The Fever took the first victory of the playoffs last night behind the solid performances of Tamika Catchings and former Storm favorite Tully Bevilaqua. Tully hit some clutch threes at the end of each half, dove for loose balls and took a critical charge at the end of the game. There were some great outside the game clips with Tully aired by ESPN2 throughout the game and she was on the post game interview segment as well that was aired either during or after the Storm game. In one clip she was at a restaurant with the team answering questions from a teammate about who had the worst smelling shoes. She also was featured in the ESPN2 promo where the players introduce themselves dressed in street clothes. The analysts raved about her game efforts and the championship experience she brings to a team that is new to the playoffs. Go Tully!
I am rather limited in my ability to look at last night's remarkable road win for the Storm in Houston. Somehow my blasted DVR avoided recording the game despite my programming of it to do so. I was unable to identify a scheduling confilct on the Comcast provided, Microsoft driven device, but it is still new to me and I haven't figured out how to find out what the problem was. I miss my DirecTV tivo. I was taking care of my kids and watching my recorded Liberty/Fever game while I got them fed and ready for bed, so I didn't double check to see that the game was recording as expected. I discovered the problem at halftime when my wife came home and took over the kids. I ended up recording the 2nd half and watching the game in real time. I will have a chance to watch the game this afternoon, since NBA TV is running a replay at 1:00 PM PDT. I have set the DVR to record this and the two playoff games this evening. You better believe that I will be double checking EVERY recording.
Here are my thoughts on what I did see.
The Comets made an expected second half push against the first half lead established primarily on the strained/sprained back of Lauren Jackson. Swoopes promptly broke out of her shooting slump and began to hit everything she put up no matter who was guarding her. No one could stop Michelle Snow down low, and she began racking up fouls on JB and Suzy.
The Storm fought back on the strong play of Sue Bird and Betty Lennox. The Comet's run was driven defensively by their zone causing Seattle players to put up too many bad three point shots. Izzy helped break the Storm out of this funk by finding a seam in the zone and hitting a nice midrange jumper. Sue missed her midrange jumper earned by a GREAT pump fake.
Betty began driving into the heart of the Comet defense for layups and fouls. One foul in particular benefitted the Storm when the refs gave Betty two shots she probably didn't deserve. The ref said that she had "gathered" the ball for the shot, however her back was to the basket and the ball never left her hands. It should have been a foul on the floor. This put the Storm in the penalty and Betty took advantage of that by driving the lane every chance she got. She was golden from the line, missing one shot all night.
Sue had two great plays, both off high screens. On one play she pulled up suddenly for a three as soon as her defender left her to defend LJ on her roll to the basket. On the other play she drove away from the screen (for the first time all night) when the defense ran under it, then stopped and popped for a short jumper just below the free throw line when her defender tried to play the pass.
LJ started off the half strong with a long range jumper, and grabbed every rebound on the floor for a few minutes. The double and triple teams, combined with her sore back, finally slowed her down, and she played a more passive role for the remainder of the game. She still managed 19 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and 46% shooting even with her strained/sprained back.
Overall the 2nd half looked like the game I expected. Two things surprised me, though, one pleasantly, and the other not so pleasantly. The Storm managed to control the ball remarkably well, suffering only 12 turnovers. I am not sure whether that was a lack of first half defense by the Comets, or just solid ball handling by the Storm. They only managed to force 9 turnovers on the Comets, but they only average 12 a game, so it is not a big concern. I was very disappointed that JB's foul trouble so severely impacted her ability to contribute. I expected more offense and defense from her, but Snow ate her alive last night. I wonder if worries over friends and damages to her new home in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina were a bigger distraction? I will have to see when I am able to watch the first half later today. I am sure that the thoughts of Storm fans go out to JB and her family in the wake of this disaster.
What does all this mean for the Storm?
Winning a playoff game on the road against a team the caliber of the Comets is huge for the Storm with regard to their confidence. The franchise has only won one road playoff game ever, and has struggled greatly on the road during the past two seasons. (I know they have struggled longer than that, but it has been their big weakness in these past two winning seasons.) I think this could be a catalyst for their post season run much like winning the game against Minnesota without Sue Bird was a catlayst last year. The Storm's 20-14 record only beats the records of LA, Detroit and NY, meaning they will most likely not have home court if they drive all the way to the finals this year. They will need that confidence to defend their title.
It is not likely that the Comets will win in Key Arena on Thursday night. They may have a chance if, for some reason, LJ is unable to play. I do not believe that they have ANY chance of winning two games in Key Arena. The fans will be insane, and the players will fired up. When the Storm play their game, they win. They need to close up the series tomorrow and give LJ's back an extra two days of rest and treatment. Besides, it will save us money on playoff tickets!
There are two interesting games on this evening. Two underdog, former champions take on the conference leaders in their own arenas. There is real potential in both series for an upset to take place as it did last year in the west. Both teams really need wins on their home courts tonight if they hop to achieve those upsets.
Detroit has owned the Sun this season, stepping up their game whenever they face the defending conference champions and earning a 3-1 lead in the season series. They play with a focus and effort that has been lacking during most of their games this season and leaving them as the only team in the playoffs with a losing record for the season. They have one of the better post defenses in the league, and two of its best shooters. The Sun, however, are on a roll to end the season, and have the tallest player in the league in Margo Dydek. They really feel they should have won game 2 of the finals last year (we know better), and are confident they will win the championship this year.
LA has struggled through injuries and coaching difficulties all season. Their current coach is the father of the arrogant star of LA's premier NBA franchise, and has no experience coaching women's basketball. While Michael Cooper and Bill Lambier turned out to be excellent coaches who really learned the players and the style of the WNBA, there has been little other success with these former NBA players being thrown into roles where there are better candidates available. They do have two of the best post players in the game, championship experience and are slowly coming back from injury. Nikki Teasley should be available off the bench. Combine this with the lack of Sacramento's leading scorer, DeMya Walker, and the injury to their sixth "man," Kara Lawson, and you have the recipe for an upset. This is a game Storm fans should be watching closely.