so Storm fans who made the trip to Atlanta, exulting and crashing with each made three and each missed free throw, each defensive lock down and each inexplicable shot by McCoughtry, we knew that in the end they would find a way.

It was interesting as we left the arena (after nearly being picked up and carried out by a 5-foot-nothing usher who was starting to get annoyed at being ignored with her pleas for us to "please exit the arena") how many fans agreed with me that on one level, this win was a bit anti-climactic. It was partially because the season seemed to end so soon, and not on our court, and what do we do now?

There was also a strong feeling that of course we won. Of course we swept. I think to a fan, the sentiment was that the Storm were absolutely going to be Champions. Yes, we may have had our doubts about Game 3, but there ultimately was no doubt.

Let that sink in a bit and tell me if you didn't think the same thing.

I had no doubt that this team would win. I had every confidence that they would hit the big shot, that Coach Agler would make the right move, that LJ would be the best player on the court, that even if someone had a boneheaded play one minute they would come right back and do something amazing the next. I knew from the top of my head down to my green underwear (and yes, I wore green underwear for every playoff game - NOT the same pair) that this team would find a way.

So yes, after the cheers died down, the high fives stopped stinging, the confetti made it to the floor (Awase was prepared and brought several bags of confetti, just in case) and as we wound our way through the bowels of Philips Arena looking for the loading dock to cheer the team bus, the sense that "of course we won - it was the only possible outcome" was hard to shake off.

Don't get me wrong, we were hopping around, screaming, hugging, high fiving, cheering, chanting and smiling like fools at the end of that game. There really is nothing quite like being with a group of Storm fans on a road trip, let alone on a Finals road trip. And man oh man, I hope it all came through on the TV because we were rocking Philips like it was KeyArena East.

The mayhem started well before the game at the Dantanna's restaurant in CNN Center. Nerd2, longtime Storm fan representative on RebKell's and recent addition to the Stormfans.org forum, had the foresight to organize a prefunk and was able to get the word out so that nearly 40 fans showed up. A couple people were making signs, the tinsel-haired ladies from section 125 unveiled their own version of the iconic "Not in our house" sign which read "Not in your house either." Every time a new group of fans would arrive, they'd get a cheer. We of course talked hoops and everyone had their own predictions about the game - the prevailing opinion was that if the game was close at the end, Atlanta would probably win since they were at home (shows what we know, just being cautious and respectful of what the Dream can do offensively I think). We ate some good food and the serving staff was great. They comped us our (non-alcoholic) drinks and waved off attempts to pay. We posed for a couple group photos and headed out to Philips.

Storm at Dream  4

A quick Atlanta geography lesson: Philips is basically attached to the gigantic CNN Center, which is next door to the Olympic Centennial Park (home to their Aquarium and the World of Coke Museum. Yes, we did the World of Coke... and we bought stuff. Freakin' tourists). Downtown Atlanta is really fairly compact. The only time we cabbed downtown was for speed's sake - it was all within comfortable walking distance of all the hotels.

We got up to the will-call windows early. Someone made the observation that only Seattle fans insist on getting to the game not only by tip-off, but when the doors open. I know Angie and I get all twitchy if we aren't in our seats within minutes of the doors being opened. Atlanta fans, not so much. I don't think the seating really looked near capacity until the third quarter. Angie went up to the concourse at the beginning of the second for some drinks and almost missed the whole quarter because so many people were up there instead of watching the game. I really don't get that.

The Storm fan energy started to crank up as more and more of us showed up at the will-call. The Dream fans that were there were a little taken aback I think. We did a couple cheers. People were joking around and laughing. Then a local news crew showed up and started calling out to interview fans who had come from around the country. There were Storm fans from Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Canada (our very own JenDub) and of course the Emerald City. As soon as the camera started recording, we started letting loose. The big signs came out, a couple of chants started going (including a sweep, sweep, sweep chant that made a few of us worry that fate was being tempted) and we were echoing off the walls. The Atlanta fans took it all in stride and most of them were willing to talk a little good natured smack, pose for some pictures, and basically be gracious hosts.

Storm at Dream  11

We got inside and made a beeline for our seats, right smack behind the Storm bench. My first impressions of Philips Arena were that it was a bit gaudy. The concourse had tons of food vendors, easily two or three times as many as KeyArena, but it felt more like a mall food court that was on steroids. There were signs and banners and reader boards and giant plastic hawks and visual distractions everywhere. Inside, one whole side of the arena was dedicated to luxury boxes. They started about the same place as they do in the Key, right at the top of the lower bowl. But here, they go up six levels all the way to the very high ceiling. With that wall of glass on one side and equally tall black curtains on the other three sides, it felt fairly cave-like. At least the lighting on the court was decent. Actually, with the walls and ceiling being so dark, focus was effectively directed to the court. For being an NBA arena and having all those luxury boxes, you'd think their scoreboards would be top notch. Not so. It looked like they salvaged a high school gym for the two boards that showed the player stats on the end behind one of the baskets. For all the problems we seem to have sometimes with our stat boards not working, at least they are readable and give you some information. These ones were lit up with what looked like old Christmas lights and half of them were out. I need my stats during the game dammit. Thankfully, the WNBA Courtside app was working. I need my fix. I. Need. It.

Once a critical mass of Storm fans (what is a group of Storm fans called anyway? A Thunder maybe?) got to our section, the chanting started. We chanted for each player that walked past. We chanted for Adia. We chanted for Dick. We chanted for Jayda, who looked mightily uncomfortable. We did a "I say Nancy, you say Darsch" chant. Missy, Coach Agler, the owners, everyone heard it when they walked past. It was pretty funny as the few Dream fans who had the misfortune of sitting in the middle of this rowdy mess showed up and realized what they were in for. There were definitely some worried faces... and we didn't disappoint.

As the introductions loomed, I took it upon myself to make use of the Meganator and do our normal pregame warmup routine - you know, everyone take a deep breath, high five the fan next to you, etc. I had Angie prompting me with the correct order so I wouldn't miss anything. I was yelling so loud and putting so much into it, I honestly strained my back a bit. And, if I might say so myself, my timing was perfect because as soon as we finished the Storm were introduced and we segued right into cheering for the team.

Storm at Dream  37

The Dream intros were kind of weak, at least compared to the show we've been getting before each Storm playoff game. I don't know about you, but that home court advantage video gives me the damn chills every time I see it (and not because I'm in it - not sure what they were thinking on that one). The Dream got nothing but a little smoke beyond what I assume is their normal introduction routine. It left me very "meh."

Alright. Let it begin.

I'm not going to go into exhaustive detail about the game since you all have seen it, probably multiple times by the time you read this. For the most part, it followed the same pattern we've seen in the last two games almost to the point that I could do some copy and paste and call my Gameday done.

There were important differences, however, mainly in how the Dream contained LJ for large portions of the game and how the Storm didn't contain Angel much at all for equally large portions of the game.

Unlike the first two games, the Dream were largely able to keep LJ from lighting them up early. Credit their coaching staff for finally making that adjustment. LJ had been able to seemingly score at will in Games 1 and 2. She had been putting on an offensive show, hitting from three, hitting short-range fade-away jumpers, taking in layups against two and three defenders and getting to the foul line often. Tonight, she had a ton of trouble getting started. The Dream were fronting her more successfully and forcing passes in to her way up which resulted in a couple turnovers or forcing her to jump so high for them that she ended up losing position. They also came at her much more quickly with the double teams and made her look to pass back out instead of looking for her shot. The good result for the Dream was that she was held to single digits through the first half and into the third quarter. The good result for the Storm was that the other Storm players were able to get their own offense going and we ended up with maybe the most balanced scoring out of our starters for any of our playoff games.

On the other end, Angel looked like she was going to outscore the Storm all on her own. For as balanced as the Storm scoring was, the Dream scoring went like this: Angel, Izi, Erika a little and then a big goose egg. McCoughtry ended up with 35, a new Finals record I think. There were times she would get the ball and go coast-to-coast, against one, two or four Storm defenders and still hit a basket. Everyone in the arena knew she was going to do it, but the Storm seemed powerless at times to stop her.

Storm at Dream  61

Actually, this exposed one of the biggest weaknesses in the Storm defense - putting pressure on the ball handler going up the court. The Storm just don't do it, even when they know a player like Angel or Izi is always looking to get some speed and blow past defenders on their way to the hoop. No one would pick up the ball handler until the three point line, if then, and by then it was often too late. I really didn't get that. Meet her at half court at least and slow her down or force her to change direction. Way too many times, Angel, Izi or The Miller would get to the three point line unmolested and either drive in or stop for a wide-open three.

The even more infuriating thing about that was it always seemed to happen when the Storm were able to oust their lead out a bit. Again, carbon copy to the last couple games, the Storm would get out a few points and then the Dream would respond and more than often it was the exact scenario I described above.

Talk about carbon copy - the first half ended the same way it had for the last two games, with a buzzer beating Dream three to put them up by one. Tanisha was guarding Angel and went under a screen instead of staying with Angel, which gave McCoughtry all the room she needed to stop, pop and splash. Ack, and cue the inflatable weirdness (see Other Notes).

Before the game, I had been talking to someone about how the Storm might pull off a win. In my scenario, the Storm needed to hang with the Dream through the first half and keep them from building too much of a lead. At some point in the third or very early fourth quarters, the Storm would need to clamp down on defense and kick out their own lead of at least 10 points, but even that wouldn't be safe. My thought was that given the Dream's relative youth, being down by double digits late in the game might be enough to get them desperate and rattled, forcing them to make mistakes on offense and fouls on defense.

That did indeed end up happening, but not before the Storm fell apart and let the Dream take a 5 point lead. The note I wrote about halfway through the third quarter was, "the wheels are falling off the Storm." The first half of the third quarter was an ugly display of Storm turnovers, fouls and generally unfocused, tired play. The Dream only increased their halftime score by four, but they finally had the crowd behind them and it felt like they had firmly taken control of momentum and the game.

The Storm took a timeout and things didn't get much better very quickly. Sue drove the ball into the paint and got hacked, but didn't get a call. Going the other way, she just jumped in front of McCoughtry and got called for a blocking foul so that she could make a point to Kurt Walker. Sometimes that helps, but that particular foul put the Storm in the penalty. Kind of a costly point to make.

Coming back down the court, Swin was open at the top of the three point line, but hesitated and passed on the shot. I really didn't like her body language at all. She looked passive and indecisive. She had missed a couple earlier and they really were in her head.

At this point, I was worried about losing this game. LJ was stuck at 6 points. Swin was passing up shots and Sue was getting frustrated enough with the refs that she was making some poor game decisions. On top of that, Angel was on track to drop a ton of points and the Storm weren't stopping her at all. It smelt like a Dream win in the making.

Except for that one thing. The Storm found a way.

All the sudden, the Storm start finding LJ in the post with single coverage and she goes to work. That opens up the perimeter and all the sudden Swin is hitting back-to-back threes. All the sudden Camille, LJ and Swin are boxing the hell out of everyone and ruling the boards. All the sudden Sue and Tanisha start wrapping up the Dream guards like heavy blankets.

Storm at Dream  156

And yes, before any of us know it, the Storm have put together a 16-1 run, put the Dream on their heels and completely taken control of the game. Through the fourth quarter, the Storm are able to maintain a 9-11 point lead as the Dream resort to fouling and putting the Storm on the line.

I love being right.

Of course, being a game in this series, the Storm didn't keep that lead to the end. The Dream, or rather Angel McCoughtry, came back by getting fouled on three point shot after three point shot (4 of those for the game, has to be a record) that aged Coach Agler by a year or two each time. Add on to that the fact that the Storm AGAIN were missing free throws at the end of the game - Tanisha missed two for crying out loud - and the Dream closed to within 1 on an Izi drive and layup.

Camille got fouled and with 6 seconds on the clock, stepped up to the line and drained two free throws to put the Storm back up to three.

The Dream had some time left, enough for a quick play. There was no question who was going to take it. Luckily for us, Angel was feeling the pressure. On her last trip to the free throw line before the final play, she had to walk away from the line before each of her three shots to gather herself. That was like blood in the water. While she hit two of the three free throws, you could tell she was feeling it. So, on the final play, she gets up to the three point line and takes a straight on shot. Miss. The Dream get the ball back and pass out to The Miller and time runs out before she can get the shot up and over Tanisha.

Storm at Dream  237

Game over. The Storm sweep the Dream by a total of 8 points over 3 games.

The Storm are the 2010 WNBA Champions.

Storm at Dream  255

Mayhem ensued on the court and in KeyArena East, aka section 116.

What can I say? The next half hour was a bit a blur of us cheering every little thing the players did on the podium, going crazy every time one of them turned to us to wave, say thank you, or blow us a kiss. The Dream fans filed out pretty quickly, not wanting to stick around and watch the trophy being handed to another team. I don't know if ESPN showed the stands at all during or after the ceremony, but it was basically us, the media, the Storm and a handful of fans dotting the rest of the seating.

We finally got the boot and decided to head down to where the team bus would come out. We got down there eventually, but found out it would be at least another half-hour or longer before they came out, so most of us decided to head to the Westin where they were staying and stalk them there. Once there, we congregated in a lobby. Eventually, Karen Bryant came by and said the team still hadn't left the arena, but she would make sure they would stop by on their way upstairs. The owners came by next and were happy to see us. We got more info about the parade, which you all know about by now (and will have occurred by the time this gets posted). That started a flurry of flight changes. I can tell you the airlines made a pretty penny off of us this time.

The team finally made it, but really didn't stop to talk. We got some high fives, a couple people got some pictures and a lot of thank yous. You know, that was enough for most of us. A big group went up to the restaurant at the top of the Westin, a rotating gig on the 72nd floor, and closed the place down. They actually had been closing but graciously agreed to stay open so we could celebrate a little. And we did, and it was good. Nothing like a couple pina coladas to sooth a sore throat.

Storm at Dream  273

They found a way. I'd love to think the hundred or so Storm fans who were there made a difference. I think in objective counting-for-points terms, we forced at least four free throw misses. We got Bales for two for sure and I think we got Izi for two as well. She shot 50% at then line at home. That's not natural. That was us.

From a subjective standpoint, I have to believe we buoyed the team when they needed it. There were times that it felt like we were out-yelling the Dream crowd. We were projecting just as much energy as we were sound. In the end, we did as much as any group of fans could on the road, and I feel like we made a difference.

2010 WNBA freakin' Champions.

Okay, now it's starting to sink in.

Other notes:

A HUGE, GIGANTIC ALL-CAPS THANK YOU to the Dream ticket staff, especially Lauren and Richard, for helping us get that section and for helping get so many of us in it. We wouldn't have had nearly the impact on the game if we had been spread out all over the arena or gulaged up away from the court. For all the WNBA fans out there, you can't go wrong if you call these great people if you plan to go to a Dream game.

Tina Thompson was sitting courtside, directly across from the Storm bench. Looked like she was texting most of the game. During the second half, the arena crew started putting anybody famous up on the big screen. They showed one of the Atlanta Hawks, a couple Falcons, former Falcons coach Dan Reeves (he was the only one I recognized) and had a camera crew over to show Tina, but game play started again so they didn't get to her. They never made it back, so the one prominent WNBA star at the game didn't get introduced, but the football and NBA players did. Ouch. Tina wasn't the only WNBA player there, however. I recognized eight or nine. It took same double takes because seeing them in street clothes and out of context can make it tricky.

Lots of Storm family was at the game. LJ's mom and dad. Tanisha had a small entourage including her father. She looks just like him. One touching moment right after the Storm got their Championship hats and shirts - Tanisha came right over and gave her shirt to her dad, who then proudly started holding it up and having other family members take photos of him with it. Swin, Sue, Camille and Le'coe also had family and friends at the game. I really think the only ones without a bunch of people there were the non-LJ international players. But then they had us.

Storm at Dream  247

What passes for in-game entertainment at other arenas always mystifies me. The Dream had a dance team that were all adults and might have had cheerleaders, although they might have been members of the dance team doing double duty. They had halfcourt shots like we do and their mascot was out doing his thing, although he made fewer appearances than Doppler does. He actually may have injured himself trying to mess with us. He came over, stood on the hockey wall and proceeded to moon us. As he was dismounting from that, he slipped off the wall and fell into the second row of courtside seats. He brushed it off and continued tight-roping his way along the wall. I really don't remember seeing much more of him after that. All of that was pretty standard stuff. The weird came when they did their t-shirt tosses. They weren't Dream shirts, they were Meet the Browns shirts as in Tyler Perry presents Meet the Browns on TBS, very funny. The crowd went crazy for them. It made me wonder if it wasn't some sort of experiment to see how lame a thing they could offer up before the fans would say, "No thanks, that's just too lame." Somehow, Meet the Browns shirts exceed that threshold. But that wasn't the weirdest part. The majority of the halftime was taken up by three inflatable animal-NBA player hybrids - Shaquille O'Seal, Dennis Frogman (Rodman, if that isn't a signal as to how old these things were) and Yao FlaMingGo - dancing, if you want to call it that. It was extremely odd, a little uncomfortable (especially when the seal came over and wagged its little tail on the scorer's table in front of Adia for like 30 seconds) and just bizarre. And it went on for what seemed like 10 minutes. Freakish.

Fans with signs? Advantage Storm fans, and I don't mean what you saw in Games 1 and 2 versus Game 3, I mean what we had with us versus all of the Dream fans. Seriously. There were maybe 10-15 signs that were pro-Dream. We easily doubled that. I guess the Dream fans are still learning this being only their third year, but come on. This was the Finals. Crack out a sharpie or something.

Well after the trophy presentation, Donna Orender did an interview with Dick and Adia. As soon as she was done, I yelled over to her, thanking her for having the trophy presentation on the court instead of in the locker room or on a practice court like they did in Phoenix. Talk about anti-climactic if they had done it somewhere else. Once she started to walk away, someone started an "All-Star Game" chant. She smiled, nodded and waved as she left. I think she knows - we want the damn All-Star Game at KeyArena.

One kind of melancholy moment. The Philips arena staff wasted no time in ripping the WNBA Finals logo stickers off the court. I think a Storm fan ended up with one, although they may never get it pulled back out of the giant wad it became as the two guys pulled it up.

On may into the Westin to wait for the team, I ran into Jenny Boucek outside. She was forbidden by league rules to enter Philips Arena and had to watch the game on TV. She was understandably irritated and upset about missing out on being with and helping the team play and win the game. She will be getting a ring, as is only right. I think this whole staff travel restriction business is one thing the league tried in order to save money that has failed utterly. Some teams openly flaunted rule, so the only ones that were harmed by the rule - that teams could only travel with one assistant coach - were the ones that followed it. I really think the league should rethink and drop this rule. Let Jenny do her job, regardless of the venue.

Update:

I wrote the above Gameday on the plane coming back to Seattle. I'm very happy to add that after tonight's celebration event at KeyArena, I feel like I got the finish that was lacking in Atlanta. Hearing from all the players and Coach Agler, seeing the video recap of the season and playoffs, hearing the cheers of more than 5000 fans and getting the confetti raining down from the rafters were all exactly what I needed. That was the perfect way to end the playoffs, at home with the trophies and lots of confetti. Once again, thank you to the Storm front office and the ownership for knowing the fans and delivering what we want and need, even if we didn't know what that was before we got it. Thanks and see you all next season.

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