The Seattle Storm have been lauded all season for their resilience.
They finished the regular season 13-6 when facing fourth quarter deficits and for the entirety of 2010 are 15-1 in games decided by two possessions or less.
So it might at first sound odd for Storm coach Brian Agler to suggest that mental toughness was the reason for their turnovers -- resilience might seem to inherently be an indicator of mental fortitude. However, Agler suggests a distinction between the type of mental toughness required for closing out games and the type of mental toughness that helps a team control the ball.
"I think there's different phases of mental toughness," said Agler. "I think we have the mental toughness to execute when we have to. We have shown that. But during the course of the game there has to be a toughness of decision-making: just because you think someone's open, doesn't mean they're going to be open. You have to have the ability to read the situations and make the right decisions."
What Agler described as a lack of mental toughness on the offensive end might have had its strongest influence on the third quarter when the Storm's 26.59% turnover percentage was largely responsible for allowing the Dream to hang around despite the Storm shooting 50% to the Dream's 33.33%. The turnovers continued in the fourth quarter to the tune of a 22.52% turnover percentage and the Dream combined that with much better shooting and rebounding.
1. Decreasing their turnover percentage
Without McCoughtry out of the game or injured for long stretches, had the Storm not been throwing away possessions in the second half it's quite possible that they would have put the Dream away much earlier.
So there is almost no question that turnovers are the number one thing to watch from the Storm's perspective in Game Two.
"I just thought it was some poor decision-making," said Agler. "Just not being mentally tough. They take two or three things away and you gotta be able to play under control and find out what the fourth or fifth option is. Not picking up your dribble. Not being loose with the basketball. But they're a team that will create turnovers and thrive off that."
By far the biggest contributor to those turnovers was guard Tanisha Wright (38.63% turnover percentage), who echoed Brian Agler in saying that her turnovers were due to decision-making. Forward Swin Cash, who only played about 19 minutes due to foul trouble, had a turnover percentage of 28.57%. And aside from the fact Wright had a higher turnover percentage, her turnovers might be more costly because the team runs much better when she is handling the ball efficiently next to Bird.
2. Patience against the Dream's constantly shifting defense
At one point in the game, someone noted that the Storm looked like they were standing around and watching one another go one-on-one. There are two reasons for that: first, the Dream were making rotations extremely quickly, using their athleticism to their advantage to switch and recover. But second, as Agler alluded to, the Dream created so much disorder that at some point the Storm began to second guess decisions that they normally make without thinking.
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"It was one of those games where I was really indecisive about everything I was doing," said Storm guard Tanisha Wright, who committed five turnovers while Cash had four. "I'll be more focused. I don't think I did anything outside of myself, it was just the decision-making at the end of what I was doing wasn't timely. But it isn't anything I'm going to stress about."
The Storm were at their best when they moved the ball well and forced the Dream to play for a full 24 seconds instead of essentially bailing them out with quick jumpshots. The Storm have a number of players -- from Camille Little to Svetlana Abrosimova -- who are outstanding at both recognizing opportunities to cut through gaps off the ball and finding others. It's no coincidence that they are two players who are at their best when acting on their instincts and trusting the system and their teammates.
3. Moving Jackson around the court offensively
The Dream have got to be pleased with holding Jackson with 12 points on 3-for-10 shooting outside of the third quarter.
"We played through Lauren a little bit more in the third quarter and I think that we can do a good job of playing through her more consistently," said Agler. "But there's no question they're putting a lot of attention on Lauren: there's a lot of congestion, maybe they're trying to deny her in the post and help on the backside. So we're going to have to make some adjustments to combat that."
The biggest upside of "playing through" Jackson might have been that she was also getting different opportunities.
The Dream did an outstanding job going under screens and rotating help to Jackson for most of the game. However, Jackson is almost impossible to contain if she moves around the court as she did in the third quarter -- she had half of her eight threes during that time as well as half of her four offensive rebound. Everybody talks about how the regular season doesn't matter and the records certainly don't. But if watching the Storm during the regular season proves anything, it's that there is not a player in this league who can effectively contain Jackson for 40 minutes when she's moving between the interior and perimeter like that.
If there's anything to be taken from Game One, the third quarter was probably the best: during that time the Storm moved the ball well and created diverse opportunities for Jackson. If they cut down on turnovers -- as they did in the first quarter -- they'll be difficult to beat in Game Two.