ATLANTA (AP) -—Brian Agler quickly abandoned his plan to rest his Seattle starters in the second half against the Atlanta Dream.
Instead the Storm's first five struggled in the opening minutes, sat out the rest of the first half and then, led by Lauren Jackson, finally regrouped after trailing with less than 4 minutes remaining.
Jackson, the WNBA's third-leading scorer with her average of 21.4 points, did not score in the first half of what she called "the weirdest game of basketball I've ever played in my life."
Jackson said she didn't know what to think when Agler pulled all five starters with 5:08 remaining in the opening quarter. The Storm's backups played the rest of the half, turning a 12-4 deficit into a 32-31 halftime lead.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't even think we were going to go back in the second half," Jackson said. "It was weird."
Agler acknowledged he improvised following the starters' sluggish start.
"The plan didn't go as we thought," Agler said. "I wanted our starters to play most of the first half and not in the second half.
"I just don't think we were sharp. To me, there's no use for them to be out there if they're not sharp."
Tanisha Wright also scored 14 points and Sue Bird added 13 for the Storm (25-4), who already had locked up the top seed in the Western Conference.
"It's a unique spot to be in," Bird said. "You want to be playing well in the playoffs, but you also want to give some people a rest. I thought our bench players did a phenomenal job."
Angel McCoughtry scored 16 points on 3-for-19 shooting for Atlanta, which dropped into third place in the East, percentage points behind New York.
"We have to keep our leads, and down the stretch we have to make those chip shots," McCoughtry said.
McCoughtry said Seattle's experience showed in the final period.
"They are very smart," said McCoughtry, a second-year forward. "They have a team full of veterans that have been in the league and know what to expect. We are a little young and we are still learning."
Sancho Lyttle had 12 points and 17 rebounds, and Erika DeSouza added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Dream.
The Dream made only 23 of 78 shots (29.5 percent) from the field.
"Our players played hard, we just couldn't find the rim," Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said.
Atlanta led 69-67 with 3:35 remaining before Seattle took control.
The Storm were coming off a 111-65 win over Tulsa, setting a WNBA record for most lopsided victory.
Seattle couldn't pull away from the Dream, with or without its starters.
The intensity picked up when the Dream outscored the Storm's starters 24-20 in the third quarter to take the lead. There were three ties in the final period, the last at 67-all.
Agler said Jana Vesela had a headache and needed six stitches after bumping heads with Atlanta's Iziane Castro Marque.