It was starting to feel like the Minnesota Lynx's five point lead at Key Arena was insurmountable after rookie guard Monica Wright nailed her career and team-high 19th point of the game with 7:17 left to put the Lynx up 6.
The Seattle Storm just couldn't seem to get within 5 points of the Lynx for more than a possession after getting an 11 point Lynx lead down to five at halftime.
Then Storm forward Swin Cash hit a three that triggered an 8-2 run to tie the game and ultimately helped the Storm "steal" a competitive 79-76 win.
Cash had 7 of her game-high 24 points in the final seven minutes of the game hitting the three with just over six minutes left, drawing a foul on a short jumper in the key against Lynx center Nicky Anosike, and hitting a short jumper over guard Lindsay Whalen with 44.5 seconds left to help the Storm to victory. So it makes sense that Cash end up as the focal point of the game. However, the bigger story of the night might be the post play -- Cash included.
"In Swin's former life she was a post player so she's really good at that," said Storm point guard Sue Bird. "One of those buckets she hit late was just that: we ran that play, she had Lindsay on her, and made a huge one for us...I think relentless is the word to describe Swin. I saw her -- like I said, 'in her former like' -- in college she was a 4 but she used her quickness well, she's a quick jumper, and she just never stops she is consistently attacking. And I think you saw a little bit tonight."
Post play - from Cash and others was ultimately the determining factor of this game.
The Storm frontcourt of Cash, Lauren Jackson and Camille Little outscored the Lynx frontcourt 20-6 in the fourth period. Yes, six of those points were from threes. But when the game got more physical in the 4th quarter, the Storm frontcourt rose to the occasion.
"Well, Camille and Lauren did a great job of hitting the boards and Swin did a great job -- her energy level just took it up a whole nother notch," said guard Tanisha Wright. "We didn't give up and we made some big plays down the stretch."
Given that their vastly improved shooting -- 53% in the 4th quarter compared to 40% in the first 3 quarters -- was a large contributor to victory, Cash's 7-11 shooting was certainly critical. However, although they didn't put on quite the scoring display that Cash did -- they finished with 18 points apiece -- the board work of Jackson and Little throughout the second half made a huge difference. In the first half, the Lynx beat the Storm on the offensive boards 33% to 15%. In the third quarter, Little stepped up with 4 boards -- 3 offensive -- and the Storm cut that offensive rebounding differential down to 33% to 27%. In the fourth quarter, Jackson stepped up with 3 boards -- 2 offensive, including the one that would ultimately seal the game -- and the Storm won the offensive rebounding battle 67% to 50%.
"Obviously they made some clutch baskets -- (Lauren) Jackson's offensive rebound there with that 8 seconds to go was a backbreaker," said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve.
So moving to some other notes, the statistical MVP might surprise you.
Storm MVP: Camille Little
If we were to consider the 4th quarter alone, Cash had by far the best 4th quarter of any player. However, the reason the Storm stayed in the game was arguably the gritty play of both Jackson and Little. Little did a lot of good things without much bad. Comparing the two, Cash had 4 turnovers (though notably, none in the pivotal 4th quarter) while Little had none and also had 2 assists, 3 offensive rebounds, and 1 steal. The all-around contributions from Little simply outweighed the 4th quarter performance of Cash if we take the game as a whole.
Lynx MVP: Nicky Anosike
While rookie Monica Wright's shooting performance was quite impressive, Nicky Anosike played a very good game finishing with a very effective stat line as Little did. However, beyond the stats, it was Anosike's defense of Jackson that stood out. The fight for position in the paint was interesting to watch all on its own and although it doesn't show up in the boxscore, perhaps in this case that's the point -- Anosike did a reasonably good job of fighting with Jackson in the paint.
Key player: Tanisha Wright
Although Bird had a game-high 10 assists, Wright had three assists in the 4th quarter all during that decisive six minute stretch to end the game -- a kick out for Cash's three, a pick and roll that led to a Jackson three on the next possession, and the pass that led to Cash's shot inside against Whalen. During that time, the Storm showed a look that Storm fans will find familiar -- Wright was the lead ballhandler and Bird was playing off the ball to set herself up for scoring opportunities. Not only is Bird a very good facilitator as the secondary ballhander, but Wright is a very good lead ballhandler herself. Although both Bird and Wright denied that it's anything special, Storm coach Brian Agler suggested that it is something we can expect to see more often.
"My opinion: I think Tanisha is a lot better person with the ball in her hands -- maybe even running the point -- maybe than even she thinks she is. And so I don't think we'll go away from doing it at times -- a lot of it just depends on how they're guarding pick and roll and what are some of the other actions we want to put on top of just that pick and roll that she was in with Swin. So I've got a lot of confidence in her with the ball in her hands."
Perhaps what's notable about Wright's performance in a league in which versatility is becoming more and more important is not merely that she did it, but that she can do it -- it gives Agler one more tool with which to keep the defense off balance.
Key stat: 4th quarter turnover rate
Sticking with Storm ballhandling, the biggest statistical difference maker in the two quarters that the Storm won (2nd and 4th) was their turnover rates (5% and 7% respectively or 1 each quarter). They had 5 assists on 8 made field goals and just one turnover. Combined with the 67% offensive rebounding rate and an effective field goal percentage of 63.33%, the Storm played an outstanding 4th quarter -- the win wasn't a fluke by any means.
Take-away point: the Lynx are very good
This is a team that lost by 3 on the road to a Seattle team that returned all five starters and played an outstanding 4th quarter. That the Lynx managed to do that without three starter caliber players is impressive: this is a very talented team.
"You're always disappointed when you lose," said Whalen. "I think the way we competed -- we showed a lot of heart tonight. We responded really well to a not so great performance at home last Sunday. That being said, I think we're happy with where we're going. Would've been nice to pull out the win, but obviously it didn't happen."
For my in-game observations in the game thread:Storm-Lynx preview/game thread: Lynx excitement deferred