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Final score: Storm 78 – Mercury 71 (W) (1-0)

Attendance | 11548

Box Score | Jayda's Game Blog | Norwester's Downpour

Game Photos | Scott E | Rick | Scott L

Welcome to the 2011 season my friends. The Storm are better. They're stronger and the are ready to not only defend their 2010 WNBA Championship, but are current odds-on favorites to repeat.

But first, a little ceremony.

The Championship Ring presentation and Banner reveal was very cool. I remember the ceremony in 2004 being a little more rough around the edges. This came off as fun and while emotional, not overly dramatic. I'm probably not explaining what I mean very well. Having the Coach and then the players introduce each other as they came out to get their rings was a great touch and really allowed us a glimpse into how tight this group really is. They were having fun with each other and it all felt very good natured and heart-felt.

After new WNBA President Laurel Michel said a few words, Karen Bryant and the Storm coaching staff received their rings. After recognizing the players who were no longer with the team — Abby Bishop, Jana Vesela, Alison Lacey and Svetlana Abrosimova — Coach Agler introduced Ashley, predicting that she would end up being the Most Improved Player of the league this year. She brought out Le'coe, pointing out that Le'coe won back-to-back Championships (one with the Mercury and then last year with the Storm). Le'coe brought out Tanisha, who then brought out Camille, then Swin, LJ and finally Sue. Sue talked to the crowd a bit, admitting that she wasn't all that excited about coming to Seattle to begin with but being happy with how things turned out. The ceremony ended with the Championship Banners being revealed. They were already hung next to the 2004 banners, just covered with black fabric. After a countdown, the covers were dropped.

Now it's time to work on a third set of banners.

The Storm didn't start the game out with nearly as much efficiency as we saw in the preseason game against Tulsa. It wasn't that Phoenix was playing that good on defense, the Storm were just missing their shots. They were attacking the paint, going in to LJ or finding cutters for layups – the shots just weren't going in. They finally scored on a Tanisha three.

On the other end, Phoenix wasn't doing much better, although it was due to the Storm's defense and not just poor shooting by the Mercury. The first three Phoenix possessions ended up as Storm steals or bad outside shots. The Mercury's first scores came when they were able to get the Storm off guard on an inbounds pass under the basket.

Katie Smith came in at about the 5:00 mark with Le'coe. They both made an immediate impact, on both ends of the court. After a Phoenix miss, Sue was pushing the ball up the floor and veered to her left to get an LJ screen. Katie was trailing the play and slid out to the right. As the defense closed on Sue and LJ, Sue kicked the ball out to a completely wide open Katie Smith who calmly sank a three-pointer.

How many times over the last 10 years have we seen that happen and died a little inside as we could see Katie finding an open spot and being ignored by the Storm defense. We all knew what the outcome would be since she doesn't miss when given that kind of chance. It's what she does — crush the hopes and dreams of opposing fans.

Now she is ours and she'll go on crushing hopes and dreams... of any other Western Conference team having a chance against the Storm this season.

The second substitutions brought Arob in for LJ, still in the first quarter. Coach Agler is sold on Ashley and seems to be willing to give her playing time and let her prove him right. During the subsequent Storm offensive sets, Ashley got the ball on three occasions. She had a wild shot on one that sailed over the rim, had a decent shot that missed and hit one that looked good from when she caught the ball and through her release (meaning she didn't hesitate or double pump — she went up for the shot with some confidence). The misses did, however, give the Mercury rebound opportunities that they turned into their own offense, as they tend to do. They were as successful as the Storm, lucky for us, and were missing everything. The frustrating thing was that even though 4 out of the 5 Mercury players would release down the court as soon as the shot went up, leaving one player to rebound against 3 or 4 Storm players, the Storm players were being very lackadaisical and kept allowing that sole Mercury player to scoop up the offensive rebound.

At the end of the first quarter, the Storm only led by 2. It could have easily been by 8-10 if they had hit some of those point-blank lay ups and hadn't fallen asleep on defense so many times. The good news was that even though the Storm missed some easy ones, they were actively attacking the paint and going inside. The Mercury were settling for outside shots and only getting layups on fastbreaks. You had to think that if the Storm calmed down a bit, they'd be able to build and keep a good lead.

The Storm picked up their defense in the second quarter. There was one sequence that had them in a scrum on the floor for a loose ball, the Merc getting it and Dupree going up for a shot, getting stuffed, and then even though Taurasi got the ball back, she turned it over after Tanisha's defense forced her into a travel.

The star of the game started to assert herself through this stretch. You might think that with all the Olympians and past MVPs on the floor the one player who was dominating things might have been one of those marquee names. Nope. Miss Camille Little came to play and was imposing her will on the game. She was fighting for rebounds, forcing steals and turnovers, running the floor during fastbreaks, hitting big shots and generally doing whatever she wanted against the Mercury posts.

Camille is fast becoming one of my favorite players. She just doesn't give up or play timidly. She takes advantage of double teams on LJ and gives the Storm a consistent option for scoring and defense. Unfortunately, she went down late in the game with what looked like a knee injury. She left the floor with a little help, having scored 18 on 8-13 shooting, with 9 rebounds, 3 steals and a blocked shot. She led the Storm, for this game, in all of those stats. Fantastic. Katie was named Player of the Game and got the post-game interview, but I think that was because Camille was in the locker room getting that knee tended to. On a team of stars, Camille shined the brightest in this game.

The Storm built a decent lead and had it up to 15 at one point. You can never rest on a lead with the Mercury, and sure enough in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, Taurasi went nuts and started hitting from all over the floor while the Storm had seemed to relax and coast a bit. If the game had been 5 minutes longer, we would have had a tough one, but the clock was on the Storm's side and Taurasi ran out of time. The Storm eased into their first win of the season, their 8th in a row over the Mercury and 22nd in a row at home.

There were a few other noteworthy sequences during the game:

At one point, Coach Agler went with a small lineup of Swin, Katie, Camille, Sue and Le'coe. It looked like he was testing this kind of lineup to see how they fared against a similarly small and quick Mercury team. Of course, Camille rocked it and the others tended to dominate in their one-on-one match ups. I wouldn't be surprised to see this kind of lineup more often, especially when Snell hits the floor.

Ife came in for a short time for Swin. Taurasi and Swin had been playing each other (and damn if that match up isn't entertaining — next time these two get together, you owe it to yourself to really pay attention to them as they work off the ball. It can be brutal) and I was concerned that Ife would get eaten alive trying to keep up with D. Phoenix didn't take advantage however as Diana switched to cover Katie and left Ife alone.

The Storm had a great highlight reel play on a fastbreak. Sue was racing down the court with Tanisha on one side and Le'coe trailing a bit on the other side. Tanisha cut to the basket as the defender edged over to stop Sue. Tanisha got the ball, the defender started to rotate right as T shot it over to Le'coe for the layup. It was great team basketball.

Other Notes:

There was a girl band playing up on the concourse before the game, and by girl band I mean teen age girls. They were playing Nirvana, Soundgarden and other similar rock music. It was a little odd to hear a girl who couldn't have been more than about 12 singing Nirvana's Teen Spirit. I guess it was appropriate, if not very, very loud.

We had a new timeout contest, Sue Bird Racing. It was introduced with a video showing three of the players taking part. Each was wearing a bird costume and had to run down the court, get a ball out of a giant nest and then run back to a basket and make a layup. It was hilarious. Later in the game, some fans got to do the same thing for some prizes. It looks like the Storm will be introducing several new games throughout the season. I hope the rest can live up to the pure comedy of Sue Bird Racing.

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Governor Christine Gregoire were at the game.

The Championship Banner rally towels are awesome — a great way to get the banner into the hands of the fans. Whoever thought up that one deserves a raise.

A fan in the front row under the north basket made a gigantic Championship ring. Shelly Hart got it and put it on Doppler's arm (like I said, it was big). He went over to the owners to show it off. This got me wondering — does Doppler get a real ring? If not, I think he should. He is part of the game experience and obviously works his rather large, red butt off.

Another Doppler note — he's missing his anemometer (the whirly cup thingy that used to me on top of his head). I seem to remember if breaking off during the playoffs. Maybe it was too much of a nuisance to fix it?