SEATTLE —While Storm doubters are busy talking about what Seattle can’t do this season without franchise cornerstones Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, the current makeshift roster has already done something Seattle couldn’t do in 2012.
With a 96-86 win in overtime against Washington, the Storm is off to a better start than its 1-7 slog to a playoff berth with Bird at the helm a year ago. Veteran forward Tina Thompson, who dubbed the squad “blue collar,” led the way, finishing with 30 points on 11-for-18 shooting from the field, including 5 of 9 three-point attempts. Her career high is 37 points.
“Unbelievable,” Storm coach Brian Agler said of Thompson’s performance. “This is her 17th season — you just don’t see players putting up those kinds of numbers and playing those quality minutes and playing at such a high level at that age. It’s amazing for us. We’re lucky to have her.”
Washington scored first in overtime, but a nifty layin by Temeka Johnson and a three-pointer by Thompson as the shot-clock buzzer sounded with 2:49 left put Seattle ahead 85-80. The KeyArena crowd started its second round of “Tina Thompson” chants, and the Storm (3-3) had enough of a cushion to pull out the win.
Washington reserve Matee Ajavon worked her team back into contention late in regulation with two baskets in a 6-0 run. She finished with 17 points.
Thompson, the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader, responded with a strong turnaround score of her own, but a foul sent Monique Currie to the line to tie the score at 78 with 1:07 remaining. Neither team could convert in the waning seconds, bringing on overtime.
Thompson scored seven points in extra play to help Seattle outscore Washington 18-8. She had entered the game 4 of 18 from three-point range.
“Not taking a shot is worse than missing one,” Thompson said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game because Washington has been hot. Our defense had a lot to do with it (too).”
Seattle played before 4,579 fans at KeyArena on Tuesday. The team’s all-time lowest attendance was 3,715 in 2002, Bird’s rookie season. The point guard was in attendance for the first time this season after undergoing knee surgery in Connecticut in May.
Bird, a seven-time All-Star, received the loudest cheer despite not dressing. But Tanisha Wright was a close second, honored before the game for scoring her 2,000th career point in Friday’s loss at Atlanta. She finished Tuesday’s game with 17 points and six assists.
“Everybody’s saying it,” Wright said of talk about the Storm’s missing All-Stars, both out after season-ending surgeries. “When we do hear it, literally, it goes in one ear and out the other because we can only focus on what we have.”
Fortunately, one of the things they still have is Thompson.