As Swish Appeal colleague Jacob Sundstrom has already pointed out a couple of times, every game between the three teams projected to finish in the bottom half of the Western Conference is important because wins against the top half of the conference are going to be hard to come by.
So maybe it was hard to call the Seattle Storm's game against the Tulsa Shock tonight a "must-win", but securing a 62-60 win at home against the winless Tulsa Shock certainly helps make their path to an 11th consecutive playoff berth a bit easier.
Tulsa had a chance to win tie or win the game on their final possession with second year guard Skylar Diggins going to the basket with her left, but Seattle forward Camille Little tied her up to cause a jump ball that ended up sealing the game for the Storm.
At some point, on some day, on some planet, Tulsa may want to try an end of game play that ISN'T Diggins driving left to the hoop. #wnba— Richard Cohen (@RichardCohen1) June 2, 2014
Aside from those final moments, offseason acquisition Crystal Langhorne played a huge role in the Storm's victory.
Langhorne scored a season-high 23 points along with 8 rebounds, including a big offensive rebound with 1:13 left in the fourth quarter when the Storm were trying to hang on to a two possession lead and melt away some of the clock. Her fit with the Storm was arguably made more clear in tonight's win as she was assisted on her made baskets by three different Storm players: on a roster with two experienced point guards and one of the best playmaking shooting guards in the league in Tanisha Wright, this roster is much better suited to creating scoring opportunities for Langhorne than her previous teammates with the Washington Mystics. With Langhorne providing the scoring punch, Wright led the team with 5 assists and Sue Bird contributed 4 more assists and 11 points.
For Tulsa, the loss not only leaves them in a precarious position going forward in the standings, as alluded to previously, but also leaves them with many of the same questions they entered the game with.
Tulsa has lost 4 games by a grand total of 10 points.— Shocking Tulsa (@ShockingTulsa) June 2, 2014
Aside from wins and losses, they're still trying to find a consistent rotation, which can't be helping them to find a rhythm. Tonight, they started Diggins, Roneeka Hodges, Jordan Hooper, Glory Johnson and Courtney Paris. Yet the plus/minus ratings - though not necessarily significant for one game - suggest that their best players were rookies Hooper, Vicki Baugh and Odyssey Sims along with Jennifer Lacy and Riquna Williams; it was that set of players that were in the game when the Shock went on a 16-6 run to open the second quarter after the Storm built their biggest lead of the game (11).
Although their most effective lineup has varied from game to game, one consistent theme that seems to be emerging is that they're more effective when they go smaller and use a post who can stretch the defense as a three point threat whether that be Hooper or fellow rookie Theresa Plaisance (when they went on a run to cut into the Minnesota Lynx's 14 point lead in the third quarter of a 94-93 loss on May 23.
Right now, just figuring out an identity instead of toggling between a small ball or more traditional philosophy seems to be a major hurdle for Tulsa: while they were effective when they went small to go on a 16-6 run to open the second quarter, power forward Glory Johnson was still their leading scorer and rebounder with 21 points and 9 rebounds, which was tied for game-high honors with center Courtney Paris. Sims had a game-high 6 assists to go with 7 points off the bench for Tulsa
The Storm now face a difficult stretch of five of their next six games on the road while Tulsa returns home for four games, still looking for that first win.