After capping a stretch of 5 of 7 games on the road with an 80-74 win, forward Lauren Jackson offered some words that should offer no comfort to the rest of the league.
"I think that we kind of have to all separate," said Jackson. "We haven’t had any time whatsoever. The fact is it will look better on our game because we all won’t be worried. We get to go home now and have a bit of a break and then start working on our game, regrouping and tightening up a bit."
So that would seem to imply that the 19-2 Storm who have won ten straight and are 10-0 at home will be well rested when the Tulsa Shock come into town on Sunday. If they have a chance to regroup and tighten up at all, the next three opponents -- who currently have a combined record of 23-41 -- are in trouble. It makes it tempting to just disregard the Storm's final 13 games as nothing more than a ceremonial march to the playoffs. Does that make them boring to watch?
Not at all. In fact, it is in games like this morning's game that we learn just how good this Storm team is -- yet again, the Storm had to fight back in the fourth quarter to win.
The Silver Stars (7-13) led by 10 with 3:14 left in the third quarter, but Seattle closed the gap to 57-55 by the end of the period. Down by 3 with 8:24 left, the Storm went on a 14-4 run highlighted by two 3-pointers from Jackson, who led all scorers with 21 points.
"We have been through this a lot. It has sort of been a rhythm of what’s going on with our team," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "We have a group of people that are resilient as a group and as individuals, but they really bring it out when they are playing together."
Even in a seemingly monotonous stretch march to the playoffs, what makes the Storm remain exciting is that they seem to embody what it means for resilient individuals to come together as a resilient unit to respond to novel challenges. If you appreciate the dynamics of team play in a fluid sport like basketball, the fact that this team will find ways to win when the chips are down is impressive. Especially when it's not just Lauren Jackson doing it alone.
Storm statistical MVP: Sue Bird
Jackson is the clear MVP candidate on this team and a player who seems to defy basketball logic. But there's a reason why the team appears to run better with Bird on the floor -- she just seems to be a little bit better than anyone else when it comes to making decisions with the ball that help the Storm maximize their offensive possessions. Yet today was one of the times when Bird showed that what makes her great as a basketball player is her ability to alternately be the best distributors in the game and deadly scorer to complement Jackson. She shot 6-10 from the field and 3-5 from the three point line and 5-5 from the free throw line, one of her season high of 6-6. The free throws came off of a three and two late free throws to seal the game, so it's not necessarily a sign of increased aggression getting into the paint for Bird. The combined shooting gave Bird a true shooting percentage of 81.96%. Not bad for a point guard.
Silver Stars statistical MVP: Sophia Young
What made Young's game most effective was not necessarily her 18 points on 9-13 shooting but her rebounding. For the season, Young has an offensive rebounding percentage of 5.26% -- relatively low for a starting power forward -- and in the first three games against the Storm had 3 offensive rebounds. She had 3 today for an offensive rebounding percentage of nearly 12%. Young's improved offensive rebounding was part of why the Silver Stars outrebounded the Storm 44.83% to 32% on the offensive glass, a first in this season series that the Storm have dominated.
Key Player: Tanisha Wright
What's beautiful about this team is that if Sue Bird is scoring, Tanisha Wright can pick up the slack. Wright had a 44% assist rate -- 13% higher than what she's had on the season -- and a turnover percentage of only 6.29%, which helped her to an impressive pure point rating of 11.82. Again, when looking at this game as a case of how well the Storm respond to different circumstances, Wright's ability to step up again as a distributor when Bird switched into scoring mode shows just how difficult it is to beat this team.
Key Stat: Effective field goal percentage
Early in the season, the Storm were winning despite poor shooting and rebounding and taking care of the ball well enough to win games. Now the Storm are outshooting opponents and not worrying about the rest. Once again, the Storm - who entered the game shooting 37% from the three point line - finished 8-19 from downtown for a percentage of 42.11. It's difficult to beat a team if they're shooting like that, especially when Jackson is shooting 3-7 from deep.