Storm and Sun to face off in decisive Game 3
Monday, October 11th 2004, 7:45 pm
News On 6
SEATTLE (AP) _ Nykesha Sales smiled when someone suggested the Connecticut Sun could add a WNBA title to this year's NCAA championships won by the UConn men's and women's teams.
``This is going to be really good for the state,'' she said Monday. ``It's the basketball capital of the world.''
Not so fast, Nykesha.
Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm can claim the city's first professional sports title in 25 years in what should be an exciting Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on Tuesday night.
``The emotional swings get a little higher. Every possession gets magnified a little bit,'' Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said.
The Storm are going for the first title by a Seattle team since the SuperSonics won the 1979 NBA championship. They have big stars in Jackson and Bird, but the outcome will likely be decided by a less-heralded teammate: Betty Lennox.
Jackson has complained about physical play under the basket, where she's faced double- and even triple-teams in the first two games. Lennox stepped in, scoring 16 of her season-high 27 points in the second half of Seattle's 67-65 win in Game 2.
``Betty Lennox is the X-factor,'' Sales said. ``We've done a pretty good job defensively on Lauren and a really good job on Sue. I think Betty's eyes lit up a little when she saw that.''
The title will go to whichever team defends better, whether it's Connecticut trying to deny Jackson inside and limit Lennox's baseline jumpers or Seattle trying to reel in Sales, whose 32 points in Game 2 were a finals record.
Sales missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have ended it. Still, she shot 14-of-22 from the floor, and her 14 field goals and 21 second-half points also were finals records.
``Nykesha Sales just caught fire,'' said Bird, who scored 10 in Game 2. ``Those shots were contested and we'd take them any other day. She just made nearly everything. It wasn't necessarily our defense being bad.''
Jackson was limited to 16 points in Game 1 and 15 in Game 2. Her shooting is off because of constant bumping from defenders Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Wendy Palmer, who is expected to start Game 3 despite a strained right shoulder.
``Lauren is dealing with so much contact in the paint, way more than she's used to,'' Storm coach Anne Donovan said. ``I think that's been very frustrating for her. There's a ton of contact in there.''
That's not expected to change, putting a premium on scoring from elsewhere in Seattle's lineup.
Thibault said he's comfortable with Connecticut's defensive approach and plans no changes. He noted that other than Lennox hitting 11-of-16 and Alicia Thompson making all three of her shots, the rest of the Storm shot 23 percent (10-for-43).
``We just need to play better,'' he said. ``We didn't play well for stretches.''
Lennox, meanwhile, said she felt slighted that Thibault assigned rookie Lindsay Whalen to guard her in the first two games of the series, and she certainly got her revenge in Game 2.
For the Storm to win Tuesday, however, Lennox emphasized that solid team defense will be even more important.
``It's not all about scoring for me,'' she said. ``It's important to defend, and we all know it's going to take a total team effort.''