Not that any coach expects to lose by close to 50 points, but Tulsa Shock coach Nolan Richardson was certainly aware that he had a challenge ahead of him in facing the Seattle Storm at KeyArena tonight.
“Back to backs — that’s murder,” said Richardson prior to the game after lamenting a 77-70 loss on Friday night against the Los Angeles Sparks at the Staples Center. “Anytime you play your hearts out and you have a chance of winning a game, then you have nothing left. You’re hoping that you have a little bit left because of the way we play.”
The standard challenge of playing back-to-back road games was only compounded by the Storm holding the Shock without an offensive rebound in the first quarter and then getting into the bonus with 5:34 left in the second quarter. Ahead by 33 by halftime, the Storm cruised a record 111-65 margin of victory against a weary and generally overwhelmed Shock team.
“This is the widest margin of victory in the league — that shocked me,” said Storm coach Brian Agler. “I didn’t think that and we weren’t trying to go there. We were just trying to play and they were pressing and we were trying to attack. That’s about the extent of it.”
However, while Agler and Storm players attributed the historic margin of victory to coming out intense and ready to play, no team mounts a 33 point halftime lead simply by “just trying to play.” The Storm crushed the Shock on the offensive glass 10-1 in the first half, had more offensive rebounds than the Shock had total rebounds for the game, and ended up setting a new WNBA record for rebounds with 57 while the Shock had a much more pedestrian 21.
“We just wanted to be aggressive tonight,” said guard Tanisha Wright. “Set the mode, be aggressive, make a statement.”
Yet as much as the Storm’s historic margin of victory was the result of outworking an overworked Shock team -- perhaps as retribution for a loss in Tulsa on Tuesday -- the league’s best team also made a statement by playing some of the most beautiful basketball one could imagine in mounting that huge first half lead.
Already up by 27 with under five minutes left in the second quarter, the Storm showed the type of execution that has made them the best team in the league. However, rather than relying on point guard Sue Bird to facilitate a fluid offense, the Storm used a combination of sharp cuts off the ball and beautifully timed passes to take advantage of gaps in the Shock’s defense all over the court.
“I enjoyed it — I really thought Svetlana really had a great game,” said Agler when asked about the Storm’s ball movement and referring to Storm guard Svetlana Abrosimova’s team-high 20 points and 8 assists. “And Le’coe even though statistically didn’t have big numbers, she really played well tonight…And the one intangible that you’re getting me to talk about is that she sees the floor — she finds other people and it makes everybody better that way.”
Coming down the court with a little more than four minutes left in the second quarter, Abrosimova was unable to find a passing lane to a wide-open Ashley Robinson under the basket on the right block but patiently initiated the offense. Meanwhile in the opposite corner, forward Swin Cash caught her defender sleeping and made a backcut moments later to get herself open for a pinpoint pass from Abrosimova for an easy layup.
With just under two minutes left, Cash missed a 3-point shot, but Willingham got the offensive rebound on the right block and, without flinching at the oncoming trap, found Abrosimova cutting to the free throw lane for an easy mid-range jumper. Yes, it was “that kind of night”, so to speak, but when at team is working together in that fashion — staying in motion, maintaining awareness of teammates, and filling gaps — it’s difficult to stop them.
While more preparation might have helped the Shock to a closer margin than 46 points, at the same time when the Storm are playing the way they did tonight they’re going to be difficult to stop. Ultimately, they showed why they are a game away from clinching the best record in the league and 15-0 at home, also one game short of a league record.
“Well, we played the best team and they just spanked us,” said Richardson after the game. “It was the worst spanking we’ve had to tell you the truth. Coming away from L.A., playing as hard as we could there, then getting on a plane at 4:30 in the morning and playing again against the best team – nothing good happens usually when you do that. (Seattle) played excellent basketball – shot the ball well, rebounded exceptionally well and did everything they had to do to beat us the way they did.”