The Seattle Storm controlled the game Saturday night, defeating the Tulsa Shock 85-73 at KeyArena.
Seattle jumped out to an early lead 21-10 in the first quarter and never looked back. Led by nine-time WNBA All-Star Tina Thompson in what would be her final regular-season home game of her 17-year career, Thompson poured in 22 points on 4-8 shooting from behind the arc and grabbed eight rebounds.
Camille Little added 14 points and Alysha Clark came off the bench to score 11. Noelle Quinn snagged 10 rebounds. Tulsa made a run in the fourth quarter, but was never able to get closer than 11. The Storm never trailed and extended its lead to as many as 24.
Jennifer Lacy led the way for the Shock with 21 points and Candice Wiggins chipped in 13. No other Tulsa player scored in double figures as the Storm defense held Tulsa to 36.9 percent shooting from the field.
Seattle Storm Head Coach Brian Agler on Thompson’s play: “We always try to get her as many shots as possible. We didn’t do anything differently than we normally do. It was one of those nights when she hit her first couple of shots. It’s just been a long season. We didn’t want to overextend her play, but at the same time we still wanted to be successful and we wanted this night to be special for her. Obviously the competitor she is she’s going to want to win the game. That being said we did what we had to do to have success.”
That being said, at one point during the game Thompson was removed from the court. Agler said this was entirely intentional.
“We wanted to get her out of the game and let the crowd acknowledge Tina. The officials really did a good job of holding up play while the fans cheered and I said to Tina that she needed to go out and wave, the officials are holding up the game,” he said. “We’re not in any hurry. We’re going to do this right. She did. She really didn’t want to, but that’s kind of how she is, all business.”
Does Agler think the Storm will win the playoffs?
“If you look at our stats, in a lot of ways we don’t look like a team that should be going to the playoffs. But our team’s not really made of that, it’s made of a lot of intangible things – just a lot of heart and persistent play and toughness,” he said. “We’re going to have to make games like that. Minnesota is a tough foe, a tough match-up. They can score in a lot of different ways and we have to find ways to stop them from doing that. We’ve got to find ways to score. We’ve got a week to prepare and we’ll see what we can do.”
As for pre-game jitters, Agler said: “We’re going to practice down [at the Tacoma Dome] on Tuesday. This is probably the second best road team that I’ve been here. The championship year we won quite a few on the road. I think we were 10-6 and I think this year we are 8-9 so we’re almost .500. That shows the toughness we have because you have to have it to go on the road and have success.”
Woman of the hour, Thompson, felt the love from the fans post-game.
“[The retirement ceremony] was great. I’m glad that it all happened after the game instead of pre-game, because there were a lot of emotions going on. So when the game starts you want to focus on the game. It was a bit much for me, but Karen [Bryant] and everyone tried to taper it down as much as they could,” she said. “It was a great feeling that people appreciate your body of work and what you’ve done up to this point. And I’m glad it’s over so we focus on games and everyone’s not waiting for the big day.”
Would she consider coming back for one more season? Just one?
“No. I want to go about 12 more games and anything beyond that, no,” she said.
Thompson went on to further explain why she made the decision to retire when she did.
“…I made the decision I made for a reason. My body can only take so much. I’d rather retire from the game than have the game retire from me. I’m okay. I’m happy with where I am and how it’s going. For me, I kind of always feel like it’s not so hard to score points, but to be able to defend and rebound and do all the things that you need to do that are necessary to win, it takes a lot more,” she said. “It’s a lot harder to defend and rebound and do those things than it is to play offense. People kind of see me scoring points and they think I could play forever, but there are two ends of the floor in basketball. You have to play offense and defense. As much as everyone wants me to play forever, if I could I guess I would play forever too if it didn’t hurt so bad, but it’s just kind of one of those things where you just know. And I know. It’s time.”
Reports that Thompson wasn’t outwardly emotional during the post-game ceremony are accurate, and something the star player seeks to explain.
“It’s my personality, but I knew that if I showed emotion than everyone would and it would have taken a lot longer than it actually did. And also my son Dylan isn’t really happy at this moment about the fact that I was retiring. If I had started crying than he would have been emotional and got upset. I’ve been telling him the entire time that this is a happy occasion and that me being able to play 17 seasons is not something that happens often. It’s not normal so we should be really happy that we’ve been able to have this experience, rather than be sad that it’s over. It’s a pretty rare thing so it’s something that can be celebrated instead of mourned.”
Speaking of her son Dylan, he held center court with his All-Star mom for nearly 45 minutes.
“Dylan really revels in being in the arena and the energy and just being around the girls. I wasn’t kidding when I said that Diana [Taurasi] and Sue [Bird] were two of his first friends. They really were. He hung out with them, played games with them, and listened to music and did all these fun things. Although he’s only eight-years old he sees them a lot differently than other people. Not very many kids are able to experience what he has and being able to hang out with Dwight Howard or LeBron James or Chris Paul, and see them for the people that they are and not like these amazing athletes. He knows they are really good basketball players, but the relationship he has with them is different. Me being away from the game will change the dynamics. I think he feels that if we’re away from the game the relationships will change. I’m like, ‘Your friends are your friends. The relationships won’t change.’ As an eight-year old that’s something that he’ll have to see and experience rather than me trying to tell him about it.”
Will she return to the game in another capacity?
“I’d like to do commentary and analysis or something like that. I don’t see coaching in my future. But I won’t be far away. I love the game of basketball. I’m not just a player, I’m a fan too. I won’t be too far away,” Thompson said.
The Storm travels to Minnesota to take on the Lynx on Friday, September 20 at 6 p.m., followed by Game 2 at the Tacoma Dome on Sunday, September 22 at 2 p.m., which will be broadcast on ESPN2. Game 3, if necessary, will be in Minnesota on Tuesday, September 24, at a game time to be determined.