Tina Thompson has been in the WNBA for a long time.
But even 17 years on the league's all-time leading scorer continues to play at a high level as she prepares to retire at season's end, scoring a team-high 17 points as the Seattle Storm put together their best performance of the season in a 78-66 win over the struggling Connecticut Sun.
"I'm just approaching each game as I have for 16 seasons," Thompson said after the Sunday win. "So for me it's not really a difference. I made the decision, I made my peace with it."
A lot of players start to fade as their career goes on, but in her 17th season, Thompson is still playing at a level that keeps her up amongst the league's best.
"I'm not playing an athletic game," Thompson remarked. "I'm just picking and choosing my moments. But I wouldn't have even been playing in a seventeenth season if I didn't think I couldn't."
The Storm are certainly thankful that she has not fallen off, as she was a key figure in making sure they got back on track on the road at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Storm entered the game as the league's worst offensive team, averaging 65.3 points per game and shooting 39.1 percent from the field, while opponents averaged 77.3 points and shot 48.8 percent from the field.
Yet Seattle looked like a completely different team on Sunday, as they improved to 2-3 on the season. The Storm shot 50 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from behind the three-point line – a great improvement on the team's 25 percent showing from behind the arc through the first four games.
Everything was clicking for Seattle on both sides of the ball.
It seemed as though Seattle could not miss, a good sign for a team that has struggled offensively without star players Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. Thompson led the way with her 17, while Shekinna Stricklen added 16, Camille Little scored 15 and Tanisha Wright went for 13.
The Sun did everything they could to try and build momentum. But every time the Sun found a glimmer of hope, Seattle extinguished it by going back down and scoring on their own end.
Defensively, Connecticut made nine steals and scored 10 points on the fast break. Offensively, Connecticut entered the game having made 36.1 percent of their shots from behind the arc but Seattle's pressure on the perimeter kept them to a modest 2-for-10 showing with both threes coming from Kara Lawson, the Sun's top scorer from distance.
An important aspect of Seattle's game plan was getting the Connecticut forwards out of their comfort zone. Tina Charles was often pulled away from the hoop on defense, and Kelsey Griffin was only able to play 20 minutes, due in large part to the four fouls Seattle forced her into making in the third quarter.
"A lot of their touches and also their shots came from Kara as well as Tina," Thompson said. "So what we were trying to do was make them as uncomfortable as possible and limit their touches."
Both teams have struggled to start this season, having both been bit by the injury bug. Connecticut was playing without Renee Montgomery (sprained ankle) and Tan White (broken finger). Bird and Jackson are out for the season for Seattle after knee and hamstring surgery, respectively.
Bird hopes that as the league prepares to enter negotiations over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league will address the roster size.
"I don't think 11, in my opinion, is enough," Bird said after the game. "When you think about how short the season is, when you think about how we all play year round, when you think about how hard these games are, night in and night out, injuries are going to happen, it's inevitable, and 11 is not enough to help.
"When you go on the road and you're down to eight or nine, you can't even practice. You can't even play five-on-five. You can't even walk through a play. A traditional basketball team, I think it's more than 11. I think if you look at how you put together a roster, an 11-man roster takes away specialty players, and you need those."