Storm can clinch WNBA title in Game 3

ATLANTA — A near-empty gym is perfect for reflection.

Three-time MVP Lauren Jackson allows herself those moments, especially as her Storm is one game from its second championship in the WNBA franchise's 11-year history. The difficult path is well marked — five consecutive first-round playoff exits, four different ownership groups, three different coaches, and two season-ending injuries.

But the inner drive for Jackson, a 6-foot-5 forward, is slowly being revealed.

Seattle faces Atlanta in a possible series-clinching Game 3 of the best-of-five WNBA Finals at Philips Arena on Thursday night. If the Storm wins, Jackson has another notch in her "told you so" belt she can use to spank past doubters.

The ones in New South Wales, Australia, who believed she was just a tall three-point shooter with inadequate skills for her growing stature.

"Pretty defining moments when you're a kid and you think that's all you can do," said Jackson, who was cut from two teams. She spoke while seated atop the scorer's table at KeyArena at shoot-around on Wednesday.

"I took it pretty hard," Jackson continued. "When you're 11 years old, nobody cared. They didn't think I was some sort of prodigy. They just thought I was some gangly kid that thought she was good because of her parents. So, I had to prove something."

Jackson, who's won championships on four continents, then hopped off the table and flashed a sly smile as she disappeared into the team's locker room. The next time she was seen, she was fighting elbows, knees and claws to score a game-high 26 points in Seattle's Game 2 win.

The victory kept the Storm undefeated (21-0) at home, where Jackson said she truly honed her fluid inside-out game.

When she first started playing as a youth and joined the WNBA, she was a floater. A massive body who shot three-pointers with the ease of a layup. The Aussie would get testy when forced inside by former Storm coaches Lin Dunn and Anne Donovan, not liking the physicality in the paint among players her size.

Yet, their insistence, along with genetics — she's the child of two Olympians — has helped Jackson develop into an unstoppable force. Finally healthy, Jackson is showing against Atlanta that sagging on her when she gets the ball can open up myriad options, if the shooters are in place.

Storm coach Brian Agler has built that scenario, inheriting All-Star point guard Sue Bird to help orchestrate the offense with designated hitters Swin Cash, Tanisha Wright and Camille Little. Jackson is averaging 22.7 points while Bird is averaging 7.8 assists in the postseason.

It's a John Stockton-Karl Malone combo, even though Jackson's style is more characteristic of Dirk Nowitzki.

"Every day I think about the things that (Sue's) achieved and things that I've achieved and think that it's pretty special," Jackson said. She and Bird are the only remaining links from the 2004 championship team.

"When I look back, she'll be the best teammate I've ever had. I'm very fortunate to play with her because, like I said before, I don't think I would have achieved anything that I have here without someone like her running the show."

In Game 2, the matchup called for tight defense from the Storm and aggressive play in driving to the hoop to draw fouls. The Storm was 27 of 37 from the free-throw line, including Jackson's 13 of 17.

Atlanta expects a similarly exuberant crowd as the ones at KeyArena, and effort that will hopefully give the Dream its first WNBA Finals victory. It's a dream that seems possible, considering that the previous two games were decided by a combined five points.

"They play a very aggressive defense, make us do something different," Dream forward Iziane Castro Marques said. "We match the physicality with them very well. They weren't as effective as I think they want to be. We just have to do the same here and don't let their physicality take away from what we want to do — the running game and their trying to bang us around and not make us quick."

It's a good game plan, until Jackson sits quietly and remembers the last time someone tried to deny her something.

"It's funny now when I look back on it and when I see these people," she said, flashing a smile that blinged like the hardware she seeks.