The consensus story of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at KeyArena on Thursday night: no way will the Seattle Storm be able to hold Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi down for a second consecutive game.
And that may be true in a game that the Mercury lost as much as the Storm won: Phoenix allowed far too many free throws and open three pointers to beat a Storm team that is known for being able to play outstanding halfcourt defense.
But while Taurasi's 2-for-15 Game 1 performance might be the most glaring thing that stands out in the boxscore, there were a few other things for both teams that should be expected to change.
Mercury statistical MVP: Penny Taylor
Shooting 5-for-12 doesn't look all that great until considering that Taylor went 4-for-4 from the three point line for a true shooting percentage of 62.11%. In addition, as she's done all season, Taylor had an outstanding game as a distributor: an assist ratio of 30.18% and turnover rate of 5.03% which led to a pure point rating of 8.82.
However, for all the talk about Taurasi's struggles from the floor, another aspect of Taylor's game stands out as representing the team's struggles overall.
Key statistic: free throw rate
As pointed out by Seth Pollack, the free throw differential was not simply the result of bad officiating (not a bad assumption in the WNBA): the Storm had a free throw rate of 43.28% to the Mercury's 23.94%. Pollack explained that discrepancy as follows:
Ugly Game 1 Victory For Storm Won At The Line - Swish Appeal
Seattle had 29 FTA's to 17 for the Mercury and scored 9 more points from the line. The disparity was interesting though considering the Mercury only had two more fouls called against them (22-20).
What it came down to was the Storm fouling on the perimeter as a tactic to slow Phoenix down while the Mercury were getting called for hacking in the lane on shot attempts.
Almost all of Tangela Smith's 5 fouls came against shooters as she reached or leaned in with her long arms instead of standing straight up. Several of Taurasi's fouls where against the arms of Seattle shooters.
The Storm defenders were certainly aggressive and physical against the Mercury drivers (Taurasi and Taylor) but for the most part used their bodies and not their hands.
The officials were pretty consistent in allowing that kind of contact but the reaching and slapping was called and that's something the Mercury do far too much.
Looking a little more closely, the fact that Taylor had a 2 point percentage (12.5%) -- way below her 53.81% during the regular season -- is a sign of exactly the type of interior defense that Seth describes but also a sign that the Mercury missed a whole lot of layups that they could've made.
As much as Taurasi stands to get better, it's not entirely unreasonable to believe that Taylor -- whose 2 point percentage was the best of any starting perimeter player in the league -- will continue to be so inefficient inside the three point line. If she -- and really the Mercury overall -- not only shoot better as a whole, but also get more efficient at attacking the basket and converting with free throws or made layups the face of this game could change.
Storm statistical MVP: Lauren Jackson
However, looking for other things the Mercury went well -- or maybe that the Storm did more poorly than expected -- they managed to rebound with the Storm quite well staying relatively even with the Storm in offensive rebounding by percentage.
Jackson's double-double that included a playoff career-high 17 rebounds could be attributed to a lot of available defensive rebounds, although she did an outstanding job of getting them with a defensive rebounding percentage of 45.86%. The fact that the Mercury managed to hold Jackson to an offensive rebounding percentage of 9.26% -- well under her Top 20 offensive rebounding percentage of 17.14% -- is actually quite impressive.
Storm key contributor: Le'coe Willingham
However, what has made the Storm so difficult to beat this season is their bench and on Thursday night it was former Mercury forward Willingham who picked up the offensive rebounding slack with an excellent 30.47% offensive rebounding percentage. Although offensive rebounding wasn't as significant a factor in the Storm's win in terms of second chance points -- the teams played even with 13 second chance points apiece -- it reinforces the fact that what makes this team so strong is their balance and the fact that they have players beyond Jackson who can still go out and help them maintain their strengths.
Nevertheless, the bottom line here is that neither team played their best basketball on Thursday, to say the very least. So from both teams' terrible shooting to the Mercury's inability to score inside the three point line to Jackson's well below normal offensive rebounding, things stand to change quite a bit in Game 2 to the point where it might not be Taurasi having a huge game alone that determines the outcome.
How it will all shake out in Game 2 is of course difficult to predict, but check out the keys to the game at SBN Seattle.