HOUSTON — Storm coach Anne Donovan gave her postgame tirade, but the players have heard the speech before. For the fifth time this season Seattle held a late lead and tossed it away like a used program.
Houston, namely forward Sheryl Swoopes, picked it up to help the Comets win their seventh consecutive home game, 84-74 at the Toyota Center. With the win, Houston also leads the three-game series 2-0. The final matchup between the teams is Aug. 12.
Dejected faces seated in front of the visitors' lockers stared at the ground as reporters circulated searching for answers. It all sounded like a reiteration from games past.
"This is something that we always talk about, that this is something that we got to learn from. We're always saying that," guard Betty Lennox said. "I don't even want to continue to say it because obviously we're not doing it. We've got to focus on it a little harder, a little bit more. We've got to find a way to get it done."
This time the Storm led the Comets by three points entering the fourth quarter of a game that already had nine lead changes and 11 ties. But while the Storm played much better than during a 25-point loss to the Comets in May, old problems emerged.
The Storm's defense couldn't contain the surge of reigning MVP Sheryl Swoopes, who scored 11 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter. Seattle had trouble protecting the paint.
"At the end of the game our defense killed us," said Lauren Jackson, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds. "There are things that we've got to take control of and we're not. It's inconsistent. It happens in patches and we can't be like that anymore. This whole league has gotten better, and we're not rising to the occasion as often as we need to."
With Houston leading 66-63 with 5:22 left, Storm guard Sue Bird, who made three three-pointers in the third quarter, raced down court for another attempt. But the ball rimmed out.
Swoopes grabbed the rebound and scored on a 15-foot jump shot, sparking a personal 6-0 run to put the Comets up 72-63. Houston (10-5) made 8 of 10 free throws in the closing two minutes to preserve the win.
"That killed me. I'm very familiar with that play," Bird said of her missed three-pointer. "The basketball gods didn't want that to go in — it did everything but go in. That one I wanted."
Lennox was the Storm's hot hand, especially with Jackson stymied by double teams and shooting 3 for 7 from the field. Lennox scored 11 of Seattle's 21 points in the opening quarter and had 18 at halftime.
In the second half the Comets started double-teaming Lennox, but the veteran continued to take the ball right at Houston. She finished with a season-high 29 points on 13-for-20 shooting.
"I can't remember her missing seven shots," Houston coach Van Chancellor said. "I don't believe I've ever seen a more dominating performance. But that was because we were not going to do certain things. We were not going to let Lauren Jackson get off on us because of how much she has carried that team emotionally."
The Storm (7-8) almost nullified the positives from its 30-point win against San Antonio on Friday. The team is tracking its performance this month because it's the roughest stretch of the season. Seattle has a back-to-back set against Sacramento at home on Tuesday and at Los Angeles on Wednesday.
"They made plays," Bird said of the Comets. "When they needed to get scores, they did. And it wasn't just lucky shots. Sheryl was pounding it inside and getting layups, and on the other end we weren't doing the same. I don't feel haunted by the fourth quarter, but hopefully we can learn from it."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com