During the Seattle Storm's 85-81 victory over the Indiana Fever last night, someone asked me when I last saw a Storm game that good.
For me the answer probably lies in the third quarter -- of the relatively limited WNBA games I've witnessed in Key Arena, what will make this particular one stand out is that there wasn't really a period of time when either team experienced a generalized failure or lapse that led to a huge run, as Seattle fans have witnessed so many times this season. So often, the Storm's comebacks are the result of them completely overwhelming their opponents who just collapse under the weight of the Storm's talent or the pressure cooker of "Fortress Key Arena". The Fever didn't play a perfect 40 minutes, but they never really fell apart completely.
"We played well in spurts," said Fever forward Katie Douglas. "Obviously they played well longer in spurts and that’s a huge reason why they were able to win the game. We have to be able to start the game off better. When they make a run, we have to stay a little more composed, a little more poised and make a run back at them. They made runs down the stretch at crucial times where we were not able to get anything going on the offensive end, then defensively we weren’t able to get stops. When you combine those two it makes it tough to win the ballgame at the end."
However, the fact that this game might have been decided by one team making more mistakes when both teams shot 24-38 (60%) outside of the third quarter is exactly what made it great -- in the end, despite the refereeing, defensive intensity, and all the pressure attached to two contenders squaring off, the team that played a little closer to unreal ended up winning the game. That's not even to mention the amazing individual performance that fans were treated to between two of the world's best.
Storm statistical MVP: Lauren Jackson
Jackson only missed two shots all game. They came during that third quarter. Both came on second (or fourth, as the case me be) chance shots after offensive rebounds. She did add to her point total with a free throw after an odd technical foul was called on Fever guard Shavonte Zellous.
So hard fought third quarter aside, Jackson scored 27 points on 9-9 shooting, 4-4 from three point land, and shot 6-6 from the free throw line. As though that weren't enough she added 4 offensive rebounds and 2 blocks.
That's just ridiculous.
And that ridiculousness comes before even getting to the full extent of what Jackson did defensively.
"Lauren having to guard [Catchings] or Hoffman or whoever that might be -- and at times she got switched off on Douglas," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "I mean, she's going to be the MVP of this league and the reason is because she can defend. She's a huge factor on the defensive end. There's going to be a lot of people with numbers in this league, but there's no one that can do both like her."
Fever statistical MVP: Tamika Catchings
Although Agler suggested that no one can play both sides of the court like Jackson, Catchings might be one player who can challenge that claim.
Douglas' first half shooting (6-7 for 19 points) might have garnered the most attention, but Catchings' performance was arguably the more statistically impressive one.
Similar to what Agler suggested about Jackson, the standard perception about Catchings is that she will not win a MVP because her numbers don't reflect what she contributes to her team. However, that's not entirely accurate this year -- it's not so much that statistics don't do Catchings justice but that the statistics voters often rely upon obscure what she contributes. The key is the interpretation of what she does statistically across the board.
"I don't know why it doesn't," said Fever coach Lin Dunn prior to the game when asked about the dilemma of her value not showing up in the statistics. "She's usually in the top in steals, rebounds, blocks, and points - top ten in all of those. So I don't know why you would say that. Maybe she's not at the top because she does so many other things. If you look back at the stats year in and year out, she's going to show up top 10 in most everything."
What Dunn said prior to the game is pretty much what played out last night for Catchings -- she had a game-high 4 steals, tied for a game-high 2 blocks, and had team-highs in rebounds (5) and assists (5) and managed not to make a turnover in 33 minutes. When she wasn't exhausted from guarding Jackson, she also scored 17 points.
"For me, from an offensive standpoint, I stepped out a little bit having to guard Lauren (Jackson)," said Catchings. "That was my focus and not scoring, but trying to stay wherever she was and that kind of takes away from the offensive end too."
While she and Douglas carried the Fever -- with a relatively equal share for about 73% of the team's overall statistical output (MEV) -- the fact that Catchings does so many things so well for her team while defending a 6'5" superstar who has 30 pounds on her is extremely impressive.
Key player/Iron Woman Award: Swin Cash
With all the big performances from players on both teams, the play of Swin Cash could almost be overlooked despite playing the full 40 minutes and scoring 21 points.
"Swin's got great endurance, she's got huge endurance," said Agler when asked about not taking her out of the game. "Swin's as good a competitor as there is in this league. She just is. She can defend, she's persistent on the boards, she's a smart player, she makes basketball plays. It's about the best way I can explain it to people -- she makes basketball plays."
The basketball plays Cash made last night are probably best represented by the aggression she showed to draw the controversial 6th foul on Catchings. Her aggression earned her 12 free throw attempts of which she made 7 for an outstanding free throw rate of 92.30%.
Key stat: Offensive rebounding percentage
However, despite all the individual performances, what ultimately won this game for the Storm was rebounding. Sure the refereeing was troubling and that might have led to an increase in free throw attempts, but the referees were not the ones boxing out under the glass and it's hard to blame being outrebounded by 20% (42%-20%) on the refs.
In that third quarter in particular, the Storm's 57% offensive rebounding percentage was as important in helping them get back into the game. In what is becoming the theme of the season, the Storm simply dominated the offensive boards and if shots aren't falling getting second, third, or fourth chances sometimes helps.
Statistical struggle: Storm free throw shooting
Although the Fever talked about their mistakes that led to them losing, the Storm weren't entirely perfect -- for all the free throws they got in the second half, they missed 11 of 25 for 56% in the second half. They only shot a little better for the game, hitting a season-low 59.4%.
"It would have been nice to have a bigger cushion at the end, but what can you do," said You just have to play through it. I’m sure those that missed are kicking themselves. But it happens. It’s basketball. You just have to play through it. I don’t fault them at all."
Nevertheless, the game could have been a lot different down the stretch had the Storm hit anywhere near their previous season-low percentage of free throws: 73.1%.