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Sky-Storm Preview: What Can We Learn From Chicago’s Consecutive Blowout Losses…About the Fever and Mercury?

With just under six minutes left in the first quarter of the Indiana Fever’s rout of the Chicago Sky on Friday, Katie Douglas calmly dribbled around a Tammy Sutton-Brown screen and hit a smooth transition three-pointer over Dominique Canty’s outstretched arm to put the Fever up 20-6.

After watching the ball fall right through the net, Canty just stood there at the three point line frozen for a moment, swinging her arms into a clap before briefly dropping her head.

Immediately, the word demoralization comes to mind – the Fever went on to absolutely dominate the Sky and it was like Canty appeared to feel the weight of it as she was a fraction of a second late rotating on the switch. However, it might be more accurate to say that it looked like she was exasperated or mentally drained and just had a lack of answers for a looming onslaught.

I guess being blown out twice in a row just does that to the human mind.

There really was no reason to believe that the Sky would end their own three game losing streak by ending the Fever’s eight game winning streak, especially without Olympian center Sylvia Fowles. Sky coach Steven Key was quoted as saying part of the problem was that they’ve been trying to "reorganize without Sylvia"…which implies prior organization and that Fowles is somehow worth about 30 points to the Sky.

Neither rings true to me – being embarrassed like that begs probing into deeper problems.

Problems that I have no way to know about…

And so I thought it was more interesting to compare the performances of the Fever and Mercury, the first place teams in their respective conferences, and to look forward to thinking about how the Sky might rebound tonight against yet another tough opponent: the Seattle Storm.

Anatomy of a blowout: Can the Mercury maintain their pace?

During one the Mercury-Sparks broadcast last Sunday, one of the commentators wondered if the Mercury could keep up the pace they play at over the course of an entire season, partially to (correctly) imply it might be a different story once the Sparks get their full complement of players back.

Looking at the Mercury’s last three games, this might be a legitimate concern. Their victory over the Sparks was really a little more than five minutes of dominant play. In their blowout of Chicago, they shot a blistering 70.6% in the first quarter, then didn’t even shoot 40% in any other quarter, not to mention that their assisted field goal ratio fell from 75% in the first quarter to 25% for the game.

And although this might sound paradoxical because they needed a last second shot to beat Sacramento last night, they actually put together an entire half of really good basketball. They shot 21-40 from the field in the second half, were 7-16 from the three point line, and had an assisted field goal ratio of about 80% in both quarters. In the third quarter, they also had a 44% offensive rebounding percentage. They were really playing extremely well– the Monarchs just really stepped up their game to match them.

So the obvious knock is that they are having some difficulty maintaining their pace although they end up looking dominant in the final score. Of course the final score is all that matters and if all they need is one quick spurt to put a team away, then who am I to complain? But it also stands in stark contrast to how Indiana blew out the Sky.

Anatomy of another blowout: How good are the Fever?

To be fair, it seems that part of the issue is that Chicago gets off to really bad starts, digs themselves a big hole and then just cannot get out of it.

The 33-9 hole they dug themselves in the first quarter just felt completely insurmountable, even if you knew intuitively there was still time to come back. Part of that was because the Fever never really let up.

Really it’s hard to take much away from what the Fever did to the Sky because it was 66-36 at the end of three quarters, meaning most of this game was garbage time, whether the coaches publicly acknowledged it by emptying the bench or not. Neither team played particularly well in the second half.

But one thing you can say about the Fever is that they never let up.

Whereas the Mercury seemed to get out in front in coast, the Fever maintained a very high level of play. After shooting 72.2% in the first quarter, they shot over 50% in every quarter except the third (31.3%). Their assisted field goal ratios went up after the first quarter, hitting 100% in both the 2nd and 3rd meaning they were keeping the ball moving to get scoring opportunities. And as is characteristic of Fever basketball, they also kept the Sky to an abysmal 29% field goal percentage for the game.

Whereas the Mercury are having dominant moments, the Fever seem to playing consistently good basketball.

Of course, the difference might be star power

The Fever play extremely well, but their stars – as good as they are – are just not in the same stratosphere as Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter. Really, nobody is this year. So the Mercury have the capacity to just overwhelm opponents with star power and athleticism.

The Fever don’t necessarily have that luxury and I would argue they need to rely on strong teamwork to maximize their talent and win games. Lin Dunn has done an excellent job of getting the most out of them this season.

But something I found interesting when looking at the post game statistics is that the Fever also do a really good job of getting a contribution from multiple players – looking at minutes in a blowout with that much garbage time is not very useful, but looking at Credit ratings is. No player on the Fever was more that 9.29% (Eshaya Murphy) responsible for their victory of the Sky. In contrast, the Mercury’s Credit ratings range from 0-18.61% (Taurasi and Pondexter was responsible for another 11.86%)

The Mercury to this point have been a very star dependent team getting rather inconsistent contributions from their supporting players. Will that stop them from winning a championship? Perhaps not, especially if Penny Taylor returns. But it’s an interesting thing to note.

What’s in store for the Sky at Key Arena?

So obviously, I am headed to Key Arena today assuming that another loss is in store for the Sky, even if Fowles returns. The Key is just too insane for a struggling team like the Sky to suddenly put it together there.

Kevin Pelton already posted a nice preview of the game at StormTracker. Fowles is rumored to come back tonight and if she does, maybe the Sky will fare better tonight than they have in their last two games. Either way, what will be interesting to watch is how well the Storm balance being a star dependent team versus a chemistry dependent team.

Most of all, I’m still eternally waiting for the Sky to find some sort of rhythm or system that will maximize this amazing young talent they have. They have all the pieces to be an extremely successful basketball team and really have no business being embarrassed the way they have been.