To the Washington Mystics' credit, they played the Seattle Storm nearly even in three quarters of their 73-63 home loss yesterday.
They just didn't do themselves any favors in the second quarter.
The opened the second quarter offensively with a long jumper off one foot with the shot clock running down, a pass into a triple team, a contested shot over a double team, and a jump pass off a baseline drive that the Storm defense couldn't help but turn into a turnover. In between mental lapses on offense, their defense was only slightly better, giving up a transition layup and a barely contested drive by a particularly aggressive Tanisha Wright.
What began as a series of examples of how to drive almost any coach nuts turned into an exhibition of inefficient basketball. The Mystics ended up shooting 1-for-15 and committing seven turnovers - nearly 40% of their possessions - in a quarter that they'd likely forget.
And yet despite the type of play that self-inflected harm that might have demoralized many teams, the Mystics rebounded 8 of their own 14 missed shots (57.14% offensive rebounding percentage) and stayed aggressive on offense to get to the free throw line nine times while not allowing the Storm to get one attempt. They kept themselves in the game by maintaining the intensity that's becoming the team's trademark.
That, perhaps, is what one might want to see from a now-2-6 team - the Mystics never gave up and at least displayed consistent effort, if not ideal execution. But it didn't take much for the Storm to beat them and the Storm didn't exactly play exemplary basketball to pick up a road win.
However, more important for the Storm right now, as they attempt to keep pace in a competitive Western Conference without Lauren Jackson, are signs of improvement. And those were certainly present for the 2010 WNBA champions, even in an ugly game.
Key statistic: The Storm had an above average effective field goal percentage
One of the hardest things to figure out about the Storm this season is their collective struggle to hit shots. But perhaps ironically, the Storm have had their only two best shooting performances of the season - and the only two above league average efficiency - essentially without Jackson, if you separate the first and second half of their win in Tulsa. That's not entirely surprising given that Jackson was responsible for less than 5% of the team's overall statistical production in a down season before her injury but it's noteworthy nonetheless.
|Seattle at Tulsa (2nd half)||70.31%||57.77|
|Seattle at Tulsa||60.53||86.41|
|Seattle at Washington||50.88%||68.72|
|Seattle 2011 average||44.80%||56.51|
|Mystics vs. Storm||34.78%||40.15|
Granted, the Mystics and Shock allow opponents to shoot well above league average (52.15% and 53.54%, respectively). And missing Crystal Langhorne left a void in the paint that the Storm exploited. But the key was not only that the Storm actually made shots but that at their best they worked to get good shots.
When the Storm had an effective field goal percentage of 59.38% in the third quarter, what stood out was not just that they were making shots buts that they were getting themselves high percentage shots, despite turning the ball over five times (about a quarter of their possessions). Wright's continued aggression in going to the basket was absolutely essential, but they were also making the extra pass and a bit more deliberate and patient about getting the ball inside, scoring 16 of their 42 points in the paint and were a bit more fluid than they were in the second quarter while extending their lead to the largest it had been to that point at 13.
Key player: Swin Cash's all-around game helps fuel third quarter run
More often than not, when the Storm go on a run, Swin Cash is the one who seems to do the little things that help get the team going.
In the third quarter against the Mystics it was starting the half off with a nice pass on the interior for a Le'coe Willingham layup and then a few possessions later rebounding her own missed layup and putting it back up before the Mystics even seemed to know she had gotten it. Later in the quarter with the Mystics somehow scrapping their way back into striking distance, Cash blocked a shot, assisted on a Wright fast break layup and then got herself a fast break layup from Wright by running the floor. Soon after she found herself with a mismatch in the post and scored on a strong move at the rim.
If you're not shooting well as a team, those are the kind of plays that someone has to make to help the team maintain a lead. She finished the quarter with 6 points on 3-for-5 shooting, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. She finished the game tied for a game-high 19 points and team-high 7 rebounds and a 46.15% free throw rate.
Storm statistical MVP: Sue Bird continues taking on more of the scoring load
In addition to Cash's strong all-around performance, point guard Sue Bird continued to show how effective she can be as a more aggressive scorer, particularly in Jackson's absence.
And most importantly, she's still able to play the role of distributor (an assist ratio of 24.60% is still above league average), even if it wasn't her best passing game.
Bird had 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting with a game-high true shooting percentage of 63.81% on the strength of her 3-for-3 free throw shooting and 2 three pointers. But in addition to someone hitting threes, it was especially good to see Bird attacking the basket to draw draw fouls and get high percentage scoring opportunities. Bird spent more time playing off the ball and didn't do much statistically in the fourth quarter, but did facilitate an offense that continued to focus on exploiting the Mystics' missing post player.
The Storm's three point shooting woes are going to be a problem if they continue shooting under 30% for the season. However, one way the Storm can get their sputtering offense as a whole in gear is for players like Bird and Cash to continue getting high percentage shots.
They showed flashes of that in the second half against the Mystics and no matter what the Mystics were (or weren't) doing, that attacking mentality will be the key to helping them improve their scoring efficiency even without Jackson, beyond the fact that they'll have to do it "by committee".