Temeka Johnson surveyed the room, then walked right to the open space in the far left corner of the Storm’s KeyArena locker room.
The slot reserved for three-time MVP Lauren Jackson since 2001.
No one flinched at Johnson’s selection. She was one of three veterans signed in February to help Seattle fill a void left by the injured Jackson (hamstring) and point guard Sue Bird (knee) as they underwent offseason surgeries. Although 5 feet 3 to Jackson’s 6-6, Johnson, a point guard, filled the empty locker space and led the Storm, as Bird probably would have done, to a WNBA-record 10th consecutive playoff berth.
Johnson will have to mimic Bird, again, Sunday in order to keep the season going as Seattle, down 1-0, faces top-seed Minnesota in a must-win Game 2 of the best-of-three opening-round series. Including the 80-64 defeat Friday in Game 1, Seattle has lost its past five meetings with Minnesota this season by an average of 17 points.
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“We have one option: to win on Sunday,” said Storm guard Tanisha Wright.
It no coincidence Johnson’s new locker is adjacent to Wright’s. The pair was a backcourt tandem for USA Basketball as college stars and rekindled the chemistry during the Storm season.
For a half Friday, Wright and Johnson led a tough defensive stretch that resulted in the Storm trailing by only four points at halftime.
That increased playoff intensity was felt by the pair.
“It’s weird, I don’t think it was ever really lost,” Johnson said of the 10-year span since last playing with Wright in that USA Basketball stint. “Tanisha and I both have a passion and a drive and a hunger to not be defeated. We thrive off one another. It took a little while for it to get back on the same surface, but it was never lost.”
Still, a more potent and defensive-minded Minnesota squad emerged from the locker room, taking over in the second half.
The Lynx contained forward Tina Thompson, who’s led the Storm this season. And Storm second-year forward Shekinna Stricklen remains ineffective. She finished with two points on 1-for-5 shooting from the field in Game 1.
Since a 24-point outing in the first game this season, Stricklen has averaged five points on 27.2 percent shooting from the field against the Lynx.
Bird, a seven-time All-Star, scored a team-high 22 points with seven assists and four steals to lead Seattle to a 86-79 double-overtime victory in Game 2 of the playoff run last year against Minnesota.
KeyArena was rowdy as the Storm held the Lynx to 32.5 percent shooting.
There won’t be a Key-Arena environment Sunday. Seattle Center booked a private Microsoft event at the facility, forcing Game 2 to the Tacoma Dome. Black curtains are being used around the Storm’s transplanted court to create a basketball setting for an approximately 9,000-seat capacity inside the Tacoma Dome.
Both teams stayed in Tacoma on Saturday, essentially making it a road game for both. Yet, environment and history don’t matter to Johnson. She just wants to do what she was brought to Seattle to help accomplish — win a championship.
Sunday, that means surviving Game 2 against Minnesota.
“We need to put together 40 minutes against this team,” Wright said. “They’re a talented bunch, but they haven’t seen us play for 40 minutes yet.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JaydaEvans