It's fitting that Tanisha Wright's three pointer with 52.6 seconds left decided the Storm's 73-71 victory over the Lynx this afternoon.
For the majority of the game, the Storm were outplayed -- in some cases thoroughly outplayed -- in every major facet of the game except shooting. In a game that could have easily panned out in the Lynx's favor, the league's best third best three point shooting team -- only .03% behind the league leading New York Liberty and Tulsa Shock -- took refuge downtown. Their 6-13 (46.15%) first half three point shooting kept them in the game after the Lynx got out to a 10-2 start. And Wright's three pointer with 52.6 seconds left ultimately decided the game. They ultimately only shot 8-23 from distance for the game, but on the statistical surface three point shooting probably saved the day.
But of course, one thing remained quite predictable about this game -- Lauren Jackson was her usual dominant self.Storm Statistical MVP: Lauren Jackson
There are times when the limits of the English language are readily apparent, e.g. describing love, "basketball IQ"/"court vision", and Lauren Jackson. Given that Jackson constantly downplays her MVP-caliber performances this season, as we march toward the playoffs I'll move to a light critique. Somewhat ironically, in a game in between the early three point flurry and Wright's game-winner, Jackson probably shot too many threes.
Jackson was 0-8 from the three point line until she hit one with 7:16 left in the 4th. It would be ridiculous to suggest that Jackson stop shooting threes given that she's 4th in the league in three pointers made shooting at 38.5%. But if she had shot even half as many threes during an off three point game -- either looking to pass or looking to set up for higher percentage shots (she had a 70% 2 point percentage for the game because it looked as though the Lynx had no answer for her defensively) -- she would have been far more efficient and the team might have been as well.
Oh, she didn't have an offensive rebound either.
Then again, given that the rest of the starting lineup only shot 12-31 and nobody on the team got off more than 10 shots, it could also be said that Jackson simply needed to shoot that many shots. That she went 1-9 from three point land and failed to get an offensive rebound in just about 34 minutes yet still finished as the Storm's most statistically productive player by far is only a testament to just how well Jackson is playing this season.
Which brings us right back to the original point -- I have run out of words to describe this woman.
Lynx statistical MVP: Lindsay Whalen
Despite the loss, this afternoon's game was probably the best that I've seen Whalen play this season. She didn't necessarily do anything spectacular and that's exactly the point.
At her best, Whalen has a way of quietly controlling the rhythm of a game without seeming to take over. She does it in a very different way than Bird, who will alternately look to hit big shots or set up others depending on the situation. Whalen is probably among the most pensive basketball players in the league and will patiently make things happen within the flow of the game without ever forcing anything, even if it seems like her team might need her to make a game breaking play. There are times when that seems to frustrate fans in that it almost seems passive. But when her teammates gel and start clicking, it's actually sort of artful.
This game will certainly not go down as Whalen's best, but she played the role of facilitator almost to perfection. Not only did she finish with 6 assists and 2 turnovers for an assist ratio of 35.54% and a pure point rating of 5.71 -- a combination that marks elite point guard play -- but she also shot 6-8 and had a points per empty possession ratio of 3.50 (meaning she scored 3.5 points for every possession she ended with a turnover or missed shot). In other words, if a strong point guard performance is predicated on strong decision making, Whalen generally made outstanding decisions with the ball to help her team's offense go. That she added 5 rebounds and 2 steals only demonstrates how much value she adds to a team from the point guard position.
Key player: Le'coe Willingham
Coming off a championship as a starter for the Phoenix Mercury last season, Willingham's first season for the Storm might be mildly disappointing for fans. But she's quietly coming around and her play off the bench as a role player has come up huge at times throughout the season. This afternoon was no exception.
With Camille Little fouling out after only 9 minutes of play, Willingham came in and did an admirable job in 25:56 minutes of floor time, which was a season-high. Again, it wasn't that she did anything particularly spectacular, but she came in went 3-3 and 6 rebounds while adding 3 steals, 2 assists, and a block, essentially contributing in multiple ways just the way Storm fans may have come to expect from Little this season. Perhaps most important is that 2 of those 3 steals came in the 4th quarter after the Storm pulled even at 62 meaning Willingham's contribution was huge down the stretch.
Key statistic: Effective field goal percentage
Despite the Lynx outplaying the Storm in offensive rebounding (30% - 25%), turnover percentage (15% - 28.05%), and free throw rate (29% - 25.4%), the Storm won this game with their shooting.
So how important was the Storm's three point shooting? Effective field goal percentage might help to put that in perspective.
At the end of the first half, the Storm were down 37-36 but outshot the Lynx 44.8% to 37.1% from the field. But looking at their effective field goal percentage -- which takes into account the additional value of made three point shots -- the Storm outshot the Lynx 55.17% to 40%. Their first half three point shooting made for a very significant 10 percent difference in how we look at their shooting.
However, it was the last quarter where the Storm's shooting really overwhelmed the Lynx. The Storm only went 2-7 from the three point line, but outshot the Lynx by nearly 20% from the field -- 41.2% to 21.2%. The fact that they also outrebounded the Lynx 43% to 20% only added insult to injury. Not to pile on here, but it's a worthwhile point -- the Storm also had a 2 point percentage of 50% in each of the final three quarters, which means that although they weren't getting to the line quite as much as the Lynx, they managed to convert the easier shots at a much higher percentage.
What's remarkable about this game is not just that the Storm were resilient, but that they managed to find a way to win this game on the road despite really being beaten in most significant ways except the most significant: shooting. During the Storm's last championship run, they returned from the All-Star break and went on a bit of a slump. If you allow for a loose historical comparison, during their 2004 championship run, the Storm sort of limped out of the All-Star break. So it's quite encouraging that they've come out of the 2010 All-Star break with consecutive road games in which they pulled out a triple overtime game and gutted out a game that they could have very easily lost.
Does that mean they should just go ahead and raise the championship banner in Key Arena? Certainly not. But with each successive win over Western Conference opponents, it becomes harder to imagine scenarios in which they don't get a chance to do so in the 2010 WNBA Finals.
For more brief thoughts on the game, see SBN Seattle's storystream for the game.