The Seattle Storm’s 83-82 win over the Connecticut Sun tonight wasn’t exactly their best performance.
However, their 14th consecutive win at home was good enough for Storm coach Brian Agler to not only give the team a day off tomorrow, but also commend the team for their effort independent of whether they had won.
“That was so much better than what we’ve been through the the last couple of games,” said Agler. “Just digging down. And even if we would have walked away here with a loss it would have been so much better — just our effort and our ability to play with the intensity that we need. I wouldn’t have been happy with the loss, but I would have felt really good about how we played. It was an improvement over the last two games.”
Although it might seem difficult to believe that a coach like Agler would really feel good about how his team played in a loss, the fact that he even said it speaks volumes about the mood of the team after this game. After two consecutive losses there was definitely a sense of relief, but it was mixed with a recognition that a third loss wasn’t that distant.
Entering the 4th quarter with a deficit to overcome for the 15th time this season, the Storm had to find a way to save a game that seemed to be slipping away. The third quarter belonged to the Sun and particularly second-year point guard Renee Montgomery who got six assists and nine points on 4-6 shooting during the period to help the visitors to a 66-62 lead.
“Just trying to be aggressive,” said Montgomery of her ability to drive to the basket and both pass and score. “It’s not necessarily looking for a certain thing, like my shot or someone else’s — just being aggressive with whatever opens up and trying to find either my teammates or a shot for myself.”
So in the fourth quarter it came down to a staple for the Storm: defense.
“We have a lot of confidence in our defense,” said guard Tanisha Wright. “If you’re ever in our huddle you don’t hear us saying, ‘Score, score.’ It’s always defense and rebound. It’s always those things that we have to do on the defensive end. It’s always box out and finish with the rebound.”
The Storm’s defensive effort allowed them to regain some measure of control over a game they started well and with 1:05 left in the game, they found themselves down by one point before a lapse by Montgomery. Maintaining her aggression, she committed a foul on Wright who was attempting to initiate the offense, which led to game-tying and go-ahead free throws.
“We’re all screaming, ‘Just play her!’,” said Sun coach Mike Thibault. “Putting them on the line with the chance to go ahead? That’s crazy. We had the lead.”
After a botched final play, the Storm escaped with another victory, with the most fitting record of note an 11-4 record when trailing at the beginning of the 4th quarter.
However, the Storm weren't satisfied with this victory even though it was an improvement over their consecutive losses on the road in which the wear and tear of travel translated into sloppy play.
Agler noted prior to the game that the Storm’s uncharacteristic 41 turnovers in their two road losses accounted for 10% of their total turnovers for the season and the poor execution was as much a reason for their losses as anything else. Although tonight’s game was certainly not pristine, the Storm seemed to really come together when they needed it in the fourth quarter — after forward Swin Cash committed a turnover with 9:22 left in the game, the Storm became a bit more sure-handed.
Ultimately, the way they took care of the ball and found their way to the free throw line for points in the fourth quarter was more a demonstration of the Storm’s ability to scrap their way to victory even in the rare case when they were arguably outperformed by an opponent.
“I think (Seattle’s) confidence level in playing at home and playing together for so long is their biggest ally,” said Thibault when asked about whether the playoff atmosphere created by the boisterous crowd of 7,539 Storm fans had any affect on the team. “I don’t think we were scared or nervous … I just think they have more confidence right now because they’ve done it more times than we have. That’s the biggest thing – they understand. They’ve played together long enough to know that they can make plays. And they know who’s supposed to shoot it.”
As rare is it is to hear in professional sports — especially for a dominant team that is undefeated at home — there almost seemed to be an underlying acknowledgment in the Storm locker room that they got away with something tonight. It was definitely the first time that their post-game remarks reflected an awareness that the possibility of a loss was imminent in the waning minutes.
“This game I think for us, we really didn’t play our best tonight,” said Storm point guard Sue Bird. “I’m sure Connecticut is over there kicking themselves because they had control of the game in the second half. Just being honest…Even though we didn’t play our best we won and everyone can be at ease a little bit.”