WNBA fans have probably come to expect games when the Seattle Storm rely heavily on their starters, whether it be due to coach Brian Agler's substitution patterns or limited production from those that do see the floor.
In fact, the presumed improvement of their bench this off-season - from the acquisitions of Katie Smith and Belinda Snell to having a Le'coe Willingham having a year in Agler's system under her belt - contributed to the overwhelming sentiment that the Storm would repeat as WNBA champions this summer.
So the fact that the Storm bench only scored four points in their 81-74 loss to the Minnesota Lynx last night is not necessarily unusual. However, that the Lynx bench only mustered five points in a game in which they established a 25-point lead through three quarters is at least mildly surprising - this is a team that has been widely lauded for its depth, with All-Star and championship experience down to the 10th player on the roster.
Among the many things that we can count as surprising about the end of the Storm's 18-game regular season winning streak at KeyArena is that the Lynx starters went toe to toe with the Storm's championship starters - a unit entering its third year together with three All-Stars, including a three-time MVP and 2010's best point guard - and completely overwhelmed them.
Yet although the Lynx bench outscored the Storm bench, in terms the two bench's overall statistical production, there's an even more extreme story.
|Team||Bench points||Bench PVC|
Bench scoring and overall statistical production in the Lynx's 81-74 win last night.
To say that the Lynx got nothing from their bench could be considered a mathematical overstatement - the bench shot 2-for-9 from the field and two turnovers, which led to a statistically negative contribution to their team.
But these numbers also don't tell the full story - the Lynx got out to a 24-2 start not solely because of their offensive output or even impressive offensive statistics but primarily their defense.
"We knew that our defense was going to be key so we tried to defend early on and get some fastbreak points and try to stop their runs," said Rebekkah Brunson, who finished the game with a game-high 14 rebounds to go with a team-high 22 points. "We know they're fully capable no matter what the lead was, as you can see, they're going to keep coming at you. We had to keep our focus and keep defending."
Key statistic: Lynx outshot the Storm 62% - 33% from the field through three quarters
Fast break points certainly tell a large part of the story for the Lynx, particularly the story of how they got up big so fast.
Minnesota entered the game leading the league in fast-break points and outscored the Storm 14-0 in fast-break points for the game, which is perhaps surprising given that they didn't exactly force an excessive number of turnovers - they did it by controlling the boards.
"We didn't see that coming, but our defense was pretty good," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "They missed a lot of shots and we got on a roll."
In jumping out to a 28-8 first quarter lead, the Lynx limited the Storm to only one offensive rebound (8% offensive rebounding percentage) off of their 3-for-15 shooting performance. Meanwhile, the Storm seemed to have no answers defensively.
The Lynx shot 65% from the field in the first half as they mounted their 26-point halftime lead. In the first quarter, the Storm didn't force a single turnover and allowed the Lynx to rebound 3 of their 6 misses (50% offensive rebounding percentage). The Storm's halfcourt and transition defense weren't getting the job done and Minnesota was scoring efficiently in transition off of rebounds.
And that also pretty much sums up Brunson's game.
Lynx statistical MVP: Rebekkah Brunson dominates boards, get another double-double
Apologies to Brunson for naming her the statistical MVP - I fully understand that stats are no big deal to her.
"I'm not really a stat person and I'm not really focused on that," Brunson said. "I think everybody else is a little more focused on that than I am, but I just want to do what I can to contribute and to help. If that means being intense and being aggressive to the rebounds, then that's what I'm going to do."
But the stats just help put her performance in perspective - Brunson was responsible for a pretty large 30.60% of the Lynx's overall statistical production last night while grabbing 40.20% of the defensive boards available to her.
That's fairly remarkable.
And when adding her team-high 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting - her fourth double-double in four games for the Lynx - and a free throw rate of 54.54%, Brunson probably carried the team as much as one individual can in a blowout.
But she got those points on hustle plays - it was a combination of points in transition points, second chance points, and opportunistic buckets. There are people who are talking about her as a MVP candidate and last night's game makes it clear why - she was everywhere and the Storm took some time to find an answer for her.
And once the Storm contained her, there was still everyone else on the Lynx, or at least in their starting lineup.
Key player: Seimone Augustus scores 17 on 8-for-10 shooting from the field
While the Storm started to match Brunson's intensity in the second half (holding her to four points and four turnovers), they never necessarily found an answer for Seimone Augustus, who appears to find subtle ways to score in transition, driving to the basket, moving without the ball, or hitting mid-range shots.
Everyone knows she's one of the purest scorers in the league, but when you're trying to stop Lindsay Whalen in transition and Brunson in the paint and transition, it's difficult to contest Augustus' shot. That's the kind of complementarity that makes the Lynx so difficult to defend. And when they're clicking as they were last night, there simply aren't many answers.
Storm statistical MVP: Swin Cash simply never gave up
However, the Storm seemed to get a boost from Swin Cash in the third quarter in a number of ways - not only her scoring and rebounding, but also just the presence of her energy.
Cash was aggressive both on the boards and driving to the basket and matched that intensity defensively. She scored 7 of her 18 points in the third and had 5 of her 7 rebounds. Although she shot 2-for-8 from the 3-point line, she shot a much stronger 57.14% from 2-point range.
It's hard to say for certain whether Cash's performance was motivating, but her third quarter performance stood out as the bright spot in a situation when the entire team could have justifiably given up. The result was a fourth quarter in which the Storm played something far more similar to what fans might expect from the team.
Led by 4-for-7 3-point shooting from Sue Bird in the fourth quarter, the Storm outscored the Lynx 35-17 with a 70.83% effective field goal percentage, didn't turn the ball over once, and gained some traction on the boards. Meanwhile, they held the Lynx to 33.33% shooting from the field.
It's not just that they didn't go away - the Storm showed that their early struggles were more about a lapse in effort rather than an objective statement of inferiority.
The question that remains: Just how good is Minnesota?
Nevertheless, if the Lynx can beat the Storm essentially without much bench production, does that mean that they'll only be tougher to beat the next time around as their bench develops? Or was this game simply a fluke, which means Minnesota will need more bench production to beat the Storm in the future?
The bottom line is that the Minnesota team that showed up last night was much closer to the type of team that people might have expected last season, had injuries not interfered. But they're also still young, have newcomers to fully integrate, and could easily be even better by the end of the season.
That could be frightening for the rest of the Western Conference.
"We still have a lot of room to grow," said Brunson. "We're a young team, we still have a lot of things to learn and it's still a long season. We can't get too excited, but we're going to enjoy it right now and then we'll go back to work."