Storm Defeat Sparks 75-74 in Dramatic Fashion

Ever had one of those moments that you wish you could freeze, not only to figure out what happened, but also just to fully appreciate every aspect of it?

The situation in Key Arena after Seattle Storm forward Camille Little made a fast break layup to give the Storm a stunning 75-74 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks is one such moment.

As the game ended, I was still scrambling to piece together exactly what happened while the Key Arena crowd -- unquestionably the best in the league -- was going nuts. When I finally pieced it together, I tapped the writer next to me to relay the information he asked for.

"Yahoo credited Wright with the assist on Little’s layup," I yelled, barely able to hear my own words.

"What?!?" he yelled back, leaning closer with his hand to his ear.

"Yahoo dot com!" I said, doing that stupid thing where you talk more slowly when the problem is that you are surrounded by deafening noise. "Yahoo gave the assist to Wright on that last play!"

"WHO???" he yelled back.

"WRIGHT," I yelled. "WRIGHT GOT THE ASSIST!"

"OK!" he yelled back, giving me the thumbs up.

We couldn’t quite see what happened from our vantage point – the play just looked like a flurry of bodies chasing after a hot potato that ended up in Little’s hands for a game-winning fast break layup to win Game 2 and tie the first round series, forcing a third and deciding game on Sunday.

Having watched the replay of that defining moment on WNBA.com, I realize that there is absolutely no way to approximate in words what it was like to be in Key Arena at that moment.

Perhaps that’s a personal failing as a writer, but I have yet to see words that do the atmosphere justice.

Seriously, I talked about it with someone: pandemonium doesn’t really capture the fact that 9 seconds prior to that the game looked to be over after Tina Thompson hit two free throws to put the Sparks up four points. As Storm point guard Sue Bird would say after the game, "It was not a very promising situation for us."

Conversely, "stunned exuberance" seems to minimize the fact that almost everyone – including the Storm players – were in complete disbelief.

So I’ll just be honest and relay to you my gut reaction right after the play occurred, which came out in rather crude terms:

In complete disbelief, I leaned back in my chair, paused for a moment, looked over at Patrick and said, "Holy s***?!?"

That seems to communicate both the pandemonium (in my mind) and disbelief all at once.

Sorry -- that’s all I got on that front.
 
Nevertheless, the biggest play of the Storm’s season thus far seemed to embody the attitude the Storm had to bring in order to beat the Sparks, even with the boisterous Key Arena crowd behind them the whole way.

Just making plays

Yesterday morning, Patrick of the Chasing the Title blog wrote: "Players like Little, Wright and Walker play [with a sense of urgency] every game, but the rest of the lineup needs to take that cue and play with the same grit, determination and hustle."

As such, it’s fitting that it was Little and guard Tanisha Wright that combined to make what amounted to nothing more than a hustle play to tie the first round series and force a third game.

"I just thought we made a couple plays, said Storm coach Brian Agler. "We have a scrappy team. And we've got to play that way to be effective and it came through here in the end."

Looking at the WNBA.com play-by-play now, it occurs to me that Wright was not in fact credited with an assist on Little’s layup as Yahoo originally posted in their live play-by-play. Of course, that’s probably just fine to Wright, who is among the most humble professional athletes I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting – she rarely takes credit for anything, despite being a fringe all-star and a strong candidate for the Most Improved Player award.

However, she did take credit for one thing and it was actually exciting to witness: according to Storm point guard Sue Bird, it was Wright who suggested that 6’4" center Ashley Robinson should defend the 6’0" Noelle Quinn while inbounding the ball late in the game.

The Wright call at the right time

"Check! Check! Check, check, check – I get that," said Wright, quickly sitting up straight and raising her hand with a slightly exaggerated grin. "She’s 6’5" and I understand that when a 5’11 person is taking the ball out against a 6’5" girl it’s hard to be able to see and be able to make those passes and Ashley did a great job.

"The first time she got a tip on it and the best thing that she did was she communicated and relayed that to us, like ‘guys, I got a tip on it.’…the next time they had to take out the ball she told us, she said, ‘I got a tip on it – she can’t see, she can’t see.’ So that allowed us to say, ok, if she can’t see, then we can put a little bit more pressure on -- instead of just going for the foul, we can really try to get this steal.

"I think Camille did a really good job of doing that; she ran through, got a tip on it, she kept it inbounds, and she got a tip, then I got a tip, and I was able to gather it and throw her the ball."

Watching the final sideline inbounds play, you can see that Robinson didn’t touch the ball at all, but did do exactly what Wright said – Quinn simply couldn’t see around Robinson’s wiry frame and tried to squeeze the ball into a tight space.

"If she can get a deflection - fine," said Agler. "If she can make the ball float through the air a little bit longer it helps. I'd have to watch that play again to see if it was a factor or not...so that was the intent -- to put more pressure on the passer."

As a battered team playing without an All-Star forward like Lauren Jackson and against a post-heavy team like the Sparks, the type of creativity and grit that the Storm exhibited on that play is exactly what will be necessary for them to advance in the playoffs.

"In some ways we’re lucky," said Bird. "Even though we had some players make some huge plays, in tough situations you never know what’s going to happen. So I think we learned in Game 1 and used those things in Game 2 and not only that, we’re going to learn from Game 2 and look to use those things in Game 3. We can only hope to play a little bit better."

Update: Just to demonstrate how loud it was in there, I completely misheard (or misremembered) the question -- I was asked about who got the steal, not the assist...

Transition Points:

  • Tanisha Wright informed me that she is not thinking about a coaching career at this point. Truly a shame.
  • I am waiting for the Seattle Storm to post the Kanye West spoof video with Camille Little shown before the fourth quarter on YouTube or their website.
  • Prior to the game Bird said she wanted to be more aggressive. Think she accomplished that goal?
  • Does the Key Arena crowd have a tangible effect on the game? You really have to be in Key Arena to appreciate the idea that the people watching might have an impact on what occurs on the floor, but coach Agler commented on the atmosphere prior to the game. "Key Arena is a special place to play. Obviously when you're playing for the Storm. It's going to be electric in here. It's going to be energetic...this is a very difficult place to play. And if we give our fans an opportunity to get into it then it's going to be beneficial." Although they gave the fans plenty of reason to "get into it", none of his adjectives are sufficient to describe the atmosphere either.
  • Given the Storm's injuries, it's reasonable to wonder about whether rookie forward Ashley Walker might get some playing time. Coach Agler said the following about Walker prior to the game: "She's available. And I think [her playing time] will be determined on other people's play. And other issues -- foul trouble and things like that."
  • The Storm went on a 12-0 in the middle of the third quarter and were up by 8 points with 8:27 in the fourth quarter left before the Sparks took a timeout. Sparks forward Candace Parker turned the ball over on the play immediately following the timeout, but after that the Sparks went on a 13-2 run over the next 6 minutes, 36 seconds to take a 68-65 lead with 2:33 left in the game.
  • The Sparks shot 26.3% in the 3rd quarter to which Sparks coach Michael Cooper responded, "Field goal percentage comes and goes -- it's your defense. And even though we shot 26%, we're up by 4 with 15 seconds left so that went out the window. It's just about winning the basketball game. But coach Pat Riley used to tell us in the playoffs that the playoffs don't begin until one team wins on the other team's home court. And all they did was held service. Thank you."
  • From Jayda Evans at the Seattle Times:
"Agler wanted me to print that I thought the Storm played above themselves. I didn't. I asked around the team and I do agree that they can play better, but they had to work so hard against L.A., I just don't see how they get out of Game 3 with a win...With LA guaranteed to play better - they always do --Seattle's "better" probably won't get them out of the first round. And, no, Jackson shouldn't come back. Her long-term career is way more valuable then this one game. And what a game it's going to be. "You say we played above ourselves?" Agler said. "Why don't you write that up. I think we can play better. I know we can play better."
  • "What a game it's going to be." Can't wait until Sunday...which will include some more in-depth analysis of this game once I come down from the euphoria of it all. 
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