Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SEATTLE — After three quarters of Friday night’s WNBA season opener between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Seattle Storm, it seemed like a party inside KeyArena.
The crowd of 9,686 had reason to celebrate. The Storm’s Brian Agler appeared well on his way to setting the record for career victories as a head coach in women’s professional basketball and the new-look roster featuring former No. 1 overall picks Ann Wauters and Tina Thompson and rookie Shekinna Stricklen was clicking.
Then the Sparks silenced everyone.
Los Angeles overcame a 21-point third-quarter deficit, outscoring the Storm 30-10 in the final period to win 72-66.
“I give a lot of credit to L.A.,” Agler said. “I commend them for their play in the fourth quarter. They really played well and they played a great defensive game.”
At no time was that defense more evident than the fourth quarter, when the Storm had trouble getting into their offense. They were forced to run down the shot clock to single digits nearly every possession, and even then had to settle for bad shots.
“Really, I don’t think I have experienced it where we have had that many shot-clock or near shot-clock violations,” Storm point guard Sue Bird said. “That’s telling. That says something about our offense. But we will get it together.”
Seattle appeared as if it was going to run away with the opener in the first period, scoring the game’s first 11 points and building a 24-10 lead after the first stanza. Wauters led the way offensively with 10 first-quarter points, showing off an array of post moves.
“I thought Ann showed some good signs,” Agler said. “I thought Ann and Tina both showed some very good signs. Shekinna showed some good signs, so we are just going to build on that.”
Wauters finished the game with a team-high 17 points and seven rebounds. Thompson added 12 points, all on 3-pointers, and Stricklen scored five points, making both of her field-goal attempts in limited action.
“It felt good,” Stricklen said. “You know, it’s still sad, losing. But it was a good feeling. I really wasn’t too nervous.”
The Storm maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second and third quarters and led 56-42 after three periods.
But for as good as the Storm were in the first quarter, they were equally bad in the fourth quarter.
The Sparks went on a 16-0 run that spanned the final minute of the third quarter and the first 41/2 minutes of the fourth quarter to cut the Storm lead to 56-54. From that point on the Sparks seemed to ride the momentum to victory.
“I hope that’s as bad as we can be in the fourth quarter,” Agler said. “We don’t want to see that again.”
Players in the locker room after the game were saying another loss like Friday’s is unlikely.
“Never say never, but I can’t imagine, now that we’ve experienced this, that we will get punked liked that again,” Bird said.
The Sparks couldn’t have comeback without Kristi Toliver, who came off the bench to score 25 points, shooting 9-for-16 from the field and 5-for-8 from beyond the 3-point line.
“I thought she really hit some key shots for them,” Agler said. “I thought we had some lapses against her a little bit, but you know, credit her. She got it going. She has done that to us before.”
It was hard to hide the disappointment of Storm players and coaches after the game, but Bird gave the loss some perspective.
“The season is not over,” she said. “Regardless of anything else, this is a loss. I know it was a meltdown, but at the end of the year, it’s not going to have ‘L-meltdown.’ It’s just going to say ‘L.’ With that we have to learn from it. I think what you saw at the beginning of the game is how good we can be. Had we won this game, you guys would be asking these questions like, ‘Man, looks like you have been together for so many years.’ And really up until the last 10 minutes, that’s how it felt.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.