It could certainly be said that the 14-2 Seattle Storm soundly defeating the 5-8 San Antonio Silver Stars 86-72 at home (again) is simply an example of a great team handling business at home just as they should.
Even with the absence of perennial All-Star point guard Sue Bird, the game just started to feel routine at times — the Storm brought the ball up court against minimal pressure, ran their offense, and it was just sort of a gradual build up from 6 points to 9 points to as much as 22 points in the fourth quarter before both teams emptied their benches. There wasn’t necessarily one big run that determined the outcome of the game. And no matter what the score was, for most of the game there was never even a reason to believe that the Storm would lose.
Forward Lauren Jackson jumps off the page in the box score with an impressive 31 points and 15 rebounds, but the play of guard Tanisha Wright, who filled in as the team’s lead ball handler in Bird’s absence is just as big a story. Wright had 11 points and a career-high 12 assists, collected by driving and creating for others, setting up players on fast breaks, and effectively getting the ball into the post. She was supported in the backcourt by Svetlana Abrosimova who chipped in 11 points and 2 assists.
"They kicked our butt," said San Antonio Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon who finished the game with 24 points that were lost in the Storm’s dominance. "Obviously they’re a better team than us right now. They’re better than every team in the league right now. We’ve played them three times early in the season so hopefully we’ll be a more competitive team late in the season. We can keep getting better. There are things we can keep getting better at. It’s all about peaking at the right time, too. Seattle has done their work early."
As a testament to the early season work the Storm have done, they are now tied for the fourth best start in WNBA history, tied with the 1999 Houston Comets and the 2002 Los Angeles Sparks both of which ended up winning the WNBA Finals. Nevertheless, Storm head coach Brian Agler continues to downplay his team’s performance.
"Our goal right now is trying to be 15-2," said Agler. "You don’t serve your team the best service or really your organization if you get caught up into that. The best thing to do is really to just go day-by-day and just try to keep people healthy, try to get a gauge on your team on where they are physically, keep 'em rested, and try to prepare for games. That’s the only thing you can do — can’t do anything more than that, can’t do any less. If you get ahead of yourself, then you’ll end up hurting yourself."
Yet as fans, perhaps we can start making observations about just how well this team is playing without going wild with prognostications. In the Storm’s 82-61 victory over the Silver Stars nine days ago, they beat the Silver Stars on the boards. In their return, the Silver Stars controlled the boards, but were outscored 48-28 by the Storm in the paint and shot over 50 percent from the field for the third time this season.
"Well, we didn’t get smashed on the boards again so that was a good thing," said Silver Stars coach Sandy Brondello. "We took away the second chance points some. We keep honing in on the same things. We know Seattle is a hard matchup for us and they’re the best team."
With each successive record-breaking win, teams are learning the Storm’s tendencies and identifying their weaknesses and the Storm find something else to fall back on. Bird sits out with back spasms and Wright steps up for a career-high in assists. There are hardly words to describe what Jackson brings. All of them are weary from the travel and their physical style of play. And yet they consistently find ways to win games.
Sometimes what makes a basketball team great is not that they prove themselves to be invulnerable, but instead that they prove to have personnel so gritty, skilled, and versatile that opponents are almost reduced to hoping not to get their "butt kicked" in the same way twice. Although the Storm’s victories might almost seem to blend together as one extended display of dominance, they’ve also proven the ability to adapt to such a wide range of basketball circumstances that the experience as a whole is worthy of any basketball fan’s attention.