With 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter and the Washington Mystics still only down four points to the Seattle Storm on Tuesday, forward Marissa Coleman put up a three point shot that resulted in a high rebound that fell into a crowd of players.
By the percentages, you might expect the Mystics to come down with a free ball like that most of the time.
While suffering through injuries and (likely resulting) poor shooting, the one bright spot for the now 2-9 Mystics this season has been that they’ve managed to pull down a league-best 35.8% of the rebounds resulting from their own missed shots. In the Mystics’ first game against the Storm in D.C., the Mystics got a slightly higher 36.4% of the possible offensive rebounds without center Crystal Langhorne, who has been among the most dominant offensive rebounders in the league.
With Langhorne back in the lineup on Tuesday, the Mystics figured to at least stay even on the boards against a Storm team that entered the game as a barely above average rebounding team by percentage. And as poor as the Mystics have been shooting this season (40.03% field goal percentage), their 14.10 second-chance points that result from those offensive rebounds are vital to their offensive production.
There was little reason to believe that the Mystics could beat the Storm without that type of dominant rebounding effort on Tuesday. And that sequence in the fourth quarter ended up being emblematic of how the Mystics’ rebounding effort was short-circuited in the Storm’s 79-71 win.
After the ball was tapped around a bit, it was Storm forward Swin Cash who emerged from the fray, swinging the ball back and forth to shield herself from her opponents. After an outlet pass to guard Tanisha Wright, Cash jogged up the floor as the trailer before switching to another gear at the free throw line and literally bursting through four defenders, getting a well-placed pass from Wright, getting fouled on the layup, and making the free throw.
The Storm, moreso than any other time this season, were just consistently the aggressor on Tuesday. And although that play sequence dramatically overstates how well the Storm played in an otherwise ugly game – in fact, the Mystics even got an offensive rebound to set up Coleman’s failed three point attempt – it also represents rather significant improvement on their part, even from the last time these two teams played.
Key statistic: Storm held Mystics to 0 second-chance points
The Storm ended up holding the Mystics to their second-lowest rebounding total of the season, with their lowest (7) coming against the Connecticut Sun in their regular season opener on June 4. However, the raw number of rebounds is never as important as the offensive rebounding percentage – the rate at which a team retrieves their missed shots, which says a lot more about how well they rebounded. To illustrate the concept, neither of the Mystics’ two lowest rebounding efforts was their “worst”, as shown in the chart below.
Opp Def Rebs
July 12 at Seattle
July 5 at Chicago
June 21 at Fever
June 4 at Connecticut
The Washington Mystics’ lowest offensive rebounding games.
Offensive rebounding percentage is the fraction of a team’s own missed shots that they retrieved relative to the total number of their missed shots retrieved (excluding “team rebounds”), with the formula as follows: offensive rebounds + opponent’s defensive rebounds. So even though the Mystics got one more rebound on Tuesday than they did on July 5 against Chicago, they also shot better at KeyArena (44.8%) than they did at Allstate Arena (38.9%) giving them less opportunities to get offensive rebounds.
But all of that is to actually to set up the real significance of the Storm’s rebounding performance. It’s important statistically that the Storm held the Mystics to a sub-par rebounding performance – including no offensive rebounds in the second quarter – while getting a well above average 44.44% of their own opportunities. However, more important is that they managed to hold the Mystics without a second-chance point, which is quite a feat when you look at the rest of the Mystics’ lowest offensive rebounding performances.
So extending that same sequence to Mystics guard Matee Ajavon’s offensive rebound that led to Coleman’s shot doesn’t actually defeat the point – Coleman’s shot was the missed second-chance scoring opportunity, but the 5’8″ Ajavon also got that rebound in a position where she couldn’t possibly score. After flying in, she was immediately covered by Storm defenders.
And that’s what was notable about how the Storm responded to offensive rebounds.
Mystics statistical MVP: Coleman led her team’s rebounding effort
Ajavon (1) and Coleman (4) combined for more than half of the Mystics’ offensive rebounds. Regardless of size, the fact that they are perimeter players means something when thinking about second-chance points: they’re not likely to be the type of player that gets a high percentage shot opportunity in the paint off of an offensive rebound.
Mystics posts Langhorne (0) and Nicky Anosike (2) combined for two offensive rebounds, which means that more than anything the Storm just did an outstanding job of quickly identifying the Mystics’ major rebounders and making sure someone got to the ball to prevent the offensive rebound. As bizarre as shutting out Langhorne was, she rarely even had a chance at getting to the ball because someone was in her way.
But Coleman’s overall performance was pretty much what kept them in the game, finishing with a team-high 16 points and a game-high 9 rebounds. And while the team struggled to get anything going in the post, Coleman’s 4-for-4 three point shooting to help the team make a season-high 10 threes was embodies what kept them in the game on an otherwise off day.
Nevertheless, what beat them was the type of play that Cash made after Ajavon’s offensive rebound and Coleman’s shot.
Storm statistical MVP: Cash fills the stat sheet and continues her aggression
That play that Cash made ultimately came down to just outworking her opponents at the end of a game when some players might run out of gas. It’s a familiar sight for Storm fans and something that was easily overshadowed by other players last season.
In a game where offensive rebounding figured so prominently, Cash’s 18.34% defensive rebounding percentage can’t go unnoticed. But that came in the context of a game where the Storm got significant rebounding contributions from reserves Ashley Robinson (19.75% offensive rebounding) and Katie Smith (19.02%) as well as a solid performance from Le’coe Willingham (16.04%), who should also be credited with that boxing out effort.
Yet in addition to just rebounding, the way Cash finished that play is also critical for the Storm moving forward. Cash went 8-for-9 from the free throw line for an impressive free throw rate of 75%, which is something she’s done consistently well this season. Cash can score in so many ways in the paint – both on post-ups and cutting to the basket, particularly in small lineups – and the Storm need that without their dominant post threat.
With the Mystics unable to score off of second-chance points and Cash attacking the basket so aggressively, the Storm outscored the Mystics 40-22 in the paint.
And we haven’t even mentioned Sue Bird yet.
Key player: Bird leads the team with 22 points as more of a scoring guard
Bird was simply unstoppable in the first half, hitting pull-up jumpers from a number of spots that the Mystics couldn’t hope to defend – there aren’t many players in the WNBA who get that jumper up off the dribble more fluidly than Sue Bird. And as long as she’s hitting that shot, there’s no reason to stop setting her up to look for scoring opportunities.
Bird was just far more aggressive than usual in taking those opportunities and with the team entering the game ninth in the league in points per possession (95.11) they need her to continue that.
Bird’s usage percentage has been up all season with the team’s offensive struggles, but on Tuesday she was well above normal shooting 8-for-14 – including 2-or-3 from three – for a 25.20% usage percentage. Just as important was her well above average 35.71% free throw rate.
With Bird scoring, Wright took over more of the ball handling duties and played a very efficient game as a distributor with a 43.20% assist ratio and 12.34% turnover ratio for an elite 8.60 pure point rating. And similar to Bird and Cash, a lot of her success was simply a matter of being more aggressive, confident, and decisive with the ball.
Wright handling the ball is not uncommon at all. But what immediately stands out is that although Bird and Cash accounted for 50.62% of the team’s overall production, the other five players filled perfectly complementary roles, from passing to rebounding to just laying a good box out on an opponent.
All that said, it has to be noted that the Storm’s performance was not quite as pleasing to the eye on the television screen as it ended up being statistically on the computer screen – they let a Mystics team that was clearly struggling stay in this game by giving up threes and allowing their opponents to get away with a number of poorly executed possessions.
But the key is that the Storm showed the type of consistent intensity on the glass that helped hold the league’s best offensive rebounding team to no second-chance points. That alone could be considered a sign that this team is slowly hitting their stride after a slow start.