Powerful Seattle Storm acts like champion in playoff opener
The Storm should hoist its second championship in September. It won't happen easily, but it should happen convincingly.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Nothing explains the Storm's riveting ascent better than the dueling roles they juggle in these WNBA playoffs.
In one storyline, they are cast as misery's unenthusiastic companion, as losers of five consecutive first-round series, as victims of injuries and incomplete rosters over the past half-decade.
Yet, amid a dream season, they're also playing the part of the dominant pre-champion, the overwhelming favorite to win it all, the team that can't lose unless a catastrophe strikes.
They're the hunter and the hunted. They're scuffling with demons and floating with angels. And if this sounds more like they're embarking on a psychological voyage than a playoff run, well, they kind of are.
This isn't an unbeatable basketball team, but here's a truth that few are willing to admit out of respect for competition: The Storm should hoist its second championship in September. It won't happen easily, but it should happen convincingly. The team is that good, and assuming the squad remains healthy, only one foe could derail those aspirations.
That's not to say this team has mental concerns. To the contrary, the players are as strong-minded as it gets. But even the best teams beat themselves from time to time with mistakes, lapses in focus and ill-timed slumps. For another team to win the title, it'll take that kind of slip-up from the Storm.
On Wednesday night, Seattle proved as much. The Storm opened the postseason by toying with the depleted Los Angeles Sparks in a 79-66 victory before an electric crowd of 10,589 at KeyArena. It wasn't their finest game. They played in spurts, but they were never in danger of losing. If not for the crowd's energy and eardrum-vibrating noise level, it would've seemed like just another solid Storm performance.
Sure, there will be greater tests, and here's guessing that the first one will come Saturday in Los Angeles. Up 1-0 in the best-of-three series, the Storm can exorcise the first-round demon in the next contest, but closeout games are always tough. It would be even more encouraging to see the Storm stomp on an overmatched foe that is playing without All-Star forward Candace Parker and veteran Betty Lennox.
The playoffs aren't about destiny for the Storm. It's about responsibility. This franchise has been given an incredible gift — a Perfect Storm, if you will. After a few tough years, this is the right team at the right time with the right people. You have to capitalize on these opportunities in sports. They don't come along often.
Throughout the regular season, as the Storm soared to a fabulous 22-2 start and finished with a 28-6 record, the players were focused on this moment. They motivated each other without even needing to say inspirational words. The core of this team has been together for three years. They know each other. They know it's their time.
"It's definitely an unspoken thing," forward Lauren Jackson said earlier this week. "We've grown up together. We don't need to talk about stuff. We know."
In this game, the Storm won with balance. In the first half, its bench led them. Led by the shooting of forward Jana Vesela (11 points on 4 of 4 shooting, three three-pointers), the bench increased the lead from six points to 14 by the end of the first quarter. From there, the Storm cruised.
After being criticized for having a short bench his first two seasons, Agler, who also serves as the general manager, has built a balanced team. The top eight players can all shoot from anywhere on the court. There's no true, dominant post player on the roster, but the Storm thrives on versatility. Agler can plug in a number of different combinations and expect results.
By comparison, Los Angeles played only seven players Wednesday night. And the seventh man only played six minutes. The Sparks couldn't maintain the intensity to play at the level of a superior opponent. Sure, it would be different if Parker was healthy, but she's not. It's just another reason why this season has been aligned for the Storm to excel.
"We felt good coming into the season," Agler said. "Did I think the regular season would play out the way it did? No. But I thought we had the potential of being a very good basketball team."
The Storm is more than very good. At times, they're great. In these playoffs, they're playing against their own standard. They control their destiny. It's no longer about managing injuries or maximizing an outmatched team. They're the beast now. They're worthy of their longtime playoff motto, "Bring It."
One more victory, and the first-round monkey is off their back.
Six more, and the championship is back in Seattle.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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