Storm show little sign of letting up
SEATTLE -- Lauren Jackson jogged into the tunnel clutching a bottle of champagne. Sue Bird wore a broad smile, slapping high-fives with fans on her way off the floor.
"Betty deserved it,'' Jackson said. "You can't stop a whole team.''
As important to Jackson and Bird are to the Storm, Lennox was unquestionably the star of the finals. She scored 23 points in the decisive third game Tuesday night, two nights after scoring 27 when Seattle evened the series in Game 2.
"You asked me if I was going to get 30 points, but I was trying to pick up my defense all night,'' said Lennox, who played for Miami and Cleveland before both teams folded, and she wound up in Seattle after her second dispersal draft.
"I let my defense take me wherever it took me,'' she added.
After a boisterous sellout crowd of 17,072 soaked in the revelry of the championship, many fans probably left the arena wondering if this might be the start of a Storm dynasty.
Jackson is 23 and Bird turns 24 this week, and coach Anne Donovan hoisted the championship trophy only two seasons after joining the team. With a strong supporting cast, the Storm could be a force for years.
"It's a great team,'' WNBA commissioner Val Ackerman said. "Anne Donovan has done a terrific job. They have great chemistry and a great core of players in Lauren and Sue, and the players built around them. This might be just the beginning for them.''
It was a great year for Bird, who in August added an Olympic gold medal to the two NCAA titles she won with the Connecticut Huskies. Donovan was an assistant on the U.S. Olympic team, and Jackson took silver for her native Australia.
"Now I've won a WNBA championship, and there's still next year!'' Bird exclaimed.
Jackson had 13 points and seven rebounds, but Seattle got an enormous contribution from Kamila Vodichkova, who scored eight of her 14 points in the opening 6½ minutes, forcing the Sun to defend her jumper from the top of the key.
"We've been after that, that free-throw line jumper,'' Donovan said. "We knew that would open things up for Lauren.''
The Storm claimed the city's first major professional sports championship in 25 years, going back to the SuperSonics winning the 1979 NBA title. It also gave Donovan her first WNBA crown, after she missed in 2001 with Charlotte.
Donovan is the first female coach to win a WNBA title, following Houston's Van Chancellor (1997-00), Los Angeles' Michael Cooper (2001-02) and Detroit's Bill Laimbeer (2003).
"No better candidate than me, huh?'' she said. "Yeah, it's something that we've been striving for. I think there are a lot of great women coaches out there. In order to get to the next level of respect, we have to win championships.''
Donovan demonstrated she knows how to coach defense.
All season, she emphasized the importance of grabbing rebounds and creating turnovers to ignite the offense. It was on display during a key 13-2 run midway through the second half that squashed Connecticut's chances.
The Storm forced 14 turnovers in the second half, and it was over when Lennox threw in an off-balance jumper, drew a foul on rookie Lindsay Whalen and completed the three-point play for a 62-48 lead with 6:52 remaining.
"We told ourselves, 'We've worked too hard for this. It's been too long of a season to quit now,''' Lennox said. "This was our opportunity. We had to seize the moment, and that's what we did.''
Connecticut's Nykesha Sales, who scored a WNBA Finals-record 32 points in Seattle's Game 2 victory, shot 5-of-12 and was held to 18 points Tuesday. The other Sun starters combined for only 26 points on 7-of-31 shooting.
"I saw a lot of great shots go up. They just didn't go in,'' Sales said.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press