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Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - Page updated at 03:48 P.M.
By Jayda Evans
After a big sigh, there was a quick prayer.
The Storm was teetering on a one-point lead early in the second half of the decisive Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, and you didn't need a seismograph to calculate Sacramento's rumble. Coach Anne Donovan scanned her bench to see who could stop the tremor and came up with Alicia Thompson.
"Chelle, go in!" Thompson remembered hearing, responding quickly to her nickname.
Only before entering, she mentally recited a passage her mother gave her before dying. It's a biblical verse that can be paraphrased that a belief in God "will give thee the desires of thy heart."
Last night, the desire was a conference championship.
Thompson, a 6-foot-1 forward, strutted into the game and scored the Storm's first seven points in a 20-0 run to blow the game open, sparking Seattle's 82-62 win over the Monarchs at KeyArena.
With the win, the Storm advanced to its first WNBA finals. Seattle will face the Eastern Conference champion to play the Connecticut Sun, with Game 1 scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
With 8,826 fans drowned in colorful metallic confetti, Storm players wearing white championship T-shirts celebrated with hugs on the court.
"Chelle won the game for us, I can't even tell you," said Storm forward Lauren Jackson, who hit all five of her three-point attempts in the second half, a playoff record, and led the team with 27 points.
"She just brought that confidence that we needed. Without what she did, I don't know if we would have won. No, we would have won, but I don't think we would have won like that."
During the run, the Storm kept the Monarchs scoreless for 7 minutes, 34 seconds while it made every dazzling shot in the book.
Seattle made a playoff-record 10 three-pointers in the second half, and was 12 for 18 for the game. Thompson hit a strong baseline layup. And All-Star guard Sue Bird, who had surgery early Monday morning to reset her broken nose, was able to finish with a playoff-record 14 assists because her team was sizzling from every spot on the court.
"When Lauren hit two threes in a row, you could see them (breaking)," Thompson, who finished with seven points and two rebounds, said of the Monarchs. "With each shot, you could see the air go out of them. It was awesome to be out there and be a part of that."
The Storm's pressure defense forced three turnovers, and the Monarchs' retaliation drew three consecutive fouls at one point during the scoring spree.
Yolanda Griffith, Sacramento's 6-foot-4 center who led the team in regular-season scoring, had just two field goals in the second half as the Storm built a 22-point lead.
But it was those three-pointers Sacramento couldn't forget. The Monarchs had worried about Seattle's offense at practice on Monday, saying they needed to find a way to stop the team that had finished the regular season with the league's best three-point field-goal percentage. Only it didn't happen.
The Monarchs lost in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals for the third time in four seasons. The 20-point margin was their worst defeat of the season.
When asked who would win in the Connecticut-Seattle final, Monarchs guard Ticha Penicheiro had a quick reply.
"Heck, if they're shooting like that?" began Penicheiro, making reference to Seattle's 54.7 percent shooting from the field. "I don't care if it's the Lakers, Seattle's going to win."
It took the Storm five seasons to near the pinnacle of its league. It extended a summer sport into autumn, drawing members of the Seahawks and Mariners to its game last night.
The Storm has an opportunity to bring Seattle its first professional championship since the Sonics won the NBA title in 1979. Not bad for a team that was 6-26 its first season and has just two players centers Kamila Vodichkova and Simone Edwards remaining from that roster.
"This is just the conference," said an elated but grounded Bird. "The only time I've won a lot of stuff was in college, and the conference, you're supposed to win that for what you did during the season. It's like, big deal.
"This feels good, for sure, but there's more. There's a whole lot more ahead."
Because it owns the better overall record, the Storm will have home-court advantage in the finals. Game 2 is at 4 p.m. Sunday and Game 3, if necessary, at 6 p.m. Tuesday at KeyArena.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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