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Beyond Bird's Shot: How Did The Storm Come Back To Eliminate The Mercury?

After Game One, all the attention was focused on Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi’s 2-for-15 shooting struggles, but as some observers noted Seattle Storm All-Star forward Swin Cash had an equally difficult game going 1-for-8. Neither one of the former UConn stars played well in the opener of the Western Conference Finals and both bounced back in Game Two.

But just as Cash is sometimes seen as a third wheel on the Storm behind Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, Taurasi’s first game struggles were considered to be the focal point of Game Two.

In the end, it was Cash — who might have been obscured again by Bird and Taurasi while remaining one of the league’s fiercest competitors — who quietly went about her business of earning the largest chunk of credit for the Storm’s victory.

Storm statistical MVP: Swin Cash

Cash’s performance against the Mercury yesterday is actually something Storm fans have seen on multiple occasions — she has a knack for stepping up in big moments when the team is down and not just willing them to victory, but helping to get them refocused.

But aside from her true shooting percentage of 66.39 percent yesterday, what was most impressive about Cash was her rebounding — she had four of her five offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter and finished with an outstanding offensive rebounding percentage of 24.63 percent. It’s not intense focus or dominant skill alone that drives the Storm, but the attention to the details of basketball across the roster that drive the Storm. Cash’s efficient scoring and gritty board work probably had the greatest impact on the game as a whole.

Storm key contributor: Sue Bird

Of course, Cash’s outstanding play during the Storm’s comeback was overshadowed by Bird’s game-winning shot for obvious reasons. But Bird did plenty before that big moment to help lead the team back to within striking distance as well. After going 1-for-8 in the first half, Bird quickly ended the drought by hitting a jumper early in the third quarter and then proceeded to go 4-for-6 in the second half. Although Bird only finished with a true shooting percentage of 50.76 percent after struggling to get going in the first half, you should know by now that scoring is not Bird’s only impact on the team even in her biggest moments.

Bird had an assist ratio of 32.31 percent and a turnover percentage of 4.03 percent which contributed to an excellent pure point rating of 11.71. But more impressive was Bird’s play on the interior and not just her outstanding defensive play on Temeka Johnson at the end of the game that maintained the tie and set up her big shot. Bird had a defensive rebounding percentage of 16.38 percent, which suffice it to say is way above normal. But the most striking thing about it was the tenacity with which she went and got those boards — these weren’t the types of long rebounds that point guards normally get while heading up the court in transition but rather tenacious rebounds where she got the position and aggressively attacked the boards. Uncharacteristic for Bird, but not necessarily unexpected for a competitor who wanted to win the game.

Key statistic: offensive rebounding

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the Storm’s rebounding that was the biggest statistical factor in keeping the Storm in the game and particularly in the fourth quarter. As can be expected from the Storm, the rebounds came from across the board with Cash leading the way but everyone except Bird and Tanisha Wright with an offensive rebounding percentage above 11 percent. When a team can hit the glass that hard it’s not only the resulting second chance points that help, but the fact that they wear the opponent down and force them to play extra seconds in the halfcourt. The Storm beat the Mercury on the offensive boards 50 percent to 10 percent in the fourth quarter and it becomes rather difficult for the Mercury to run when the Storm rebound that well, start hitting shots (they had an effective field goal percentage of 61.11 percent in the fourth), and get to the line at a high rate (44.44 percent free throw rate). When the Mercury are taking the ball out of their own basket more often as well as having to contend with the Storm defensively on extended possessions, it becomes much more difficult to find the transition opportunities that helped them build their lead.

Mercury statistical MVP: Diana Taurasi

Of course, it’s not exactly like the Taurasi just stopped playing as the Storm seemed to get more focused in the fourth quarter. She finished with 28 points with the last points coming on that ridiculous three point shot near the three minute mark and shot 7-for-11 from the three point line which led to a true shooting percentage of 83.53 percent. She couldn’t have expected to be much more efficient as a scorer, especially considering the number of contested shots she took. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t, and yesterday they did. Sometimes she commits more turnovers than people might like (she had a rather high turnover percentage as well yesterday). But that’s just something a team lives with with a player like Taurasi.

But in a game shaped by the Storm’s rebounding, it’s also worth noting that Taurasi also had a game-high defensive rebounding percentage of 23.76 percent, especially crucial against a team like the Storm. Unfortunately it just wasn’t enough to beat an extremely resilient Storm team.

For more on the Storm's resilience against the Mercury, visit SBN's Swish Appeal.