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Storm 85, Fever 81: May the refs never overshadow a "playoff atmosphere"

When players walk off the court shaking their heads and chuckling after calls made by the referee in their favor, it is reasonable to assume that something has probably gone terribly awry.

Sitting in front of the Indiana Fever bench in Key Arena last night, that happened on more than one occasion.

So to summarize the feeling among Fever players and coach Lin Dunn after the Seattle Storm’s 85-71 win in front of 9,083 fans at Key Arena, let’s say this: while fans can openly gripe about the refs in their unrecorded post-game comments, coaches and players usually have to share their thoughts in Newspeak. Dunn was just a little more direct than most maybe.

"I was real disappointed in the third quarter," said Dunn outside the visitor’s locker room after the game. "It’s hard for me to believe a team as physical, as aggressive defensively as Seattle is can play a whole third quarter with one foul. That’s gotta be a world record so I’m very disappointed in that particular stat. I did think our players let the officiating bother them some and that’s unfortunate because we need to keep our poise. But with only one foul called on them in the third quarter, I can see why it was starting to frustrate them a little bit."

The official record shows that the Storm actually had 2 fouls in the third quarter, but that’s not the point. The point is the refs almost seemed to overshadow the outstanding performances on the court at times.

With under a minute left in the fourth quarter and the Fever down by 3 points, Storm forward Swin Cash got a pass in the left corner, half faked to freeze the rotating defender, and made one of her characteristically hard baseline drives. As Cash drove, Fever forward Tamika Catchings rotated over to establish position on the left block. While the call was questionable from the media row vantage point, the fact that it was Catchings' sixth foul might have been more troubling.

"Nobody wants to foul out, especially on a play like that," said Catchings when asked to summarize what she spoke to referee Felicia Grinter (#44 above) about on her last play. "She saw one thing, I thought I did another thing and she called what she saw. So it’s just one of those things – you gotta deal with it and move on. We have Chicago next and we have to get ready for them."

Certainly the call didn't determine the outcome of the game -- as Catchings said, you gotta deal with it. Ultimately games are always decided by the basketball plays the teams make and there were some great ones last night.

"I don't think they made any difference," said Fever guard Katie Douglas. "We've just gotta be able to play our game. And I think both teams are, 'whatever' - it was a physical game. It felt like a playoff atmosphere. So they're the leaders in the West, we knew that. And they protected their home court and I'm sure they wanted to get us back for the win that came in Indiana. So it's about the teams, honestly."

Fair enough. And hopefully the fans who witnessed the game don't let the officiating take too much away from the fact that these two teams played arguably the best 40 minutes of basketball that has been played thus far this WNBA season.

A good start for describing the quality of the game might be to look at shooting percentages, especially in the first half. Bearing in mind that these are both excellent defensive teams, the Storm shot 57.1% from the field in the first half but were outshot by the Fever who ended the half at 64.43%. In the second quarter, the Fever shot 73.3%, led by Douglas' 12 points on 4-5 shooting ad 2-2 from the thee point line, including a wild one handed leaning three pointer to close the half.

When the teams weren't necessarily playing well offensively -- neither team made more than 5 shots or shot above 30% in the third quarter -- the defensive intensity was so high that the game didn't become sloppy or unwatchable as many defensive battles do. After the Fever went up by 11 points with their bench seemingly attempting to match the enthusiasm of the Key Arena fans, the Storm clamped down defensively and found ways to make plays that allowed them to slowly chip away at the lead from the free throw line.

"I thought we defended a lot harder," said Storm coach Brian Agler of what happened in the third quarter. "We competed better defensively. We stayed in plays with them a little bit more. It wasn’t a high scoring quarter, but we established ourselves there defensively...It just gave ourselves a breath of fresh air and an opportunity to win the game."

After turning it on defensively in the third, the Storm turned it on offensively in the fourth quarter -- while the Fever shot an outstanding 60% from the field, the Storm shot 80%. The Storm were led in the fourth by the bobblehead trio who couldn't miss: Cash scored 7 points on 2-2 shooting, point guard Sue Bird chipped in 9 points on 3-3 shooting from three point land, and forward Lauren Jackson scored 10 points on 3-3 shooting. When that trio is shooting that well there's really not too much an opponent can expect to do.

It may be tempting now to go ahead crown the Storm after avenging their loss in Indiana last week. At the very least, former Storm coach Dunn is sharpening her pencil in anticipation of penciling in the Storm as the Western Conference representative for the WNBA Finals.

"They’re very, very good," said Dunn prior to the game, echoing a similar sentiment after the game. "As a matter of fact, in my opinion, it looks like they've already won the West. I don't know when they're going to raise the banner because they're such a dominant team in the West I don't know who's going to beat 'em."

However, between these two teams in particular -- arguably the top two teams, indisputably among the top 4 -- nothing is really settled. After two games, arguments could be made that either team is superior, but ultimately all that's occurred is that they've each held court.

"Well, it’s 1-1," said Douglas. "We took care of homecourt and they took care of homecourt. That’s what playoff caliber teams do. By no means are we overlooking anyone and thinking we’re going to waltz into the WNBA Finals. The East is so tough. When you look at the standings in the East and then in the West, it’s just crazy. We’ve got to continue and get on a roll now, get some wins and put ourselves in a position at the end of the season to compete and get back to the Eastern Conference Finals and then the WNBA Finals."

Related Links:

Photo gallery (courtesy of Kailas Images).

Storm - Fever Statistical Summary: Where defensive players are statistically significant

Game (thread) of the Night: Seattle Storm (11-2) vs. Indiana Fever (8-4)