The most normal thing about the Seattle Storm's 68-54 win last night is that they beat the Indiana Fever at home, something they've done in 10 out of 11 meetings all-time.
Other than that, this was another Storm that game seemed to be more of an early-season anomaly than an accurate representation of what the two teams are ultimately capable of.
That starts with the Fever's league-low 54 points on a league-low 29.1% shooting, including a 1-for-7 (14.28%) second quarter. Fever forward Tamika Catchings was held under 10 points for the second consecutive game after scoring in double figures for 24 consecutive games. The two teams combined to shoot 0-for-16 from the 3-point line in the first half until a half-court heave by Storm point guard Sue Bird beat the halftime buzzer.
So it's safe to say that this game was far from typical. And yet the one thing that was definitely clear is that both of these teams played some outstanding defense, with the Fever simply unable to respond to the Storm's pressure.
"We didn't handle their pressure and didn't take care of the ball," said Catchings, who had a game-high 14 rebounds to go with eight points. "When we needed to get shots at crucial times, we didn't. We turned the ball over or the shot clock ran down ... whatever the case may be. It's a game that we can definitely learn from and get better."
As well as that summarizes the Fever's game last night, it's also indicative of an emerging trend this season - entering the week, the Fever were ninth in the league in turnovers and their turnover percentage of 21% was slightly higher than their opponents' of 20%.
That trend is why point guard was an area of concern entering the season and why it was interesting that their ball handling efficiency went up when they put more ball handlers on the floor against the Tulsa Shock earlier this week - ball control is something that the Fever simply have to figure out how to do better and for all the irregularities in last night's Storm game, it's one thing that stands out as a point of emphasis moving forward.
Key statistic: Turnover percentages contribute to a poor start for the Fever
Just as with the Shock game earlier this week, it's no coincidence that the Fever once again turned the ball over significantly less often when they played their best basketball - they had less turnovers in the entire second half (3) than they did in either the first (4) or second (5) quarters and it made a difference.
Fever turnovers and statistical production by quarter against the Seattle Storm.
Saying that a team was better when they turn the ball over less is certainly not exactly a revelation (though not always true either). But the drastic swings that the Fever go through - both against the Storm and in a 36% turnover percentage in the second quarter against the Shock - suggest that this is a team that struggles with taking care of the ball consistently rather than a team that's incapable of doing so.
Third-year point guard Briann January had her second consecutive efficient game as a distributor with an elite pure point rating of 10, but her minutes were limited as she also picked up five fouls. Playing three guards for much of the fourth quarter with Catchings, Tangela Smith, and Tammy Sutton-Brown all sitting out was not only impressive in that they took care of the ball better, but also that they moved the ball better. One of the benefits of that was that Katie Douglas got more involved.
Fever statistical MVP: Douglas, the Fever's most efficient scorer, only got 7 shots
Douglas scored 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting for a team-high true shooting percentage of 62.78%, but the improved ball control seemed to help her game as well at least a bit - she got 2 of her 4 shots in the fourth quarter. You can put that in the uncommon category - in addition to season-low scoring output, Douglas' usage rate of 18.04% was lower than her team-high season usage of 23.37%.
What immediately stands out - aside from their erratic offensive flow - is that three of the four players who picked up the offensive slack were terribly inefficient.
|Name||Season Usg%||Usg% vs. Storm||Mins||TS%|
Highest usage percentages for Fever role players who played 15 minutes or more against the Storm.
So obviously, rookie Jeanette Pohlen did well offensively in nearly double her season average for minutes. But aside from that, the Fever's shot distribution skewed more heavily than normal to their post players - Jessica Daveport played about 8 minutes more than average - while shooting a combined 3-for-20.
Certainly part of that could be due to the Fever not taking care of the ball and putting post players in position to score, but part of it also has to be attributed to the Storm's defense - put simply, they kept Douglas out of the game and contained Catchings and forced others to beat them.
Those others didn't.
"They really try to run a lot of stuff for those two people," Storm coach Brian Agler said. "They're great players and great competitors. We tried to do our best. I thought that Swin (Cash), Tanisha (Wright), Katie (Smith) - and Camille (Little) seemed to be switched off on them a great deal - they did a good job."
Key player: Swin Cash's strong offensive performance complements strong defense
Any time the Storm face a team with a strong wing scorer, Cash is bound to draw some time on her.
Last night, Cash did her job of helping to stop Catchings and Douglas while also putting up a well-rounded offensive performance; although she didn't shoot well in getting her 14 points, she complemented that with 8 rebounds and a solid 21.25% assist ratio and 4.25% turnover ratio for a team-high pure point rating of 7.07. It was yet another example of how much Cash's tenacious mentality on the court can give this team a huge boost both emotionally and statistically.
But the player who might have given them the biggest boost was Le'coe Willingham
"I think Brian said it before - we have about seven starters on this team, people who have been starters on championship-caliber teams and won championships," said Willingham, who had 10 points and 7 rebounds off the bench. "When we go in the game, there isn't expected to be a dropoff. It's expected to maintain or even rise. It was very important for me tonight. I just wanted to come through for my teammates, especially on defense because that's what Camille does."
Storm statistical MVP: Willingham's aggression inside helps Storm overcome foul trouble
In addition to rising to the challenge of stopping Catchings and Douglas on the perimeter, the Storm did actually have to defend the Fever's post players to hold them to 3-for-20 and Willingham was a large part of that.
Splitting minutes with starter Camille Little after she got in early foul trouble, Willingham came in to defend the interior admirably, but also went to work in the post offensively - she had a game-high 25% offensive rebounding percentage and a 66.66% free throw rate while shooting 4-for-4 from the line.
Sue Bird said after the game that it was "really the epitome of our team", but that could be selling the team short - in addition to Little's foul trouble, Lauren Jackson was about the least involved offensively as she's been while able to play in some time, and they're still working off-season signee Belinda Snell into the rotation as she saw her first four minutes of action last night.
From SBN Seattle: What the Fever's defense did to the Storm in the fourth quarter