The Seattle Storm did not play that well in their 70-60 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars last night.
In fact, the Silver Stars arguably outplayed their guests through three quarters despite being down by three points.
Through three quarters, the Storm turned the ball over 17 times (30.58% of their possessions). They allowed the Silver Stars an above average free throw rate of 44.8% in the first half. The Storm didn't have an assist in a first quarter during which they shot only 33.33%.
But what the Storm did do was play outstanding basketball for about four minutes in the fourth quarter.
Key statistic: Storm shot 52.5% from the field in the final three quarters
Although defense has been the Storm's calling card all season, they didn't exactly lock down the Silver Stars in expanding the three point lead they took into the fourth quarter grew to 14 with 5:57 left in the game. Instead, they used 5-for-7 shooting in that brief span, including three 3-pointers, to build a lead that proved insurmountable for the Silver Stars.
If you recall the beginning of the season in which the Storm struggled badly to hit anything from beyond the arc, their 4-for-8 3-point shooting in the fourth quarter - with most of those makes occurring in that first four minutes - was also extremely impressive. The combination of that three point shooting and efficient shooting early for that four minute span helped the Storm to a 64.29% effective field goal percentage in the fourth quarter.
Not surprisingly, that effort came in large part because of point guard Sue Bird.
Key player: Sue Bird leads the team in scoring with 15 points
Right from the beginning of the fourth quarter, Bird showed why people continue to call her the best point guard in the world.
During that four minute span early in the fourth quarter, Bird assisted or scored every one of the Storm's 10 points from the field.
As a distributor, Bird didn't do anything spectacular, but simply got the team into their offense and found open shooters in the right spots. But as a scorer, Bird recorded 7 of her 15 points in the fourth quarter, including one of those 3-pointers and a patented mid-range jumper after finding a gap in the Silver Stars defense.
The short stretch of play was yet another example of how good Bird can be when she's not solely a distributor - she ended up with a team-high 24.95% usage percentage for the game, which has become commonplace with and without center Lauren Jackson on the floor this season.
Yet most of all with her being so decisive as a "combo guard" as well as good spacing, and players cutting to the basket without the ball for for high percentage scoring opportunities, the Storm stopped turning the ball over. Although Bird had 2 of her 7 turnovers in the fourth quarter and had an inefficient day as a distributor overall, the team was much more efficient as a unit in the fourth quarter.
To be sure, part of that was the Silver Stars' defense - they laid off the Storm guards for most of that first four minutes of the fourth and the Storm's offense executed almost to perfection; once the Silver Stars did pressure the Storm down the stretch, they forced a few turnovers, bad possessions, and rushed shots and cut into the lead.
But the Storm also established a considerable advantage on the boards that helped them limit the Silver Stars to one shot at the basket.
Storm statistical MVP: Swin Cash leads dominant rebounding effort with 12
In addition to her scoring output - and milestone 4000th point - Swin Cash was largely responsible for preventing another poor rebounding performance, with a game-high 12 rebounds and a 34.97% defensive rebounding percentage. When the Storm began playing better in the second half, they beat the Silver Stars 19-7 on the boards and held them to only one offensive rebound.
Although the Storm had an impressive 45.45% offensive rebounding percentage in the second half - including holding the Silver Stars without one in the fourth quarter - that on its own wasn't what was most important. Despite winning the offensive rebounding battle, he Storm ended up tying the Silver Stars with only three second chance points.
But what was significant compared to their previous games was that the Storm didn't allow the Silver Stars to extend their possessions with offensive rebounds, which only further helped them build momentum. It's not hard to remember the Silver Stars beating the Storm in their last meeting in San Antonio with an offensive rebound and putback.
The fourth quarter then represents a somewhat elusive scenario this season of the Storm both rebounding well and minimizing their turnovers.
Without Jackson earlier in the season, they were literally dribbling the ball off of their foot and passing the ball to nobody, if not opponents. Since Lauren Jackson returned from injury, they stopped turning the ball over so often but also stopped hitting the boards; Storm opponents had been beating the Storm on the offensive boards in their first four games with Jackson back, including their last game against the Silver Stars at KeyArena.
Good luck trying to explain what's going on there; it's not that one or the other doesn't have an explanation, but the fact that they can't seem to do both rebound and control the ball is a problem if they plan to make a playoff run.
Ultimately, putting together a complete game is something the Storm are still looking to do as the playoffs approach. And the Storm's third quarter was last night's reminder of that: the Storm had eight turnovers.
Silver Stars statistical MVP: Sophia Young scores a game-high 22 points
Sophia Young led the Silver Stars in scoring, but also had four steals, two of which came in the Storm's 8-turnover third quarter. Jia Perkins added three in that quarter and six for the game. As a result of a nearly 45% turnover percentage in the third quarter, the Storm were outplayed through three quarters by a 34.83 to 30.8 MEV margin despite leading the game 47-44.
In more ways than one - if you'll excuse the counterfactual - the Silver Stars arguably should have been up by more at the first quarter and probably shouldn't have been down after three.
Perhaps there are two ways to look at the Storm's inconsistent play in that game: in one sense, yesterday's game was yet another sign that the Storm still have a long way to go before hitting their peak. On the other hand, the Storm were able to find a way to win a game on the road despite playing rather poorly for three quarters of the game.
It's either glass half empty or half full, but it makes getting the second seed in the playoffs and the associated home court advantage all the more important for their chances to defend their title in the Western Conference Finals.