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10/8/04 at Connecticut

Final score: Storm 64 – Sun 68 (L) (0-1)

WNBA Finals Game 1

Attendance | 9,341

Anthem Watch | David Cassidy — yes, the Partridge Family guy. His performance was part lounge singer part love song. I said to our group afterwards, "It's okay to love your country, but not "love" your country." A little too much sex appeal there Dave. It wasn't the "Thong Song," it was the Anthem.

Fan Psyche | Them — "How nice that we're winning a game." Us — "So this is what Sacramento felt the other night."

Game Highlight | Ugh. The Sun only shot 50% from the free throw line. I don't know how much of that was us yelling "Brick!" but at least 2 or 3 were. That's about it for highlights.

Halftime | Ronnie Spector singing some of her hits from last century. No one paid much attention to her.

Flopometer | The teams traded flops early in the game. Other than that, most of the offensive fouls from our vantage point looked legit — you could tell because the players were actually getting rocked but not falling, which meant they weren't acting (or they're getting better at it).

SF.O Keyword of the Game | Crap!

Game Photos | Game Photos (Larry Morgenweck)

Okay, not the same team that steamrolled the Monarchs in the WCF Game 3. Actually, the Storm's performance was reminiscent of one of the games from the Conference Finals, except that they seemed to be emulating the Monarchs instead of playing Storm basketball.

The differences between their domination over Sac in the second half of Game 3 and this lackluster performance were painfully striking. Poor ball movement, a lot of standing around on offense while the point guard dribbled the ball around, bobbled passes, telegraphed passes into the post so that the Sun defenders were able to get a hand in and tip the ball away, and missed cues on defense that allowed the Sun to get away with passes under the basket and easy layups.

The Storm looked a step or two slower than the Sun, plain and simple.

The most glaring example of this came towards the end of the game as the Storm were clawing their way back into the game and were down by 5. I think there was 3 minutes or so on the clock. The game was suddenly within reach and the Storm's defense had momentarily stymied the Sun and forced a turnover. With Sue flying down the court ahead of everybody, Betty had the ball and either didn't see Sue or wasn't thinking fast break, even though Sue was completely open and had a clear path to the basket. By the time Betty recognized the opportunity and passed the ball to Sue, the Sun defenders had caught up to Sue and she couldn't take the shot. The Storm ended up losing the ball without scoring. I think the Sun came out of it shooting fouls. Instead of an easy score and being down by only 3 with 2:30 left, the Storm were down by 6. If the Storm had made that basket, I think they would have won the game. I'm not blaming the loss on Betty or Sue because that one play was indicative of the whole game, but that one play might have helped erase the Storm's sluggish play and given them a better chance at catching the Sun.

I really think that part of it is due to the format for the WNBA playoffs. The team with home court actually has to do more traveling than the team without. During this series, the Storm will have made 2 cross country 8+ hour flights while the Sun only have to make 1 (their trip home doesn't count since the series will be over by then). It would more fair, and actually give the better team the advantage if it went 1-1-1, in this case Storm, Conn, Storm. There would be potentially more travel for Connecticut, but then they are the ones without home court advantage. Next year, the Finals will be best of 5, so it will probably follow the NBA model and go 2-2-1 and award the better team a real home court advantage. Doesn't help us now very much.

I also think that despite Sue's comments about the Conference Finals not meaning a whole lot the Storm did have an emotional and mental let down from the exuberant high they had to be feeling after beating the Monarchs on Tuesday. The Sun have been resting since last Sunday, and they didn't have to travel. The Storm's emotional and mental state combined with their travel schedule resulted in a very tired looking team.

The first half was fairly even. Neither team had a huge lead, but the Sun were definitely scoring with more ease than the Storm. Lauren was getting double and triple teamed constantly, which is to be expected, but the other Storm players were not hitting their shots. The Storm guards were also telegraphing their passes to her and were allowing the Sun defenders to steal the ball. The other painful missed opportunities for Lauren came when she found herself being guarded by Sales or one of the other Sun small forwards. Sue, Betty and Tully would be dribbling the ball out at the three-point line with a clear view of LJ with Sales on her back and not get the ball to Lauren. They always swung it back around to the other side and allowed the Sun posts to switch off and go back to guarding LJ.

Looking at the game stats, I was shocked to see that the Storm outrebounded the Sun, had nearly even turnovers and hit one more three pointer than the Sun. The Storm also were almost even on made free throws. I was sure before looking at the stats that the Storm had been killed on the boards and had committed half again as many turnovers. Watching the game live, it really felt like the Sun straight up outplayed the Storm. The Storm had 20 offensive rebounds! How often does that happen and they still lose the game? I'm not much of a stat head, so I may be missing something but I don't see a "killer" stat that points to how the Storm lost. I have to come back to the energy factor — the Sun had it and the Storm didn't.

We can view this game a couple ways. The cynical way is to say that the Sun are a much better team than the Monarchs and the Storm aren't going to be able to rely on the same things to get the job done this time. The Sun are supposed to be underpowered compared to the Storm, but they are making up for that in grit and determination. At this point, the Storm need to completely regroup and start playing like they want to win. The more optimistic view is that the Storm played horribly while everything was going the Sun's way and the Storm almost stole this game. Like the Sacramento series, the Storm is the better team and just needs to play their game more consistently and they will come out on top, especially with a sold-out KeyArena at their backs.

Of course, I think the answer for Game 2 is a mix of the two approaches. The Storm are going to have to regroup to a certain extent and find ways to match and exceed the Sun's energy. The Storm is also the better team and even if they play a little better than they did tonight, they could win the series — they don't even need to have a history-book type of game like they did against the Monarchs. They just need to play their game.

Just like I was after the first game loss in Sacramento, I'm not worried about the Storm after this loss. They now know they can't just go out there and dominate because they look better on paper. The lesson from the Sac series was that you can't hang around and then turn on the jets late in the second half and hope to win. You have to turn on the jets early and keep them burning hot throughout the game.

A couple other game notes. The reffing was not nearly as bad as it was on Tuesday night. In fact, I would say that the Sun got the short end of the whistle more often than the Storm did. Maybe the refs are consciously trying to not give the home team the benefit of the doubt like they normally do and are calling more on them as a result. If that is the case, we may have a rough time of it in games 2 and 3.

One area that the Storm do need to cover in practice before Sunday is guarding those three-point shooters. It seemed like the Sun were camping out there and taking set-shots with no worry about getting a hand in the face.Like I said, the stats were surprising because it seemed like every time the Storm made an attempt to climb back in the game, the Sun would bury a three.

Other notes:

The WNBA First and Second teams were announced before the game, as was the MVP although that one was awarded outside of the arena. The Sun fans gave The Diva a big cheer when she stepped up to get her First Team award, so the league could have given her the MVP without worrying about the crowd's reaction (unlike what would have happened in Seattle, hee hee). The funny part of the ceremony was that the league officials forced Sue and LJ to put on their full warm-ups on. We realized we had never seen LJ in the full gear and Sue was trying to put on her pants while she was walking and got the snaps all done wrong or something because the pants looked like they were on backwards or something. As the players all gathered under the basket in front of us to be introduced, LJ gave The Diva a big hug. Leslie didn't seem to be expecting it, but LJ just threw her arms around LL like they were old buds. I think LJ is trying to mess with The Diva's head a little bit.

At the half, there was a recognition ceremony for all the Team USA members in attendance (since the WNBA First and Second teams were basically the Olympic team). During the first half, the WNBA stars all sat in the section behind the Storm bench (the UConn women's team was sitting behind them too). Most of them were having a good time. Yo looked like she wanted to chew on the seat in front of her, understandably since she was so close to being the one out on the court instead of Seattle. After the halftime ceremony, they all disappeared. Teasely was spotted at a card table after the game and Yo was window shopping. No sign of the others.

I have to give the Connecticut fans a high score since they were almost all very cordial and polite. We only had one guy yell at us to stop doing "Brick!" and even then it seemed like he was mocking us more than being actually angry. We also got a lot of good natured jibes that we returned when needed. Several people thanked us for making the trip and quite a few gave us "Good game," on the way out. Of course, if we had won it might have been different, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. We also had a few people come up and ask about the website, which was cool.

I also have to give the Connecticut fans very low marks because they were all so cordial and polite. They came up with only one spontaneous cheer at the end of the game. They only made noise when told to, or when Diana Taurasi was in sight. She got the biggest cheer of the game, including when the Sun actually won. Towards the end of the game when the Storm started to catch up, nothing from them. Nothing from them when the Sun were rolling. They weren't golf clapping, but they weren't acting like they were at a Finals game or the last Sun home game of the season. Part of that was due, I think, to the fact that the average age of the Sun crowd had to be in the 40s. There were few kids at the game and a lot of senior citizens. I shouldn't have been surprised that they were so subdued.

The Sun have 2 mascots - Blaze, a felt and fur-based mascot, and some guy with an orange sequined jacket and orange pants who lead all the timeouts and such. They were constantly throwing t-shirts out. In fact, I don't think they did any of the types of timeout activities that we usually see. Almost all of the timeouts were the mascots and dance team throwing t-shirts into the crowd.

The arena itself was nice. It's only 3 or 4 years old, so it was in great shape. There were some odd things about it though — no central scoreboard, no stat boards, only 2 exits for the whole place which meant there was a crush of people piling up to leave after the game. If there had been a fire, people would have been killed in that packed exit. For those who took the trip to Spokane, this arena felt a lot like that one — not quite big league. That is not to say it isn't a good arena for basketball. The slope of the lower bowl is almost the same as the Key so you feel like you are closer to the floor in a similar row as compared to arenas like Staples or Arco. Still, I missed having the scoreboard and video screens in the middle of the court. The video screens they had were small and located above the upper bowl, so they weren't all that visible. Also, in terms of sound since being too loud has been an issue at the Key recently, these guys had their PA system cranked way louder than we have at the Key. It was painfully loud all on its own at times.

We had a good contingent of Storm fans at the game - myself and Angie, Shed, The Lurker, Samfan, Awase and mother, Tex and mother, Alison and fiancee, UPilot and father, along with a small horde of little girls in Sue Bird jerseys. It was great to meet Alison and her fiancee, and to meet McHuskyfan and her friends (who are going to be in Seattle for games 2 and 3). I missed getting to meet a couple of the other east coast-based Storm fans — maybe next year.

The Mohegan Sun complex is huge. The hotel is virtually the only tall building we saw in either Rhode Island or Connecticut (at least the parts of each that we saw). All of the other buildings in the area are 3 or 4 stories max and either made of wood or brick. Out of nowhere, you find this mirrored-glass monster that is 20+ stories easy. It looks out of place by a long shot. Kind of ironic that the one building that is least suitable for the natural surroundings is the Indian casino instead of a bank building or something similar.

The inside of the casino was beautiful with all sorts of mosaics, glass sculptures, marble and wood.They did a nice job. We didn't actually see any Mohegan indians, but then they are probably vacationing in Tahiti given the profit this place must be raking in.

The game started a half hour late, so we're sure we missed the end of it on the TiVO. We also heard that the first 10 minutes or so were preempted by the baseball playoffs — you all missed our best "Bricks."

We had 4 or 5 Liberty fans sitting behind us who loved the "Brick!" yell. They tried to hide when we started getting looks. One was trying to convince the Conn fans that the mint green sweater she had on was not really green. They did say that they are going to try and use it back home at Madison Square Garden nest season.

Most of us sat in one row, so there was a nice shot of green behind the basket nearest the Storm bench. They all saw us and gave us a wave pregame.

We did a little gambling after the game (no pregame gambling in order to save the winning mojo — maybe we should have used some of it in hindsight). I was the only to come out ahead - winning $19.

The Sun fans love Debbie Black the same way we love Tully. Debbie got bigger cheers as she went in or out than just about all the other Sun players.

The Connecticut fans also gave Sue a big cheer when she was introduced, and went on to cheer really well after each one of her fouls. For all the "I've got a dilemma about who to cheer for" we heard from UConn/Sun fans, they chose the Sun without too much difficulty and seemed to enjoy seeing Sue pick up fouls.

After our first "Brick," a cameraman made a beeline up to our seats and sat there filming us (mostly Shed) for what seemed to be half the first half. I think he was hoping for another "Brick" opportunity, but one didn't come up. Since the first part of the game was preempted, if we made it on TV, it probably wasn't seen by anyone. Hopefully the NBAtv replays will get it.