How defending ruled the day
SEATTLE — If you only took a quick look at the box score, the Seattle Storm’s 82-74 victory over the visiting Minnesota Lynx does not look like a defensive struggle. Both teams ended the night shooting just about 50% from the field. It’s more accurate to say that, while a good percentage of shots fell in, both teams played suffocating team defense that it was difficult to get shots off in the first place.
These two teams are league-leaders in forcing turnovers from their opponents, and they each forced 19 turnovers from each other on Sunday. Few of these turnovers were unforced errors: there were five total shot clock violations — that’s two full minutes of the 40-minute game commanded by defenses so restrictive that they left no room for shots to go off. Also, each member of the Storm starting lineup registered at least one steal, a characteristic ballhawk performance by the league’s runaway steals leader.
It was hard to shake the feeling that, even by the end of the game, the decisive moment was the first five minutes of the contest, when the Storm ripped off a game-opening 11-0 run, generating a turnover per minute during the streak. Even though this is not the same Lynx team as we’ve seen in prior years, it feels like the residue of the team’s tough, veteran culture that they do not even let games like this fully get away from them. This game dropped the Lynx to below .500, at 13-14, but they are still a uniquely difficult team to put away: only four of their losses have been by double digits, and they have been beaten by more than 15 only once (against the Mystics, on the road). Minnesota was able to reel back the margin to five points before halftime, and got within three points during the third quarter.
In fact, Minnesota looked poised to ultimately take the lead in that third quarter, ignited by Odyssey Sims exploding for 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting in the period alone. Sims’ outburst looked like it was generated from a change elsewhere in the lineup. Eventual Hall of Famer Seimone Augustus, playing in only her sixth game on the season, has yet to return to her usual healthy form, shooting only 27% from the field across 14.2 minutes per game. With Augustus sitting out for most of the third quarter, head coach Cheryl Reeve brought in Danielle Robinson in the backcourt along Sims. The lineup combination of Sims and Robinson alongside regular starters Damiris Dantas, Napheesa Collier, and Sylvia Fowles has been Minnesota’s most-used this year, and has only generated a marginally positive plus-minus across 195 minutes.
More from Seattle Storm
- Sue Bird says goodbye as Las Vegas Aces advance to WNBA Finals
- 3 Must-watch matchups in Storm, Aces WNBA Playoffs series
- Seattle Comes Back Late, Beats Washington In Game One
- What’s happening with Tina Charles?
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, October 8: The Storm are WNBA champions. What’s next?
However, the lineup’s potential seemed to fully click once it was reassembled in the third quarter of this game. Having Robinson on the floor (who has the better career assist-to-turnover percentage) frees Sims (who is the more prolific shooter) from the responsibilities of point guard, creating a dynamic where Robinson creatively sets Sims up for buckets. Keeping Collier, Sims, and Robinson on the floor, Minnesota was able to continue rolling when replacing the floor-spacing Dantas with the floor-spacing Stephanie Talbot, and replacing center Fowles with the quietly progressing Temi Fagbenle.
The Storm’s early 11-0 jump, fueled by patrolling the passing lanes, falls in perfectly with the team’s character to date. As mentioned above, Seattle does lead the league in steals but, interestingly, they are also one of the strongest first-quarter teams in the league, trailing only the elite Mystics and Sun in season-long first-quarter margin. Even during last week’s 88-59 blowout at the hands of the Mystics, Seattle actually outscored Washington in the first quarter, 23-16. Coach Dan Hughes has made a career of having his teams play tenacious, wire-to-wire defense, and the effort especially stands out without the explosive offensive output of reigning MVP Breanna Stewart and all-time legend Sue Bird. As Seattle’s longest-tenured active player, Alysha Clark, has pointed out, the Storm roster is uniquely full of players who have had to work uphill in their careers, overcoming late draft selections and other early-career setbacks. The final result is, alongside the tenacious d, a uniquely democratic offense: all five Storm starters shot between eight and 11 field goals on Sunday, with all five players scoring between 10 and 14 points.
As of games played on Sunday, the eighth-seed Lynx project to start the playoffs with a single-elimination road game in Chicago, facing the fifth-seed Sky and their head coach James Wade, who assisted Cheryl Reeve on the Minnesota bench the previous two seasons. The sixth-seed Storm would host the seventh-seed Phoenix Mercury in a single-elimination rematch of last year’s memorable five-game semifinal series.
Even though only about six games remain in each team’s regular season, don’t expect the standings to stay still for this long. At the fourth seed, the Los Angeles Sparks are only three games ahead of the Lynx. Plus, this group of playoff teams still has a number of important games against one another: the Storm travel to Phoenix in early September, and the Lynx remaining schedule includes the Sparks, Sky, and Mercury.
Stats via wnba.com, basketball-reference.com, and pbpstats.com.
Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.