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Storm show little sign of letting up

11/3/2004

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.

Seattle's stars wouldn't be WNBA champions, though, without
gritty Betty Lennox, who was honored as MVP of the finals after the
Storm beat the Connecticut Sun 74-60 to win their first league
title.
"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.