It sounds strange to say that a team "hung on" to win by 14, but in a way the Seattle Storm did exactly that in their 78-64 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars tonight at KeyArena.
After establishing an 11 point halftime lead, the Silver Stars cut the lead to just one point with 1:06 left in the third quarter, during which the Storm fell into a bad habits with five turnovers and shooting only 37.5 percent from the field due to settling for jumpers against an increasingly confident defense.
"There was a lot of concern," said Storm coach Brian Agler about their third quarter performance. "They're a good team and they've come back before. But we hung in there and you could see us digging down pretty deep at that point. You could see the emotion coming out. We made a couple of defensive stands and got the lead back to seven, eight, nine. It didn't stay at one for real long."
The Storm complemented a renewed focus on defense with the type of offensive aggression that seems to separate all of their best moments. After seemingly finding their way with aggressive plays by both Le'coe Willingham and Tanisha Wright in the final minute, Sue Bird capped off a 7-0 run to finish the quarter with a pull dagger from beyond the 3-point arc 0.5 seconds left.
"Yeah, that's kind of a momentum thing," said Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon, who continued to shoot well with 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting. "It gives them a lot of energy and for us it's deflating. We just had a couple lapses. (Bird) is their primary go-to player - you have to find her and know where she is at all times. She's capable of hitting big shots. Hopefully we'll learn and move on."
And then in the fourth quarter it was all about defense.
The Storm held the Silver Stars scoreless for the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, extended the run they began at the end of the third to 17-2 and finally managed to put the game out of reach for good. The Storm's swarming defense held the Silver Stars to 29.4 percent shooting in the final period and managed to make a normally fluid Silver Stars defense look erratic.
"They were running some pick-and-rolls that were putting us in rotations and they were able to create out of that," said Bird, diagnosing the problem they needed to solve defensively. "For us, we just said, "We need to get this guarded and get this done." And we definitely did that."
Bird will grab headlines again for her game-high 17 points, but Wright deserves ample credit for handling the ball and remaining aggressive throughout the game to keep the Storm in front. She finished with 12 points, a game-high seven assists, and three key steals while Swin Cash was one rebound off a double-double with 16 points and nine rebounds.
"Tanisha made some big plays," said Bird. "We actually fed her in the post a few times. We've been getting better in those situations because we're able to read the situation. Tanisha has the height advantage over Becky so we wanted to take advantage of that with pick and rolls. That's just us getting more comfortable with each other."
The Silver Stars had four players in double figures with Scholanda Robinson leading the way with a season-high 12 points in a much better performance than their 73-55 loss to the Storm in their last trip to Seattle. But the Storm's defensive effort was just too much to overcome once again in KeyArena, where the Storm have won their last six games by an average of 13.8 ppg.
"It's always nice to be home," said Wright. "You play in front of your own fans and you have the comfort of being in your own house, sleeping in your own bed, that makes a big difference. I don't care what team you play."
With the win, Seattle moved into a tie with the Phoenix Mercury for third in the Western Conference, a half-game behind San Antonio over whom they have a 2-1 season series lead.