The Storm refuse to frame tonight’s 80-60 win over the Chicago Sky as “revenge”.
“I’m just happy with the win,” said Storm forward Swin Cash, who finished with a team-high 16 points and 4 rebounds. “At this point, revenge or anything else — as long as we consecutively keep getting wins and playing well is the biggest thing to me.”
However you want to frame it, the Storm jumped out to an early 21-9 lead and pretty much never looked back en route to their 13th consecutive win and claiming the best start in Seattle sports history at 22-2 in front of 7,749 fans in KeyArena tonight.
“What I just told my team is I thought what happened here is the reversal of what happened back in May,” said Sky coach Steven Key, referring to the Sky’s 84-75 win in Chicago earlier this season. “In May we came out and we were that team that just played us.”
The difference-maker in the game was that while the Storm were hitting three pointers in the first half, the Sky were missing long two point jumpers. The Storm were scorching hot from the three point line in the first half, hitting 8-14 3 pointers and outshooting the Sky 57.9% to 35.7% from the field overall. 10 of the Storm’s 11 second quarter shots were assisted, making for a simply beautiful first half performance that helped the Storm mount a 55-31 lead that the Sky were never really able to recover from.
“When you have a player like Lauren (Jackson), there’s a tendency for teams to really focus on her, to double team her and to constantly be in help in the situations where she catches the ball low,” said Storm point guard Sue Bird, who finished with 11 points and team-high 8 assists. “So for us, to have people who can spot up from the outside, they have to pick their poison with that. When we’re hitting our shots, we’re a really tough team to play against.”
On the other end of the court, things weren’t going so well for the Sky. In stark contrast to the Storm’s fluid ball movement on offense that led to open shots and the assists piling up, the Sky only had 4 assists in the first half and three of them came from Fowles. Although they want to run offense through Fowles -- who finished with a team-high 13 points in addition to 5 rebounds -- the fact that she ended up finishing with five of the team’s nine final assists was cause for concern for Key.
“Tonight I think we played some selfish basketball and I think it was evident in those two numbers: 9 assists and 57 possessions,” said Key, referring to the team’s 19-57 shooting for the game.
Keeping Fowles uncomfortable in the low post and getting out to the Sky’s shooters quickly is essentially exactly the game plan that the Storm said they planned to execute — by keeping Fowles guessing, the Storm were able to disrupt the Sky’s offensive flow. However, it wasn’t not only about stopping Fowles but also about getting out to stop the Sky’s shooters on the perimeter as well.
“They were there rotating not just to the ball and denying Sylvia opportunities, but to the second and the third option and it made it very difficult for us,” said Key. “And that was none more evident that was none more evident than us only having nine assists and five of them coming from Sylvia. So that’s a tough thing to do — that means our spacing was bad, we’re getting tipped passes out there.”
Nevertheless, when asked about whether the Storm did anything uniquely effective, Key suggested it was more about them not hitting shots.
“We’re not pigheaded about it — they’ve double-teamed her and she made some good passes out of there, we just didn’t knock down the shots early,” said Key. “The problem wasn’t defensively for us — offensively we could’ve weathered the Storm but when you’re giving up easy baskets down on the other end because of missed assignments on defense it makes it tough. So it’s nothing new: they didn’t do anything defensively that no other team has tried to do and Sylvia has still managed to get 18 points and 10 rebounds a game. Tonight Sylvia’s under her average but that’s not because of necessarily everything that they did to her.”
However, Storm point guard Sue Bird would prefer to attribute more of the Sky’s struggles to the Storm’s defense than Key suggested.
“I guess that could be one reason — they just weren’t hitting shots — that’s a part of it,” said Bird when asked about Key’s assessment of the game. “But, I don’t know, I’d like to think we’re not just any opponent at this point. We were doubling Sylvia, we were changing up where that person was coming from, we were trying to keep them on their toes and rotating. And then from there we were just able to recover quickly.”
Cash agreed, reiterating what she said previously in practice about keeping question marks in Fowles’ head.
“I thought our post players did an excellent job, especially with the trap,” said Cash. "I think Svetty and I got involved a little bit. But just give credit to our post players today — they were really effective in trapping her, getting question marks, getting back out. And it made our job a lot easier when they’re doing that.
“We were rotating, closing out. Their guards like to penetrate and get to the basket and I thought we did an effective job of whenever they penetrated coming with another rotation and not just staying with Sylvia, but making them have to make another pass. And that was very successful for us tonight.”
More than anything, Storm coach Brian Agler was again less moved by the final score and gaudy halftime numbers in the box score, but the intangibles that his veteran team is demonstrating as they continue to eye a championship.
“What I was impressed with about our team tonight was our focus,” said Agler. “After playing an emotional game on Tuesday, conference game, home again, you have a team that comes in here and we don’t play them a lot so we’re not as familiar with them as we are the Western teams. We just tried to play a little bit more aggressively tonight. We’ve had a tendency to play soft against them and it just doesn’t work for us. I was glad that we talked about and walked through some things and we had the ability to apply it on the floor.”
The focus early on allowed Agler to find stretches for early rest for Bird and center Lauren Jackson, who finished with 14 points and 4 rebounds.
While the Storm inch closer to attaining their goal of having home court advantage throughout the playoffs at 22-2 before a two game road trip, the Sky are falling in the other direction at 12-14 in last place in the competitive Eastern Conference. The Storm will head back to the road for a 4 pm PST game at the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday while the Sky are headed to Phoenix for a 3 pm PST game against the Mercury on the same evening.