I will get to the numbers in a moment, but I will start with my thoughts on the evening, followed by some thoughts on the game.
My wife took her first solo vacation in three years this weekend to go visit a friend in LA, so she wasn't going to make the game. I had planned on taking my 2 year old son, Connor, with me to the game but by the time 5:00 rolled around he was still napping, so I headed out on my own. It was pretty exciting that no sooner had I hit 15th Ave NW did I see a truck in front of me with a window sticker saying Go Storm! There was a small crowd outside the arena, and the concourse inside was not too bad. I strolled over an picked up some Terryaki chicken (I do NOT recommend this particular dish...too much sesame) and went down to my seat. I took note of the fact that Holdsclaw was not on the floor for warmups, nor was Janell Burse. I went and picked up Connor's "goodies" from the Doppler's Kids Club we signed him up for at Saturday's open practice.
Speaking of the open practice, Sue Bird is a great sport...she did her Elaine from Seinfeld dance on request during the Q&A. The other keys from the event for me were LJ's "No one knows where Suzy is.." line and Doppler coming up the aisle to us. My two year saw Doppler coming up the stairs and started hyperventilating, jumping up and down and screeching, "Dopper, Dopper, hi Dopper!!" When I finally got him out into the aisle Doppler gave him a big hug and a high five. The whole trip was worth those few seconds. He was happier than I have the ability to describe. He spent last season seeing but never getting to touch Doppler so this was almost overwhelming for him. It is all he talked about for hours. Last night I picked up my wife at the airport after the game and the long napper was still awake when we got back to the house. The first thing he did was tell her all about Doppler, and then I gave him his Doppler T-Shirt and he started walking around saying "Dopper give this gift to me...Dopper give me this shirt!"
Back to the game, there was a pregame kid's dance troupe which I missed while retrieving the Kids Club paraphernalia which the crowd seemed to enjoy. They introduced a new pregame Storm Vision with David and Elise on Arena Vision which will air throughout season. David really seems to be diving into his new role as the production manager. The 15 year old girl who sang the National Anthem had great voice, as she matures and develops some polish she will be quite the singer. The crowd gave Lisa Leslie the requisite boos though the rest of the Sparks got polite applause. AD got huge cheers when announced (again) as Coach of Team USA, and the crowd gave impressive cheers for newcomers Barbara Turner and Wendy Palmer.
The dance troupe and the hip hop troupe were in top form, and did some of the best routines I have seen them do in the past few years. The halftime show was a little weak, but I am not fond of juggling, even with the impressive acrobatics and tricks they threw in for this show. The crowd was quite lively and very much into the game. They were nuts for Wendy Palmer and her amazing performance, drowning David Locke out a number of times during his post game interview. She said that in her 10 years in the league she has never felt the energy of the crowd as strongly as she did last night, but she earned every decibel with her 18 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal.
They struggled with the crowd warm up, adding in a Beat LA chant which was not well coordinated. The crowd did better on their own at the end of the game. Pitman is starting to find a groove and get some flair to his player announcements...he has a catchy rythm for introducing LJ that should stick.
The game was fantastic. It started close and there was some back and forth play until the Storm broke free in the start of the third quarter. LJ got into early foul trouble but Wendy kept things solid in the middle while LJ was sitting. Johnson did an OK job, but she is clearly still feeling her way around. The offense fell apart when Sue sat at the 5:12 mark, and she only ended up with about a minute's rest. The Storm managed a 2 point lead to end the quarter.
Izi looked great out there. She was so fast all night, and had some nice hesitation moves that got her to the basket for easy layups. Newcomer Kaayla Chones does not seem quite settled yet, but considering she arrived at her first practice Saturday morning, we can't complain. The lead flipped back and forth some more until the end of the quarter where Seattle was able to make a run in the last three minutes and close the half with a 9 point lead.
Wendy Palmer came out with a purpose to start the second half. She was scoring in the paint, from the outside, rebounding , blocking shots and getting steals like woman possessed. This opened up things for LJ who finally got some points on the board. Sue was solid and steady on offense all night, taking and hitting open jumpers and finding players where they could score. Again, though, when she sat the offense struggled, indeed for a couple of minutes there were no scorers on the floor other than Betty. Sue's defense was very impressive, however, and she set a franchise record for steal in a game with her 7 steals. The early run created some padding and the Storm closed the quarter with a 13 point advantage.
The fourth quarter included more dominance inside by Jackson and Palmer, and Lisa Leslie fouled out of the game at the 4:08 mark. There was a distressing moment early in the fourth when Izi took a fall during a failed fast break by LA that led to a fast break by Seattle. It happened right in front of me, but I was watching the ball and missed the hit. Wendy was forced to foul when the refs continue play with Izi on the floor under the basket. The Storm players couldn't guard the paint without stepping on Izi and LA strolled right in for a layup that was waived off by the foul on the floor. She did get up on her own, and Jayda Evans reports that LJ hit Izi with her elbow (she only seems to injure her mates with those elbows!) but Izi is fine. The best part about the fourth quarter was the constant defensive effort by the reserves. Gortman throughout the game made some nice defensive plays, as did Tanisha Wright. Barbara Turner struggled, picking up fouls and failing to be effective at either end of the floor. I think she just needs a little more time. Tiffani Johnson seemed to warm up by the fourth quarter and improved her offensive and defensive performance. Betty, Izi and Tanisha made some great interior passes to Johnson and to Chones which would have been layups by JB, but were bobbled by the newcomers. Again, this will come in time. The Storm held on for a dominating 90-67 win over the Sparks.
Some random thoughts on the Sparks:
Temeka Johnson is going to have a great year. She is very fast, plays intense defense and has some great fakes that get her open shots and paths to the basket. Sue Bird finally had to give Johnson a taste of her own medicine in the second half with a juke step of her own.
I have never before had the opportunity to watch Lisa Leslie under the basket up close. My angle underneath the basket at the visitor's end of the floor gave me a great look at her efforts. She really is amazing down on the left block. She uses the same move to the right then spinning to the left for a layup or a fadeaway over and over again. The defender and the help defender both knew it was coming and they still couldn't guard her, no matter who it was.
Mabika looks like she is back. She really looked solid out there.
This team, once Holdsclaw returns, could really be better than I thought.
By the Numbers
Wendy Palmer: +26
Sue Bird: +24
Iziane Castro Marques: +22
Tanisha Wright: +14
Tiffani Johnson: +13
Betty Lennox: +12
Lauren Jackson: +10
Barbara Turner: +5
Janell Burse: 0
Shaunzinski Gortman: -3
Kaayla Chones: -6
Most Effective Lineups
Least Effective Lineups
Christi Thomas: +2
Doneeka Hodges: +1
Murriel Page: -1
Lisa Willis: -4
Lisa Leslie: -8
Brandi Davis: -13
Jessica Moore: -16
Tamara Moore: -17
Emmeline Udongue: -17
Mwadi Mabika: -18
Temeka Johnson: -21
Most Effective Lineups
Least Effective Lineups