As the Indiana Fever's final point total might suggest, the Seattle Storm's 68-54 win tonight was very much a defensive battle.
Indiana's 54 points were a league-low this season and the fewest allowed by the Storm since July 7, 2009 in a 66-53 win vs. San Antonio.
"I think we started to look like ourselves defensively," Storm coach Brian Agler said. "I was really pleased with our focus, the way we came out and the way we played. I thought we did some good things offensively until we didn't play well against the zone in the fourth quarter."
After the Storm got up by 25 points by the end of the third quarter, the Fever threw a zone defense at them that might have made the final score look more respectable than the game actually was - Indiana held the Storm to 3-for-17 (17.6 percent) shooting in the fourth quarter after allowing them to shoot nearly 40% in the first three quarters.
"I was pleased with our effort in the fourth quarter," Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "A lot of people might say your subs were going against their subs, but no, it was their starters - I watched. We did a really good job of closing the gap. By the fourth quarter we kind of settled down so I saw some good things."
Although the Fever's offense never looked particularly fluid, they shot considerably better in the fourth quarter at 41.7 percent and outscored the Storm 21-10. But the shift in momentum could be attributed just as much to the Storm coasting a little after building a big lead as anything the Fever did strategically - the outcome of the game was hardly in doubt by the beginning of the fourth quarter.
"Coach said she liked what she saw in the fourth with what we were doing - we were playing a lot of matchup zone, which is something we haven't necessarily been able to play in other games," Fever wing Katie Douglas said. "Obviously it was a large lead that they had in the fourth quarter so we just started experimenting. We can take away that we can perhaps play some of that and mix it up a little bit to change the rhythm of the game."
But with that big cushion, the Storm ultimately prevailed and improved to 2-1 on the season. And somewhat remarkably, they did it without much statistical help from forward Lauren Jackson, who finished with only nine points and six rebounds.
Forward Swin Cash, who is off to a great start in 2011, led the Storm with a game-high 14 points, eight rebounds, and five assists, once again providing consistent energy in just under 33 minutes of play. Sue Bird added 12 points and four assists. However, it was the Storm's trademark defense that was the focus after the game.
"Brian has said this many times - T is really the captain of our defense, along with Camille," Bird said commenting on the Storm's defense on Catchings and Douglas. "They set the tone for us - Swin as well. For those two, the job they did on their two All-Stars was very impressive. That's what makes Indiana go - those two players. They did as good a job as I've seen in a long time against Douglas and Catchings. They're hard to take out of a game."
The Fever's individual numbers reinforce the fact that they simply did not find much of a rhythm due to the Storm's defensive intensity. WNBA scoring leader Katie Douglas finished with a team-high 11 points while versatile forward Tamika Catchings finished with a game-high 14 rebounds and eight points.
So despite a rough fourth quarter, perhaps due to a lapse in focus due to a big lead, the Storm team we saw tonight was much closer to the championship contender everyone expected them to be this season.
"It was very important for us," said Le'coe Willingham, who had a strong first half and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. "You saw us establish our defense and get back to what we do. It felt really good. I think everybody was tuned in to our scout and tuned in to getting after it at the defensive end. A lot of times, we feed off our defense and that's what creates our offense. I think we did a really good job tonight."