SEATTLE — The black curtain that covered the WNBA Championship banner was removed and Queen’s “We are the Champions’” reverberated through KeyArena — one last tribute to the Seattle Storm’s amazing championship run of 2010.
A little more than 10 minut
es later, it was time to get back to work. And the Storm didn’t disappoint. They started 2011 the same way they finished 2010.
Four players scored in double-figures as the Storm defeated the Phoenix Mercury 78-71 in their season opener. Forward Camille Little led Seattle with 18 points and nine rebounds,
“Camille is the backbone,” point guard Sue Bird said. “Tonight, when we really couldn’t hit much, Camille got down in the post and just worked.”
Including playoff games, it was the Storm’s 23rd consecutive home victory. Seattle won its only playoff game at KeyArena in 2009 and went a perfect 21-0 at home last season.
Before the game, Storm players and coaches who were with the organization last year were presented their championship rings. Forward Swin Cash presented reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player Lauren Jackson with her ring, calling her, “the best player in the world.”
On most days, Cash — who scored 10 points — isn’t far off. Saturday, however, was not one of those days.
Jackson scored just three points in the first half, missing the only field goal she took. She did rebound in the second half to finish with 15 points.
Newcomer Katie Smith, acquired in late April from the Washington Mystics, didn’t seem too worried about Jackson.
“It is what it is, first half, second half, they are always two different halves. You could have zero and then you could have 20,” Smith said.
The KeyArena crowd of 11,548 gave Smith a forceful ovation when got up off the bench and made her regular-season Storm debut with 5:09 to play in the first quarter.
On her first touch she missed a jumper, then seconds later connected on her second shoot, a 3-pointer that tied the score at 10. She finished with eight points, all in the first half, and provided a spark on both ends of the floor.
In a special moment after the game, fans serenaded Smith with “Happy Birthday.” She turned 37 Saturday.
“This crowd just makes you feel right at home and energized,” Smith said in the team’s after-game interview conducted on court in front of fans.
“I will take a win as a birthday present,” she added in the locker room. “It’s always nice to get a win. You know it sets the day off on a good note.”
Storm coach Brian Agler was happy with how his team handled the day’s excitement. He said the players did a good job of not letting the emotion of the ring ceremony overwhelm them and carry over into a game with a tough opponent.
“It’s hard to go through that emotion and then try to get back on track into another type of mindset,” Agler said. “We started talking about this the first day we got back, that we were going to go through it and we knew who we were playing and it’s a difficult opponent. We warned and cautioned what we were going to go through that day. I am probably more happy about just how we played going through that than even more so the win.”
The Storm led 40-35 at halftime then outscored the Mercury 20-12 in the third quarter to take a commanding lead going into the fourth.
“We missed a lot of layups and that does not go well with us,” Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said of the third quarter.
Mercury guard and 2009 league MVP Diana Taurasi led Phoenix with 31 points, but the rest of the team scored just 40. Taurasi scored 11 of her 31 in the fourth quarter to help cut the Storm’s 19-point lead to five.
“We didn’t address it afterwards because I wanted them to enjoy today, but we didn’t finish this game off very well,” Agler said. “We are better than that.”
Bird, who scored 13 points and had 10 assists, acknowledged the poor finish, but was happy overall.
“I thought for the most part, maybe take away that last minute and a half, two minutes, I thought we did a great job,” Bird said.
And while the Storm’s performance wasn’t picture perfect, the game — and the pre-game celebration — did start out the 2011 season on a high note.
“Nobody is really talking about last season. After we got the rings you know, ‘good job, thank you’ and now it’s 2011,” Little said. “Nothing that happened last year is going to help us this year. We can’t bring those games back. The ring isn’t going to make anybody die. They aren’t going to lose for us. We are going to have to continue to get better and keep playing.”