How can the Seattle Storm upset the Minnesota Lynx in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals?

Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm was the kind of classic basketball masterpiece that you hope for in the playoffs and takes a while to fully digest. Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com has already doing a great job capturing the epic nature of the Storm's double overtime win on Sunday with his oral history of the game, but today we try to put that behind us and look ahead to their decisive Game Three battle at 9 p.m. EDT tonight.

Here's the biggest takeaway from the Seattle Storm's 86-79 win over the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday night: the likelihood of the Storm winning the same way is extremely low.

No matter how well they defend - and they did so quite well on Sunday night - the Lynx are probably not going to shoot 20% (6-for-30) over 20 minutes of play as they did during the span from the fourth quarter to the end of the second overtime. Olympians Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, and Lindsay Whalen will very likely not combine to shoot 1-for-19 over any stretch of time again as they did from the fourth to second overtime. And though the Storm have actually beaten the Lynx on the offensive boards by a small margin (22.5% to 21.43%) over the first two games, if there is one aspect of the game you'd expect to change it's Minnesota's rebounding effort.

In other words, Game 2 is more of an anomaly than a blueprint for how the Storm can beat the Lynx. Nevertheless, there are a few things that stood out as things that could help the Storm pull off one of the biggest playoff upsets in the last few years. Lynx broadcaster Alan Horton has already done a great job breaking down the game via Twitter, but a few of his points are worthy of elaboration.

Key statistical battleground: Offensive rebounding

Despite an outstanding rebounding performance from Rebekkah Brunson on Sunday, the Storm played the Lynx pretty much even on the offensive boards in Game 2 and there's little doubt that it contributed significantly to their win, especially on a poor shooting night by the Lynx.

But where exactly is that coming from given what happened over the course of the season? A few reasons immediately spring to mind:

  • Lauren Jackson's presence: The one advantage the Storm figured to have in this series was that they were going to be difficult to scout - having only played five games during the regular season with their full roster available and LJ missing every game against the Lynx, there was no way to predict exactly how this series would go even if you figured that a Lynx win was inevitable. And LJ's biggest impact in Game 2 was undeniably on the boards, where her 11 defensive boards made her even more dominant on the defensive end than Brunson was on the offensive end. Despite an off shooting night and a -4 plus/minus rating, Jackson's rebounding throughout the game made her presence on the floor more of a positive than her line might suggest. They need her rebounding to win Game 3 and advance.
  • Tina Thompson rebounding better than she has all season: Tina Thompson has had her best two-game rebounding stretch of the entire season against the Lynx in the playoffs. To put it in perspective, she had three offensive rebounds in three regular season games against the Lynx in 2012. She had one offensive rebound total in nine games in September. In the first round against the Lynx, she has seven offensive rebounds and 16 overall. Getting a 21.53% offensive rebounding percentage out of her - meaning she's getting a little more than 1 in 5 of the ones available to her - was huge in Game 2. Whether she can continue doing that against the Lynx remains to be seen.
  • Shekinna Stricklen off the bench: Stricklen has proven to be a very solid rebounder for a rookie wing and has 12 thus far this series. While she turned the ball over a bit too much in 16 minutes to stay on the floor and had five fouls, if she can rebound as well as she has off the bench the Storm's reserves as a whole could continue to outplay Minnesota's.

X-Factor: Tanisha Wright's role as distributor

The focal point of Wright's Game 2 performance was obviously the big three she hit when the Lynx defense had a somewhat mind boggling breakdown.

Screen_shot_2012-10-01_at_9

But an even more subtly significant aspect of Wright's performance was Wright's passing - Wright had 7 assists and 3 turnovers in 41 minutes for an outstanding team-high pure point rating of 4.06. When Wright's a capable distributor next to Bird, that frees up Sue Bird a bit as a scorer, which makes the Storm a far more versatile offensive team. If she can lead the team in distributing and scoring efficiency again (she had a true shooting percentage of 81.22% in Game 2), the Storm will be in good shape assuming Bird maintains her efficient balance of scoring and passing.

Sue Bird being Sue Bird

There's little question that Bird needs another big game like she had in Game 2 for the Storm to win as both a distributor and scorer - she was right behind Wright in terms of efficiency, matched her assist to turnover ratio, and had more points.

Again, the chances of Minnesota's entire perimeter going cold for 20 minutes seems extremely unlikely, but outplaying the Lynx on the perimeter, from the bench, and staying nearly even on the boards were the keys to their win on Sunday.

The Lynx won't shoot as poorly as they did on Sunday, if for no other reason because they'll be at home. Yet if the Storm can continue to compete on the boards as they have so far in this series, get a more efficient scoring performance from Jackson, and another efficient game from Wright as a distributor they should be able to stay close.

A win might require a little more magic though, which would be hard not to appreciate as a basketball fan after a regular season that was widely considered something of a bore due to the seeming inevitability of a Lynx repeat.

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