The Seattle Storm's 99-80 win tonight was not simply a matter of beating up on a Los Angeles Sparks team playing without Candace Parker and in the midst of a five game losing streak.
The Storm finally started hitting shots and had a performance reminiscent of what fans were used to seeing in KeyArena during their dominant 2010 WNBA title run.
"It seems like we have been waking up a few sleeping giants lately, I don't know what the deal is," said Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom. "It just seems like everyone gets up for LA. We know we've always been a target and people just want to beat us."
Whatever the impetus for the Storm's outburst, describing what went right is probably best encapsulated by their outstanding 3-point shooting.
After having their 3-point shooting percentage plummet to near the bottom of the league this season, they shot an outstanding 53 percent tonight, including 5-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter when the rout was on. As strong as the shooting percentage is, the fact that they only shot 17 is also telling - they had a much more diverse offensive attack tonight.
"Seattle had a great third quarter run," said Sparks guard Kristi Toliver of the Storm's 32-21 third quarter advantage. "They really broke us down defensively. And they started making shots; Katie (Smith) was obviously struggling but then she hit that first one, and it got her confidence up and then they all started making shots."
In addition to shooting well as a team, reserve guard Katie Smith hitting anything at all was also a welcome sight. One of the WNBA's most prolific 3-point shooters, Smith scored 12 points and shot 3-for-6 from beyond the arc tonight after shooting a paltry 18.8 percent thus far this season. It was great to not only have another scorer, but also to have any scoring off the bench: after being badly outplayed by the Sparks' bench in their first game, the Storm bench nearly matched their reserve scoring tonight at 17-18.
However, their relative restraint from the 3-point line in the third quarter is probably more important than their improved accuracy. Both scoring leaders Swin Cash (game-high 26 points) and Tanisha Wright (21) went 7-for-8 from the free throw line as the Storm were more aggressive than they'd been all season in attacking the rim. That aggression was particularly evident in the third quarter when the Storm shot 9-for-12 from the free throw line.
"That's been a point of emphasis the last couple of days of practice," said Cash. "Sometimes when you're not shooting the three as well, you're thinking, 'Next shot. Next shot.' You can't fall in love with it. You've got to get to the rim and be aggressive. Whenever I'm doing that, I think it's better for our team."
Meanwhile, the Storm's defense stayed strong forcing 14 second half turnovers, which led to numerous transition scoring opportunities and helped them simply find scoring opportunities more easily. Sparks guard Kristi Toliver, one of two players to make a surprise start tonight, had four of those turnovers but complemented that with 17 points and five assists. The other surprise starter, rookie center Jantel Lavender, scored a team-high 21 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
"Crucial turnovers in the third quarter that really cost us," Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom said. "There's no way you can win ball games having 21 turnovers in a game and them scoring 33 points off of it. So not only did we turn the ball over, we didn't get back in transition, and they capitalized on that."
The Storm's second half performance wasn't necessarily their best of the season, but it was by far the best rhythm they've established on anyone this season. Moreso than the Sparks losing because of Parker's absence it could be said that they ran into a team that was bound to get things rolling at some point.
"It felt good because we know what everyone in this room is capable of," said Storm point guard Sue Bird, who finished with 17 points, eight assists, and no turnovers. "We've had some growing pains - figuring ourselves out, figuring out how we're going to work together. Tonight was kind of payment for that, because we knew it was right there, on the cusp. Tonight we got over the hump a little bit."