By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Without their best player and facing a Seattle Storm team that was 5-1 at KeyArena this season, the Atlanta Dream appeared to be up against a stacked deck.
Things are not always what they seem.
The Dream never trailed and cruised to a 70-59 WNBA victory Wednesday at KeyArena.
The Storm have their share of injuries and it certainly hurt them against Atlanta. Forward Tina Thompson (knee) and center Ann Wauters (Achilles) both missed the game and without them, the Storm’s lack of an inside presence was exposed. Atlanta out-rebounded the Storm 34-25 and outscored Seattle 40-26 in the paint.
“It definitely factored into the game,” Storm head coach Brian Agler said. “No question. They scored a majority of their points in the paint. I’m not one to try to sit there and make excuses, you take the team that you have and try to figure out ways to accomplish success, and today we just could never get control of the basketball game.”
Atlanta jumped out to an 8-2 lead and held an 18-12 advantage after one quarter. Seattle dug itself a first-quarter hole by shooting just 4-for-14 from the field (29 percent) in the period.
The Storm’s shooting improved in the second quarter, but Atlanta seemed to have an answer every time Seattle made a run and the Dream continually beat the Storm to loose balls and rebounds.
“We just did not play well,” Storm point guard Sue Bird said. “Not to take anything away from Atlanta, but we just didn’t play well. You ask yourselves the reasons why, but I think we just lacked some energy and if we could have done a better job defensively, who knows what would have happened. I think you saw a team at times that was just a little bit out of sorts and not on the same page, and that’s all of our fault.”
The Dream shot 29-for-61 (48 percent) from the field and were led by forward Sancho Lyttle, who scored 21 points and made 10 of her 19 field-goal attempts.
Despite the Storm’s poor play in the first half, they were still within four at halftime, trailing 36-32. But Atlanta came out strong in the third quarter to extend its lead. The Dream opened the second half on an 8-0 run and held Seattle scoreless for the first four minutes of the period.
“It was disappointing,” Agler said. “We felt like we could have played better in the first half, but the first five or six minutes of the third quarter we were just flat. That was really the difference in the game. We dug ourselves a hole and it really took a lot for us to try to get back out of it.”
The Dream led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, but Seattle narrowed the gap to seven heading into the final stanza. The Storm closed the quarter on a 5-0 run that included a three-point play by rookie forward Alysha Clark and two free throws by rookie Shekinna Stricklen. Stricklen was fouled with 1.7 seconds left in the quarter 94 feet away from her own basket following a rebound — a big break for the Storm.
Or so it appeared.
The Dream regained the momentum and answered nearly every Seattle basket in the fourth quarter, nailing down the victory.
It was the third straight win for the Dream over the Storm, including two in a row at KeyArena. The last team to beat the Storm in consecutive games in Seattle was Phoenix with victories in August and September of 2009.
Stricklen, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 WNBA draft, led the Storm with 16 points and nine rebounds, both career highs.
“That’s her potential,” Agler said. “She’s a rookie. She, without question, played one of her better games this year. She’s got a lot of talent and really showed some good signs today.”
Clark’s seven points were also a career high.
“She gave us everything she could in as many minutes as she played,” Agler said. “She’s a smart player and scored some tough baskets around the rim over size. I was real proud of her.”
The Storm face the Phoenix Mercury on the road Friday before the WNBA breaks until mid-August for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.