The Seattle Storm will insist that their 5-0 regular season record against the Los Angeles Sparks is irrelevant with the playoffs beginning, especially since the last game on Saturday was probably the best representation of the Sparks team they'll see in the first round.
"Well I think we look at what we gotta do to get better and how they played well in the big picture, but I also think we have to focus on them right now because this is the team that they have and they've been playing like this for three or four weeks," said Storm coach Brian Agler.
Nevertheless, in case you missed any of the season series -- which is indeed mostly irrelevant because the first three games were played before superstar Sparks forward Candace Parker suffered a season-ending injury -- here's a quick overview of what happened.
Game 5 (Seattle): Storm 76, Sparks 65
Storm vs. Sparks: A Battle Of Point Guards Fully Capable Of Winning Without Scoring - Swish Appeal
Key statistic: turnover percentage
Although the most significant factor in the game was probably the Storm beating the Sparks 31% to 19% in offensive rebound percentage, the more interesting factor was definitely turnovers. Aside from the fact that the Storm won the turnover battle for the game 16.09% to 21.62%, once again they managed to just stop turning the ball over in the fourth quarter with one turnover at a rate of 6.25%. A large part of that could be attributed to Bird, but it's also a credit to the unit as a whole.
Game 4 (Los Angeles): Storm 75, Sparks 62
Sue Bird Returns With 11 Points and 7 Assists in 75-62 Win Over the Sparks - SB Nation Seattle
However, it’s starting to look as though the Storm’s success is due to more than chance: at 15-2, they have put together among the best first half starts in WNBA history, according to Kevin Pelton of StormTracker.
Game 3 (Seattle): Storm 82, Sparks 60
Bird's aggression, Little's energy lead a balanced Storm attack against Sparks - Swish Appeal
In last night's 80-60 win over the Los Angeles Sparks at Key Arena, the Storm pretty much determined the outcome of the game before the Sparks even got started.
After forcing the Sparks into a 24 second violation on the first possession of the game and Sparks guard Ticha Penicheiro hit a driving layup for the first score of the game, the Storm proceeded to showcase the balance of their starting lineup with an 8-0 run before a Sparks timeout. Two Candace Parker turnovers and steals by Camille Little led to Storm layups by Lauren Jackson and Swin Cash. Sue Bird hit a jumper and then Little got the first of her career-high 5 steals that led to a failed Tanisha Wright fast break attempt before Wright actually got herself on the board with a jumper.
"They just came out really aggressive, but that's their style," said Sparks forward Tina Thompson who finished with 10 points on 4-8 shooting, most of which came in the third quarter. "They come out really aggressive with a lot of energy, trying to push the score up against whoever they play. At that point, we just didn't match their intensity."
Game 2 (Los Angeles): Storm 79, Sparks 75
Why Svetlana Abrosimova is "precisely the kind of edge the Storm have needed" - Swish Appeal
Offensively, she gets into the flow of the game very well off the bench and as Patrick alluded to, she takes risks with a very good feel for knowing when something needs to happen and then trying to make it happen. That was evident in last night's game against the Sparks. After a timeout with 2:33 left, she scored on a pass from fellow reserve forward Le'coe Willingham, made a beautiful pass to forward Swin Cash for an assist, and then Cash returned the favor with an assist for a three at the end of the quarter.She can do a little bit of everything off the bench and in spurts like that it gives the team a little boost - just knowing that bench players can come in and help maintain the lead is huge for the Storm.
"I'm getting more comfortable and I'm just trying to bring that energy off the bench because the starting lineup plays a lot of minutes and they need help," said Abrosimova after the Atlanta game. "I'm just trying to be as aggressive as possible."
However, her bigger impact on the team might be as a playmaker. During last night's game, that pass to Cash was a perfectly timed entry pass as Cash was cutting to the basket - it wasn't an easy pass from the top of the key into traffic, but again, she recognized the opportunity and made it happen.
Game 1 (Seattle): Storm 81, Sparks 67
Storm's gritty season opener showcases what makes WNBA basketball appealing - Swish Appeal
One could argue -- and some people do -- that Parker is the single most dynamic individual player in the game. Stopping that type of player who at 6'4" has skills that seem to have no positional bounds can be a nightmare for most teams. So for those that might not have an eye for defensive play in the heat of a basketball game, what made the Storm's defensive performance impressive is not only that they held Parker to 10 points -- it's that during the fourth quarter, Parker did nothing on the right side of the box score, where the assists, steals and blocks are. Jackson -- as well as reserve center Ashley Robinson -- did a truly outstanding job of neutralizing the versatility of one of the best players in the game after the Sparks entered the 4th quarter with a one point lead after outscoring the Storm 22-14 in the third quarter.
"Candace Parker is a great player," said Agler. "There’s no question about it. But Lauren Jackson’s defense tonight was unbelievable. We were just talking about we have some who can stay with Candace, and a lot of teams don’t have that. They have to gimmick and do different things with zones and things like that. I’m sure Candace will have some big games against us. She played well tonight. She played 39 ½ minutes and had her opportunities, but Lauren really did a great job and I told her that afterward."