No bad Dream; Storm nears another title
MIKE ALLENDE; Contributing writer
If this is the last time the Seattle Storm plays in front of its home fans at KeyArena this season – and it might be – it wasn’t the prettiest way to go out, but it might have been the gutsiest.
Seattle was out of synch offensively for much of the game, struggled rebounding and didn’t take care of the ball all that well. But in the end, it didn’t much matter as Seattle used outstanding defense and excellent free-throw shooting to defeat Atlanta, 87-84, to take a 2-0 lead in the WNBA Finals Tuesday night in front of 13,898 fans at KeyArena.
Seattle can clinch its second WNBA title in Game 3, set to be played at 5 p.m. on Thursday in Atlanta. If necessary, Game 4 would be played on Sunday at 6 p.m. If the Dream is able to win both games at home, the series would return to Seattle for the decisive Game 5 at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
Seattle improved to 21-0 at home, but just as in Game 1 there was nothing easy about it. Atlanta’s defense pressured the Storm from the start, and the Dream crashed the glass hard, limiting Seattle’s second-chance points. But Storm coach Brian Agler said that people are too focused on what his team didn’t do, and not recognizing what it did do.
“It’s almost like everybody is disgusted with how we played the last two games,” Agler said. “The point is, we’re up 2-0 and we’ve made plays, we’ve made basketball plays. We have not played perfect, we haven’t played our best, but we’ve made basketball plays.”
Indeed, the Storm did make the plays when it counted down the stretch in a game that was physical and had very little flow. There were 50 fouls called – 32 against Atlanta – and Seattle was 27-for-37 from the foul line, making more free throws than the Dream even attempted (23). That helped make up for the fact that the Dream out-rebounded the Storm, 33-26 (and held Seattle to just four offensive boards), and forced 18 turnovers. Of course, Seattle’s defense forced 20 turnovers.
“It was a physical, tough game,” said Storm forward Swin Cash, who bounced back from a foul-plagued Game 1 with 19 points Tuesday. “Both teams got after it on defense and there were too many turnovers. But we battled through it.”
No lead was larger than eight, which Seattle held at 81-73 on a Cash 3-pointer with 2:10 to play. At that point, Atlanta used a 6-0 spurt to close to two and had the ball with a chance to at least tie but leading scorer Angel McCoughtry missed a 3-pointer with 33 seconds left and Lauren Jackson got the rebound. Sue Bird sank two free throws but McCoughtry answered with a layup.
Jackson, the WNBA MVP who had 26 points – going 13-for-17 from the line – made a pair of foul shots but McCoughtry made a 3 with 16 seconds to go to make it 85-82.
Guard Tanisha Wright, who had one of her best games of the postseason with 17 points and five steals and was the primary ball-handler when Atlanta limited Bird’s touches, made two free throws with nine seconds to play. Atlanta’s Kelly Miller made a jumpshot that was originally called a 3-pointer but was switched to a two, with three seconds to play. Cash missed two foul shots with two seconds left but Atlanta was unable to get a good look at a game-winner.
“They played us hard all game but we made plays when we had to,” Wright said. “That’s what good teams do.” Seattle actually trailed by six in the first quarter and didn’t really take any kind of lead until a 13-4 run in the second quarter made it 34-28. Cash and Wright each scored 10 points in the second but the Storm couldn’t hold a seven-point lead. Atlanta led as late as the 1:54 mark of the third quarter.
“Everybody on the outside thinks that because we had 28 wins during the regular season and we won these playoff games that we’re just head and shoulders better than everybody else, which isn’t the case,” Agler said.
“There’s a lot of good teams in this league. Atlanta rolled through the Eastern Conference playoffs. They’re a very good team and they cause you tons of problems. We’re a work-in-progress now playing against them.”
Atlanta vs. Seattle
Game 1: Storm 79, Dream 77
Game 2: Storm 87, Dream 84
Game 3: at Atlanta, 5 p.m. Thurs.
Game 4: at Atlanta, 3 p.m. Sunday *
Game 5: at Seattle, 6 p.m. Tuesday *
* – if necessary