Part of the reason for the Seattle Storm's 72-65 road loss to the Indiana Fever last Thursday was that they were simply out worked inside.
"What I was disappointed in against them last week was the fact that I felt like we took a step back when they really got after us and we can't be like that," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "So I'm hoping we make some improvements in that area."
They definitely took a step forward in the area of toughness in their 82-61 victory over the San Antonio Silver Stars tonight, setting the tone for what was to come on the very first play of the game. After forward Lauren Jackson missed a short shot off a pass from Tanisha Wright, got three consecutive offensive rebounds off three consecutive close range shots.
"We got outhustled and punched up in all areas of the game," said Silver Stars head coach Sandy Brondello. "I thought we were a little tougher than that, but obviously not...You prepare them and tell them what's coming. You know they are going to hit the boards."
At the time, it seemed that there were two ways to look at the sequence -- either it was a positive sign that the Storm would end up dominating the boards or a troubling omen of scoring difficulties to come. In a way, it ended up going both ways.
The Storm ended up shooting 33.3% in the first quarter and 35.9% in the first half, before getting in the third and shooting 64.7%. However, it was in fact the dominance on the offensive boards in that first play that ended up dictating the flow of the game. The Storm got 50% of the available offensive rebounds compared to the Silver Stars' 17%. When they weren't necessarily dominant on the offensive boards in the third quarter, they made sure that their guests weren't getting any: they held the Silver Stars without a rebound in the third quarter.
"We pounded the offensive boards sometimes and it was like we were in the park and we're a little kid and these big dudes are standing there and you're jumping, jumping, jumping and you can't get the ball," said forward Chamique Holdsclaw who finished with 12 points and 9 rebounds, both team highs. "If you want to win in this league, you have to defend and rebound and we didn't do that tonight."
The rebounding differential was only compounded by their difficulty executing on the offensive end and stopping the Storm defensively.
"We had turnovers that led to some easy runs," said Brondello. "But they executed real well. We relied on shooting jump shots and we need to be aggressive and assertive to the rim and draw some fouls. Nothing went our way, but then they converted down at the other end. 52 points in the paint -- they just moved the ball well and they execute their plays extremely well. They play well together and you see the chemistry that they have. We're not there yet. The personnel is not the same and we didn't move the ball quite so well. We didn't take the best shot with our ball movement because their congestion is just so good so sometimes our bad turnovers or bad shots led to their offense."
Ultimately though, Brondello said before the game that the team is moving in the right direction before the game and Holdsclaw talked briefly after the game about how the presence of veterans on the roster will help them respond.
"We have a lot of vets on this team and we know what it takes," said Holdsclaw. "We sit down and talk and have a mutual respect for one another. We're just trying to figure it out. We've all played enough years and just want to win. When you're in a locker room like this, you know everybody just wants to win, everybody is committed to it, but hey, we have to get it done."
For the Storm, winning two in a row while playing their third game in four nights is a triumph in terms of further establishing the confidence in themselves that they can respond.
"It feels good to respond after a loss and not just with one win and then you lose again," said forward Swin Cash, who finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-16 shooting and 9 rebounds. "But to do what we did to fly three games and to come out with two out of the three, I think it puts us in a good position."
Storm statistical MVP: Lauren Jackson
Of course, one of the Silver Stars' biggest struggles was guarding Lauren Jackson, who finished with 19 points on 7-14 shooting and 14 rebounds. As usual, Jackson was getting her points from all over the court: turnaround jumpers, fade aways, cuts, and fastbreak layups. No matter what personnel the Silver Stars assigned to guard Jackson -- from Michelle Snow to rookie Jayne Appel -- she found a way to have a continued impact on the game.
"We knew she was a hard guard," said Brondello. "For us, Lauren may score but we have to limit the input of the other players. I thought we contended the guards fine, but like I said, the post players got too many easy looks at the basket. They shot high-percentage shots. By halftime, we defended quite well, but we didn't finish the plays with getting the box out and rebound."
Silver Stars statistical MVP: Edwige Lawson-Wade
If you're looking for bright spots for the Silver Stars, rookie center Jayne Appel's demonstrated progress was definitely one. But Lawson-Wade's quietly efficient play as a point guard also has to be encouraging for Silver Stars fans. Granted, in this game, it's possible that she shows up as the biggest statistical contributor because she will generally take (and miss) a lot of shots or turn the ball over a lot, whereas both Holdsclaw (4 turnovers) and guard Becky Hammon (5 turnovers) did that against Seattle. But Lawson-Wade did at least try to do her part as floor leader.
She had an assist ratio of 33.78%, no turnovers, had a true shooting percentage -- which takes free throws and threes into account -- of 68.02%. Of course, the retort is that the Silver Stars needed someone to be productive moreso than efficient. And for a team that lost Vickie Johnson, the problem is that Lawson-Wade is not necessarily as efficient when her usage goes up in general. So she may not be the long-term answer at point guard. But she didn't necessarily hurt the team much tonight.
Key Player: Camille Little
Little just quietly puts together good games. There was nothing particularly spectacular about Little's performance. It's just that, as usual, she was just everywhere and doing everything. Not only was she the second-leading offensive rebounder with 5, but she had 4 assists, 2 blocks, and a three as well. Holding her back from the grand honor of "statistical MVP" was her four turnovers.
Key stat: offensive rebounding
Both Brondello and Holdsclaw highlighted the fact that the Storm are the more athletic team and that explained some of the rebounding struggles.
"They're a really athletic team and we're not the most athletic team so we have to really prepare and put bodies on people," said Holdsclaw. "There were times tonight where we're boxing out, but we're under the goal. You're trying to jump, but you're pinned under. It's just a toughness we need to develop."
Toughness was the key word used after the game in both locker rooms. However, Cash didn't necessarily think the Storm's athleticism was the reason for the dominant rebounding.
"I don't know if it's the athleticism -- they have some great athletes as well," said Cash, who finished with a team-high 6 offensive rebounds. "I think for us we just were aggressive, determined to just get there. We had everyone crashing. Obviously, for us, it's good when you have three of four people that can get to the glass. But that was a big key for us tonight."