Seattle Storm Had Their Most Balanced Effort Against Los Angeles Sparks

In a way, the Seattle Storm's 99-80 win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday was ultimately the same boring narrative that we could probably just apply to every game and write cookie cutter gamers about.

Sue Bird and Swin Cash - arguably two of the top 15 WNBA players ever - led the way again, with Bird's buzzer-beating three pointer complementing Cash's dominant scoring throughout the third quarter to build momentum that the Sparks were simply unable to counter.

And then of course those Storm Crazies at KeyArena got involved too and things just got out of hand.

But although the cast of characters might have been similar, the way they did it was actually quite different - not only was it a far more balanced effort, but both Bird and Cash were far more aggressive in getting to the basket.

So if the Seattle Storm's road loss to the Indiana Fever last Tuesday was an example of how easily things can go awry when they're at less than peak focus, Saturday's win over the Los Angeles Sparks was a demonstration of just how dominant they can be when they're clicking on all cylinders.

Key player: Swin Cash outworks Sparks defenders for high percentage shots

Cash had 16 of her game-high 26 points in the third quarter against the Sparks and a lot of it was simply a matter of outworking Sparks defenders on back cuts and transition plays. But whether on post-ups or fast break plays, Cash simply killed the Sparks with layups. If she didn't convert layups, she was finding her way to the line where she shot 6-for-6 in the third, again all from going hard toward the basket.

Cash finished as the team's primary offensive threat with an above average 30.44% usage rate as well as a 47.05% free throw rate. But not at all abnormally, Cash was a spark plug in the third quarter simply by relentlessly attacking the basket and finding easy scoring opportunities.

Storm statistical MVP: Bird earns Player of the Week award as efficient distributor

Cash's work in the paint was complemented by Bird's work on the perimeter - Bird scored 17 points, including 2-for-3 three point shooting and had a team-high true shooting percentage of 74.30%.

And while Bird's nine point third quarter capped off by a buzzer-beating three was part of what demoralized the Sparks, it was her efficiency as a distributor that was most impressive. Without Lauren Jackson, Bird has been a much more aggressive scorer, to some extent at the expense of her efficiency as a distributor.

However, against the Sparks, we saw Bird settle into a more comfortable role as a distributor as she brushed off a subpar 5 assist, 4 turnover performance against the Indiana Fever and had an 8 assist, no turnover game against the Sparks. The result was an unreal pure point rating of 17.20.

Bird vs. Opp Assist Ratio Turnover Ratio Pure Point Rating
@ Indiana 26.48% 21.18% -1.96
vs. Sparks 41.15% 00.00% 17.20

Sue Bird's point guard numbers in the week she won Player of the Week.

It's always nice to see Bird take over as a scorer without Jackson, but this team functions much better with Bird moving the ball efficiently and making sure the team doesn't waste possessions with turnovers.

Key statistic: Storm continue to defend without turning the ball over

With Bird controlling the Storm's offense, the Storm turned the ball over less in executing their pick and rolls and overwhelming the Sparks defense.

You could certainly compare their 26.54% turnover ratio against the Fever and 15.24% turnover ratio against the Sparks and say the Fever are just the better defensive team - as Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com described, poor Sparks defense might have contributed to Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom's dismissal. But a lot of it was the Storm simply cutting down on passing errors, like literally throwing the ball directly to opponents or losing the ball against pressure.

Yet it was also tougher to sit in zones or extend the defense to trap Bird or Wright because the Storm were scoring so well and in such a variety of ways - Cash was getting easy buckets inside, Tanisha Wright had 21 points, Katie Smith finally made something, and Le'coe Willingham did an outstanding job converting scoring opportunities around the basket as well.

So although Bird (23.11%) and Cash (17.98%) led the team again, they only combined for about 41% of the team's overall production; contrast that with Bird's 49% against the Fever and 72% in the first game against the Sparks. And when the Storm get that type of balanced attack - even if Bird has a Player of the Week worthy performance - they're extremely difficult to beat.

That was arguably the Storm's best game of the season - they were more balanced, efficient, and productive.

That's why it was somewhat surprising that Gillom got the pink slip after this particular game.

Sparks statistical MVP: Jantel Lavender made a productive surprise start

Sparks forward DeLisha Milton-Jones was technically the statistical MVP of the game, but she continued to play as the team was down 20+ points and the game was completely out of hand.

So Sparks center Jantel Lavender's 21 points and 23.40% defensive rebounding percentage was the big story of this game - it made sense to start Lavender against the Storm after Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles and Fever center Jessica Davenport beat them so badly in the post. But starting her instead of Tina Thompson - who had a sub-par game and only played 11 minutes - as well as starting Kristi Toliver in place of Ticha Penicheiro stood out as questionable decisions after a loss.

It's great that Lavender showed flashes of what she can become as a low-post scorer. It's also great that Toliver has improved dramatically this season to earn opportunities to play more in a game that was extremely important to the Western Conference standings. But the 14 turnover second half was indicative of a team that simply had no rhythm at all.

Part of that is that Penicheiro's impact on the Sparks' offense is vastly underestimated because she doesn't shoot or score much, but she's one of the most efficient point guards in the league and is a nice complement to the scorers in the Sparks lineup. Part of that is that Thompson is one of the biggest contributors to the Sparks' narrow shooting efficiency advantage over their opponents this season. Taking both of them out - seemingly suddenly - was definitely disruptive.

But losing Candace Parker was more disruptive. And the Storm having their best game of the season was even more disruptive. And they were playing in KeyArena - if you haven't been there, those fans are not messing around.

I know, it's cheesy, but it was sort of a perfect storm of difficult circumstances for the Sparks, compounded by a surprising lineup change.

And unfortunately, it looks like the combination might have contributed to Gillom losing her job.

 

 

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