(Who's fouling who? Lauren Jackson and Jessica Davenport battle under the basket.
Photo courtesy of Josh Flynn.)
The Eastern Conference's domination over the West continues as Indiana Fever downed the WNBA-leading Seattle Storm, 72-65 on Thursday. The Storm are 7-0 against the anemic West, but are now only 2-2 against the East.
Seattle's only other loss came May 27th at Chicago, 84-75, their lowest point total before facing Indiana.
In a pregame interview, when asked whether the two teams represented a clash of styles, Fever forward Ebony Hoffman replied, "I think we both play tough. Seattle has this year changed its style. They are a lot tougher now. They've added LeCoe Willingham and a few other pieces they have. I think it's still a matter of wills. However a team gets the job done is how they get it done. If we can't get shots at the end, we rev up our defense. Some teams in the West, they rev up their offense."
Seattle imposed it's will early. But after scoring 27 points in the first quarter, the Storm scored only 38 in the next three quarters, including a 7 point 2nd quarter. The low final score suggests that the Fever won the battle of wills this time.
In addition to homecourt, the Fever had several other advantages, beginning obviously with their defense.
"Our full court pressure had worn them down some. They looked a little fatigued." said Fever coach Lin Dunn.
Dunn also credited the change in the 2nd quarter to renewed defensive intensity "[In the first quarter] we missed some rotations. We weren’t talking on defense. They came out with enormous energy and we were a step slow. We made some adjustments. Initially we were trapping, then we changed that to switching."
The Storm also recognized the increased defensive intensity.
"We ran a pretty good offense, but they were not quite as engaged defensively as they can be." Storm coach Brian Agler said.
"We got off to a pretty good start and then they really turned up the energy and made it difficult for us and then the time kind of ran out on us." said Storm gaurd Sue Bird. "It was a combination of them turning up their intensity up, getting out and denying, pressuring the ball, getting their hands balls, causing turnovers. They put us on our heels rather than going into attack mode. We ended up reacting just a little too late."
That intensity caught the Seattle Storm offguard as their multidimensional offense stagnated with attempts to exploit mismatches on Laren Jackson which crippled the type of ball movement typically associated with Storm basketball.
"What Indiana does is they switch a lot of screens." said Bird. "That puts someone like Tully, January [on Jackson], even Catchings on Lauren is a mismatch for us, to get the ball inside. But they’re not stupid. They know it’s a mismatch so they send a lot of people to her."
Agler also noticed the offensive missteps. "There were some things they gave us that we didn’t see and we tried to force some things we thought were there." he said. "Every time they take something away, they give you something. I don’t think we did a good job recognizing what that was."
"We shot ourselves in the foot." echoed Bird. "We forced it instead of taking what they gave us like we did at the beginning of the game."
(Katie Douglas squares off with Svetlana Abrosimova. Photo courtesy of Josh Flynn.)
They say no one expects the Spanish inquisition. Even if one expects the Indiana Fever defense, how can a team really prepare for it?
"We prepared." said Bird. "We had a couple of days to prepare. You don’t know what it’s like until you play against them. We knew what they were going to do but it’s a matter of going out there against it."
Because few teams play with Indiana's high energy defense, adjusting to that intensity withn the context of a single game can be a challenge.
"It’s disappointing anytime you don’t play up to your expectations, whether you are playing a back-to-back or have a couple of days to prepare." said Storm coach Brian Agler. "They challenged us, physically and mentally. Our response was sort of a rollercoaster. Sometimes we responded, sometimes we didn’t. We responded inconsistently."
"We haven’t played against them, or a team like that, so it will be a learning process and I hope we get better from it." continued Agler.
Expect Seattle to handle Indiana's defense much better next time. The two teams meet again next week in Seattle on Friday, June 25th.