Tina Thompson, the WNBA's all-time leading scorer, became the first player in league history to break the 7,000 career-point barrier Tuesday. The historic bucket came less than one minute into the second quarter of the Seattle Storm's 75-60 thrashing of the visiting Chicago Sky.
Thompson, who was the No. 1 pick by the now-defunct Houston Comets in the league's inaugural 1997 draft and is the only player to have competed in all 16 seasons of the WNBA's existence, said she was unaware that she was on the cusp of becoming the first to achieve 7,000 career points until shortly before Tuesday night's game.
"The good thing was that I didn't know about until today," she said following the game. "Before it was like, 'When are you going to do it?' That was definitely a difference. For me that was good."
Thompson had already become the league's all-time leading scorer in August 2010, when she eclipsed the record of 6,263 career points held by Lisa Leslie, Thompson's former teammate at Inglewood's Morningside High, the University of Southern California and, briefly, the Los Angeles Sparks. Leslie, who also joined the league in 1997 as the Sparks' keystone player, retired in 2009 after 12 years in the WNBA.
Thompson, a 6-2 power forward and nine-time WNBA All Star, joined the Sparks the same year, playing alongside Leslie during the latter's final year in the league, after the Comets, with whom Thompson had earned four WNBA championship rings and the 2000 All-Star MVP award, disbanded. After spending much of her high school and collegiate career playing in Leslie's shadow, Thompson was still with the Sparks on Aug. 9, 2010, when, in a 23-point performance against the San Antonio Silver Stars, she overtook Leslie's record with a midrange jumper midway through the third quarter.
Leslie's record was compiled over the course of 12 years and 363 games at an average 17.3 points per game. Thompson, who left the Sparks for the Seattle Storm this season, signing as an unrestricted free agent, has achieved her current total of 7,003 points and counting in 460 games over her 16-year professional career, at a 15.2 point-per-game clip. A number of players have leapfrogged past both icons in points per game, in which Leslie currently stands at No. 7 behind the Comets' Cynthia Cooper (21.0), the Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi (20.6), the New York Liberty's Cappie Pondexter (19.5), Minnesota Lynx star Seimone Augustus (19.2) , the Atlanta Dream's Angel McCoughtry (19.1) and Thompson's current Seattle teammate Lauren Jackson (19.0). Thompson weighs in at No. 16, just ahead of her former Comets' teammate Sheryl Swoopes, who averaged 15 points per game, with her 4,875 total points in 324 games.
No one in the WNBA has played as many games, nor as many minutes (15,085), as Thompson, though Seattle teammate Katie Smith is hot on Thompson's heels with 14,775 minutes played over 446 games.
On Tuesday night, Thompson came off the bench for a total of 10 points on four-of-eight from the field, achieving her latest record at the 9:02 mark of the second quarter as she roped in an assist from Tanisha Wright and sliced the nets with a 13-footer for her eighth point of the evening.
"Winning is first and foremost for me," Thompson told reporters after the game. "These things are great, and it's something I'll probably relish in and enjoy after my career. But for me winning is always first so getting a win definitely makes it sweeter.''
Win they did, as the Storm (14-18), who have already nailed down their ninth consecutive berth in the Western Conference semifinals, snapped a four-game losing streak by putting together a 20-5 run that bridged the latter half of the second quarter and the opening minutes of the third, giving them a 21-point lead in the opening half, and coasted to victory from there. Seattle, led by Ann Wauters, who posted 16 points, also saw double-digit output from Smith (13) and relief center Ewelina Kobryn, who came off the bench for 12. It was the best game since the Olympic break for Smith, who also tied a season-high with four assists. Sue Bird, who took the court for the first time after missing the last three games, played just 18:35, scoring just four points on two-of-three from the field but dishing out a game-high eight assists.
The Storm were without the services of Aussie star Lauren Jackson, who missed her third straight game with a strained hamstring, but she is expected back Friday for Seattle's final game of the regular season against San Antonio. Jackson, currently in her 12th season in the WNBA, is on the brink of her own scoring benchmark, needing just eight more points to get to 6,000 career points. Jackson also became the leading all-time scorer in women's basketball Olympic history this summer in London in a 75-60 quarterfinals victory over China, surpassing the records held by Leslie (now No. 3, with 477 Olympic-career points) and Brazil's Janeth Arcain, who dropped to the No. 2 spot with 535 Olympic points.
The Storm currently have a stranglehold in the upper echelons of the WNBA's scoring record book, with three active players among the league's all-time top five. Thompson, as noted, holds the top spot in all-time scoring, with Smith right behind the retired Leslie in third-place with 6,218 career points in 446 games, and Jackson weighing in at No. 4 with 5,992 points in just 315 games. (The Indiana Fever's Tamika Catchings rounds out the top five with 5,772 points in 344 games.)
Seattle will need all of its scorers in top form next week when the Storm kick off the playoffs against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx, who at 26-5 own the best record in the WNBA and home-court advantage throughout the postsseason. Not surprisingly, the Lynx are also the top-scoring team in the league this season, averaging a league-best 86.25 points per game, while holding their opponents to just 75.25, for an 11-point-per game margin of victory, also a league high. Meanwhile, the Storm (playing without leading scorer Jackson for most of the season) have averaged just 70.84 points per game -- the second-worst offensive output in the league, ahead of only the Washington Mystics (69.37) -- while giving up 72 points on average to their opponents, for a negative margin of -1.15 points per game. Though the margin is negative, it is far from the league's worst, as the Storm's defense has kept them in the middle tier of the WNBA's team's in scoring margin and edged them into the playoffs. However, they will have to find more firepower if they are to have any prayer of keeping pace with the Lynx.
Meanwhile, the Sparks (23-10) nailed down the No. 2 seed in the West on Tuesday, with their 101-76 rout of the injury-depleted Phoenix Mercury at L.A.'s Staples Center. Los Angeles will face San Antonio, which finishes at No. 3 in the West after defeating the New York Liberty, 77-66, Tuesday, to improve their record to 20-12. With the No. 2 seed comes home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs, a critical factor for LA, which, like the Lynx, has been defeated at home only once this season (15-1) but has not traveled well, with an 8-9 road record. The Tulsa Shock (8-23) and Phoenix (7-25) are both out of playoff contention.
In the East, the Connecticut Sun stand atop the the rankings at 23-9, with the Indiana Fever (20-11) nailing down the No. 2 seed and the Atlanta Dream (18-14) in third. The Washington Mystics are out of the running with a league-worst 5-27 record, but the final playoff berth is still up for grabs.
Tuesday's loss left the Sky (13-19), who have yet to make the playoffs in their seven-year franchise history, one game behind the New York Liberty (14-18) for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. One more loss by Chicago -- or a win by New York -- will seal the deal and leave the Sky, who started off strong, watching the postseason on TV yet again.
If so, it will not be for want of trying. The Sky were also shorthanded as starring center Sylvia Fowles missed her fifth straight game with a lower leg injury that had also hindered her during the Olympics. However, Epiphanny Prince, back from the injury that troubled her in the first half of the season, rose to the occasion, leading the way for Chicago with 21 points in her ninth 20-plus point outing, while Shay Murphy came off the bench for 12.
But Prince shot an inefficient 34.8 percent (eight-of-23) from the field, and an abysmal two-for-10 from long range, while her teammates fared little better in terms of marksmanship, collectively shooting a season-low 32.4-percent from the field, 20.7 percent from beyond the arc (six-of-29), and 61.5 percent from the charity stripe.
Seattle head coach Brian Agler praised Thompson's achievement after the game. "Having coached against her and now working with her," he said of Thompson, "she's just the true professional -- coming to work every day, takes care of herself, and had one of the nicest touches on the basketball that I've ever been around. She knows how to score. Good teammate. She's a proven winner. When you watch her play, she makes winning basketball plays. She'll go down as one of the all-time greats."
Indeed, she already has. Thompson was voted one of the top 15 players in WNBA history when the league celebrated its 15th anniversary a year ago.
Storm playmaker Sue Bird (no scoring slouch herself, ranking No. 15 in league history with 4,433 career points in 351 games) also extolled Thompson's abilities. "It's very impressive," she said of her teammate's becoming the first in history to reach the 7,000-point mark. "It speaks to her ability to score, her longevity and her consistency. You can't overlook those things. There are going to be a lot of players that come into this league, but only a few that have those qualities. She's one of them, and I'm happy for her. Not everybody can play that long and still be effective the way she is. That's a whole other ball game to stay effective. That's difficult to do, and she's been able to."
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