For a summary of the Seattle Storm’s 85-70 win against the Phoenix Mercury last night you can check out the storystream at SBN Seattle.
That’s not to say there isn’t more to say about last night’s game and Richard Cohen at the WNBAlien blog has you covered. But with a few ridiculous scoring performances, the stats were interesting to look at as well.
Mercury statistical MVP: Diana Taurasi’s very efficient 36 points
The shooting display that Taurasi put on in the first half was obviously outstanding. But for all the off-balance, contested, and just insane shots, she was 52.6% from the field.
But with her 6-for-11 3-point shooting and 10-for-12 free throw shooting (63.15% free throw rate) she had a true shooting percentage of 74.13%, quite remarkable considering her 40.50% usage rate. That’s particularly noteworthy because efficiency should theoretically go down with the more shots a player takes.
However, it’s interesting to compare her performance to Katie Smith’s night
Storm statistical MVP: Katie Smith catches fire as she approaches 6000 points
Smith didn’t have exactly the same type of night as Taurasi: Taurasi had more than Smith in the first half, the shots she made were more spectacular, and her ability to get to the free throw line helped her remain a scoring factor as the team shot 7-for-29 in the second half.
But comparing the two performances solidifies a point that was probably obvious from watching.
Free throw rate
A comparison of scoring performances from Katie Smith and Diana Taurasi.
It’s too much to say that Smith was “better” that Taurasi, but two important things stand out relative to the outcome of this game.
Obviously, Smith was more efficient in shooting 9-for-13 from the field and 5-for-7 from the 3-point line, which led to the impressive true shooting percentage. But she also used up far less possessions (usage rate) to get her 26 points; while she was more aggressive than usual, she also found a comfort zone and took what the defense offered her.
“The minute she checked into the game it was an aggressive Katie,” said Storm point guard Sue Bird. “She came out driving to the basket, getting a couple of layups; it opened up things for her at the three-point line. You could tell that she was in a little bit of a comfort zone. I know, in my head, I was thinking we should milk it. She was feeling good out there and I tried to get her the ball as much as possible. I think everyone was looking for her. But to her credit she really came out with a different mindset.”
Yet Smith’s performance wasn’t just about scoring either – her defense on Taurasi in the second half made a huge difference, although most of it could simply be attributed to Taurasi falling back down to earth so to speak.
“She was probably our most solid defender on (Diana) Taurasi,” said Storm coach Brian Agler. “It wasn’t that Tanisha (Wright) didn’t do a good job, but she just got in foul trouble. Katie had, obviously, her best game since she’s been here, at the biggest time.”
With Smith managing to help hold Taurasi to only 8 second half points, the Mercury’s offense stalled almost completely.
Key statistic: Mercury shot 24.13% in the second half
After shooting 7-for-11 (63.63%) from the 3-point line in the first half, the Mercury shot 1-for-12 from deep in the second half and a large part of that was Taurasi no longer hitting as she had 11 of the team’s 23 attempts.
Meanwhile, the Storm caught fire in the final period shooting 5-for-5 from the 3-point line to contribute to an 80.77% effective field goal percentage. And their shooting efficiency was ultimately the most significant difference in the game as they had a 52.90% effective field goal percentage compared to the Mercury’s 40%.
But a large part of that goes right back to how the scoring burden was distributed.
The fact that Smith’s points came within the flow of a team effort reflects a defining feature of this game – Taurasi carried the Mercury, accounting for nearly 50% of her team’s production while Smith was hot but got a little help.
Key player: Tanisha Wright running the show to catalyze early fourth quarter run
The first four minutes of the fourth quarter exemplified that defining feature of the game as the Storm began to build a cushion that would later expand to the 15 point final margin.
With the game’s biggest stars on the bench – Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, and Diana Taurasi all out of the game(as well as forward Penny Taylor injured, for whatever that’s worth) – the Storm managed to not only increase their lead but build momentum and increase the lead to nine with a Bird 3-pointer with 6:11 left that really ended up being a huge blow to the Mercury’s chances to win.
And it was Wright playing point guard for most of that fourth quarter, setting up teammates on numerous opportunities. Wright only had one assist to show for her effort, but this again is where the notion of “potential assists” becomes useful in evaluating a ball handler’s performance: Wright set up two additional shots for teammates at the rim for layups that were missed and another to Ashley Robinson that was negated by a foul before the shot. While a blind look at such an account could lead to questioning the quality of the pass, these were literally missed layups; put those down and Wright’s line looks a lot prettier.
But regardless of what Wright did as a distributor, she was still outstanding as a scorer with 7 of her 18 points coming in the fourth quarter, including a banked three pointer. And as high as Smith’s efficiency was, it was Wright who had a game-high 91.09% true shooting percentage.
What did we get from this so-called playoff preview?
This game, as described in the SBN Seattle summary, was absolutely an anomaly in many ways. But that the victor pulled away in the fourth quarter at a time when the major stars were resting does speak to an obvious fact that could influence their playoff matchup as much as home court advantage: which team has the better supporting cast?
Sure Penny Taylor was out last night and the game was at Fortress KeyArena, but both Jackson and Wright were out for the Mercury’s lone win in two years and the Mercury needed an 18-point comeback just to pull that win off at home. The Storm aren’t necessarily a deep team, but they’re starting to get back to being a more balanced team that causes key matchup problems for the Mercury.
At least more of a problem than Diana Taurasi can overcome without help.