Sunday, September 21, 2008

Swoopes' Breakout Game


Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images
This was a game six months in the making. When the Seattle Storm signed Sheryl Swoopes in March, Head Coach Brian Agler was hoping for a performance like this. And when Swoopes decided to join the Storm and work to return from back surgery, it was with the big stage of the playoffs in mind.

It was a vintage effort on both ends of the floor from Swoopes in the Storm's 64-50 Game 2 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks. She scored 16 points - one shy of her regular-season high - knocking down a pair of three-pointers, a bank effort and a trademark hit from NBA distance. At the other end, Swoopes reminded why she is one of the few players in the league who can take over a game defensively, playing the passing lanes and coming up with four of the Storm's 10 steals. She came up with deflections or played a part in turnovers on several more plays.

"For me personally, I would say definitely this was one of the games that I wanted to have all year long," Swoopes said afterwards. "To be able to come out and do it in the playoffs in a game like this obviously did a lot for me, but on top of that just for us to be able to walk out with the 'W,' that's the most important thing."

All season long, Swoopes has had to hear from the critics that she's too old at 37, that she's over the hill. Surely Swoopes is no longer the player she once was, but when you're one of two players in the history of the WNBA to win MVP three times, there's a lot of room to drop off and still be a very productive player. In the regular season, despite the occasional time she missed due to injury, Swoopes was still one of less than 50 players in the league I rated as worth at least two Wins Above Replacement Player.

The month since the Olympic break had been especially frustrating for Swoopes. An extremely painful heel injury cost her a game and a half. Just when Swoopes seemed to be getting going again, she suffered the freak concussion that finished her regular season.

Swoopes responded to every setback by redoubling her hard work. Fans saw Swoopes' play on the court, but what few people realize is the extent of her dedication and hard work throughout the season. Swoopes spent hours before and after practice working on her game with the Storm coaching staff, putting up shots and getting in the kind of intense workouts that prepared her to play. Swoopes was motivated in no small part by the desire to, as she put it, not "be just another body on the floor." Don't underestimate Swoopes' pride.

That some pride came into play going into this playoffs when Swoopes, watching at home during the Storm's nationally-televised regular-season finale in L.A., heard ESPN2's analysts question the team's ability to win in the postseason without Lauren Jackson. More than anyone else on the Storm, Swoopes seemed to take that criticism personally and channel it into her performance.

"Especially when we went down the first game, a lot of people counted us out," she reiterated today. "Even though we were playing at home, I don't think a lot of people thought we could win this game."

Swoopes' performance was one of the biggest reasons the Storm silenced any critics. She came out strong, and so did the team.

"Tanisha (Wright) said to me before the game started, 'Sheryl, you have to be aggressive, you have to attack,'" Swoopes recalled. "She said the energy I had to start the game was kind of contagious and everybody else felt that.

"It doesn't matter whether I'm scoring points or not - I feel like my leadership on the floor and getting out and being aggressive defensively and talking and trying to lead the team, I feel like that's why I was brought here. If I'm putting points on the board, then that's just a little extra."

Swoopes' experience will again be critical going into Tuesday's winner-take-all Game 3 (6:00 p.m., ESPN2, 1150 AM KKNW, TIX). She's been here countless times before, and I thought she struck the perfect note when she was asked by reporters whether she is confident about the game.

"Why not?" she responded. "L.A., again, they are a very good team. At the same time, I think every single player in this locker room feels like we have everything we need in order to beat them.

"Not only do we have to bring what we brought today, we're going to have to bring a lot more. But I think we have what it takes to get it done."

If Swoopes comes up with another big effort, like the triple-double (the first ever in the WNBA Playoffs) she unleashed on an unsuspecting Storm squad in Game 3 in the first round three years ago, it will be no surprise. Still, it might be tough to top today's game. There have been any number of highlight performances in Swoopes' playoff career, but I can't help but suspect that because of all the extenuating circumstances this one might have been as satisfying as almost any she's played.

"I couldn't ask for a better situation or a better game than what I personally had today," she said. "Hopefully I can bring that and a lot more on Tuesday, because we're definitely going to need it."

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

We're so proud of your performance tonight, Sheryl. GO STORM!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Do you think we will see more calls in the third game go for LA? I feel a conspiracy from the media and the WNBA that they would like to see LA in the final do to higher ratings. Your thoughts?

NICOLII said...

THIS WAS THE SWOOPES I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR ALL SEASON. WATCHING HER ON SUNDAY WAS BREATH TAKING..HER QUICKNESS AND HER ENERGY WAS VERY KEY FOR SEATTLE TO WIN. IF EVERYONE COULD COME OUT LIKE THAT AGAIN ON TUES SEATTLE WILL BE PLAYING FOR THE WESTERN CONF. FINALS..I REALLY WANT THIS FOR THEM...WE NEED YOU SWOOPES LETS GO!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

One only has to watch the ESPN coverage to know the WNBA and ESPN are hoping LA wins. The amount of time the commentators jabbered on about LA, Parker, Leslie, and Cooper compared to anything about the Storm was sickening.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the ESPN announcers were biased in their coverage of the game Sunday. It's obvious that they prefer an L.A. victory. They should be ashamed of themselves; I'm so tired of hearing about Candace Parker.

Anonymous said...

Sheryl signed my arm earlier when I met her for the first time in ATL. I had been trying to met her for 10 years!!! YAAAHHH, my first, new tatoo!!! I am so proud of her and this team BATTLE THRU ALL THE BS and tough breaks!!! I am glad she got out of houston, she needed some fresh air and it seems like seattle's air is good for her competitive spirit. GO STORM- I BELIEVE in you LADIES!! WOMAN UP- AND HANDLE YOUR BIZ!!!!
YOUR #1 FAN IN BIRMINGHAM, AL,
1LT JHA'NAE BRADY, US ARMY