Storm wins postseason opener against L.A. Sparks
In some sense you have to believe Sue Bird said "enough of this. " She burst into the WNBA as the "It Girl" from the University of Connecticut...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Storm @ Los Angeles, noon, ESPN2
In some sense you have to believe Sue Bird said "enough of this."
She burst into the WNBA as the "It Girl" from the University of Connecticut, touting an undefeated championship season and every accolade a college superstar could imagine. And the winning seemed to continue as she advanced the Storm to the postseason as a rookie in 2002.
But the opponent was Los Angeles, which swept the Storm in the best-of-three series and hasn't allowed the youngsters from the Pacific Northwest to advance in the opening round, yet.
Well, Bird isn't young any more. In Game 1 of a third consecutive Western Conference semifinal against Los Angeles on Wednesday, she used her wits to orchestrate a 79-66 victory.
Bird had nine assists by halftime, finishing with 12 and nine points. Most of the dishes were to former college teammate Swin Cash, who led Seattle with a game-high 20.
"A lot of it was in transition, and that speaks to our defense," said Bird, whose team scored 19 points off 14 Los Angeles turnovers. "We wanted to get as many opportunities in transition as possible. When you get easy baskets, not only does it get us going, it gets the crowd going. A lot of those assists were just dump-offs for layups."
Bird began her craftiness early in the opening quarter. With the Storm down 6-4, Bird shoveled a pass to teammate Tanisha Wright that ignited a 21-5 run to build a 25-11 lead. Los Angeles challenged, but Seattle's depth retained the advantage.
Reserve forward Jana Vesela entered the game in the second quarter and promptly popped three three-pointers against Los Angeles' zone to sustain the lead. She had 11 of Seattle's 18 points in the quarter.
"We tried everything. We'd double-team in the post, they'd kick it out and knock down a three," said Los Angeles coach Jennifer Gillom, who played only six players major minutes.
Stars Candace Parker (shoulder) and Betty Lennox (knee) are out with season-ending injuries.
Marie Ferdinand-Harris led Los Angeles with 18 points, Tina Thompson had 16 points and six rebounds, and Kristi Toliver had 16 points and five assists.
"Vesela came off the bench and hit some huge threes that we didn't expect," Gillom said. "They capitalized on our double-teams, so we definitely have to make some adjustments."
Los Angeles never got closer than eight in the fourth quarter and trailed by as many as 18, allowing the crowd of 10,589 to cut loose by doing the wave.
"I was actually on the bench, and I saw the wave," Bird said. "That's the first time I've seen it (at KeyArena). It was pretty cool. They cheered just as loud the rest of the game, so if they want to have a little fun in their seats, so be it."
While the Storm was able to win its 18th consecutive game at KeyArena, the pressure intensifies as the series shifts to Staples Center for Game 2 on Saturday. Seattle is 4-8 all-time against the Sparks in the postseason, losing the past two without two-time MVP Lauren Jackson.
Seattle has lost in the opening round of its past five playoff appearances.
But it seems this season, Bird and Jackson have had enough.
"It was just awesome, a great atmosphere," said Jackson of her first postseason game since 2007. She finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. "They stuck with us all game. I don't think the score was indicative of how they played us at all. Up until the very end when we got some open shots, they were on us like glue. They just match up really well with us."
• Storm reserve Le'coe Willingham returned to active duty after missing the season finale with a sprained left ankle.
• The Storm unveiled a "We Are Home Court Advantage" banner before the game to honor fans. Names of more than 6,000 were printed on the signage.
Storm 79, Sparks 66
|Los Angeles||15||18||15||18 — 66|
|Seattle||25||18||16||20 — 79|
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