For brief commentary on the Storm's first playoff win since 2004, please visit the storystream at SBN Seattle: Why Fans Are Probably Far More Excited Than The Players About The Storm Overcoming The First Round Barrier
For those that have watched the Storm closely this season, Cash stepping up at big moments should be nothing new.
On more than one occasion, Cash's competitive fire and aggressive play on both ends of the floor has clearly given the team a lift, if not rescued them, when they hit a lull of lackadaisical play. Although it sometimes may seem as though she's regarded as a third wheel to her more heralded teammates, there's a reason why Cash is an All-Star in her own right that legitimizes Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans vote for her as a member of the All-WNBA First Team -- as among the most versatile players in the league she has demonstrated the ability to will a shift in the direction of a game with her spurts of inspired play. Today that came from behind the arc.
Key contributor: Swin Cash
Cash shot 4-for-8 from the field and her 4-for-4 three point shooting helped her to a true shooting percentage of 81.96%. Cash rained all four of her threes on the Sparks in the second quarter helped the team regain control of the game with an impressive effective field goal percentage of 82.14% in the period which was a huge contributor to why they were able to recover from an early deficit and go into halftime with a six point lead. While Cash's scoring was probably the most noticeable aspect of her performance, she contributed in other ways as well.
In addition to a 50% free throw rate, Cash was also more of a distributor than usual with a 28.15% assist ratio, which is impressive for any small forward. As it turns out, four of her five assists came on three pointers from teammates, a telling sign about a pattern in the game.
Storm statistical MVP: Lauren Jackson
Not that it's exactly out of the ordinary, but the Sparks simply were not able to handle Jackson who had a well-rounded game with 24 points for a 58.16% true shooting percentage in addition to 3 blocks and 3 steals and a 25.64% defensive rebounding percentage. That by itself is an impressive performance. But a large reason for threes Cash made and assisted was that the Sparks were forced to respond to Jackson's play on the interior.
Once the Storm established Jackson on the interior in the second quarter, the Sparks doubled down on her but struggled to rotate out to the perimeter shooters like Cash, but also Vesela. With the team constantly scrambling -- and Jackson able to step out for two threes herself - the Sparks were on the cusp of being mentally buried by halftime. It was yet another reminder of what makes Jackson such a matchup nightmare - she starts by beating you inside, you double to try to stop her and she kicks out, and just when you try to adjust to the inside-outside game suddenly the 6'5" center you were doubling is hitting threes on you too, causing another matchup nightmare. None of that is even to mention how much her blocks, defensive rebounding, and steals contribute to limiting opponents on the other end.
While the extent of Jackson's value can never be fully quantified, the numbers help to tell the story of her biggest impact - she forced the defense to adjust to her and the result was both directly and indirectly creating scoring opportunities for others. And today, that created a huge advantage for the Storm.
Key statistic: effective field goal percentage
The Storm ended up tying a WNBA record with three 3-pointers in the second quarter for that effective field goal percentage of 82.14%. However, their 7-9 three point shooting also masked their 20% 2-point percentage in the quarter, meaning they weren't exactly hitting from all over the court but they were certainly taking advantage of what the Sparks gave them.
While their record three point shooting gave them a boost in the second quarter, it was both continued accuracy from beyond the arc - they shot 4-for-8 from the three point line after the second quarter onslaught -- and holding the Sparks to an effective field goal percentage under 40% in the second half that helped the Storm put this series away.
Sparks statistical MVP: Tina Thompson
What kept the Sparks in the game - in addition to the Storm's 22.56% turnover percentage through three quarters - was definitely the play of Thompson, the team's leader for most of the season with superstar forward Candace Parker injured. Although her long-rance shooting - including an especially long shot at the end of the third quarter -- might have been most noticeable, like Cash her passing was probably more impressive for a team that thrived at the end of season by playing much more fluid basketball without Parker.
Thompson had an assist ratio of 20.29% compared to an 8.11% turnover percentage for a pure point rating of 3.41.
Yet ultimately, the Sparks simply didn't have enough to overcome the firepower of the Storm who had no desire to head back to KeyArena for a Game 3 with the Mercury already waiting in the second round. Now hopefully the fans can set aside the focus on the first round barrier as the Storm did before they even started playing the Sparks.