August 26, 2020
Seattle Storm rediscover identity in time for toughening schedule
There is little time for them to catch their breath
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Jordin Canada #21 of the Seattle Storm handles theball against the Indiana Fever on August 20, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Centerin Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
The five-game stretch the Storm are in the middle of always looked like one of the most challenging on the schedule. Seattle retained possession of first place despite losing their two previous games. With Las Vegas, who beat Seattle on Saturday, winning on Tuesday night, the stakes heightened for their rematch with Indiana.
Led by a dominant 27-point and nine-rebound performance from Breanna Stewart, the Storm defeated the Fever 87-74 on Tuesday. The Fever led 23-22 after one quarter before the Storm outscored them 65-51 the rest of the way.
“Our focus coming in was just the little things we didn’t do last game,” said forward Natasha Howard. “We knew that Indiana was going to go harder on the boards, but our focus was making sure that we boxed everybody out, even their guards, because their guards like to fly in and stuff too. We just made sure that we limited their rebounding to one and done.”
The Fever did narrowly edge the Storm in the rebounding battle in the first quarter, but Seattle seemed to flip a switch. Suddenly, they were playing the brand of basketball which earned them the league’s best record.
At their best, the Storm to push the tempo and don’t allow opponents to set their defense. In the second quarter alone, the Storm had 10 fast break points and 18 points in the paint.
Defensively, the Storm smothered the Fever’s offense by allowing just 12 second-quarter points while forcing four turnovers that led to six points. Indiana often struggled to get the ball inside against Seattle’s defense and would settle for shots they didn’t want, like a long 2-point jumper.
This formula is how the Storm have turned one-possession games into double-digit leads in the blink of an eye all season long. Opponents have hung around the Storm for two or three quarters before one backbreaking run changes the complexion of the game. Otherwise, you have to hope they’re going to struggle to make shots.
Yet, the Storm didn’t just hope Tuesday’s contest would go better for them. The team made a deliberate series of adjustments after last Thursday’s loss to Indiana.
“We switched up our defensive schemes, putting AC [Alysha Clark] on [Kelsey] Mitchell,” added Howard. “Last game she was on fire so we touched up our defensive scheme to limit her touches.”
“We did watch it, the coaches, we probably watched it a couple times. We just felt like we were settling too much for jumpers,” said coach Gary Kloppenburg about the difference between the two games. “Tonight we really wanted to get the ball moving and attack them off the bounce, put some pressure on their bigs to guard screen and roll, the early screen and rolls and step ups.
“I thought we did a decent job, we didn’t shoot as many threes tonight but we got the line 25 times and we shot the ball, we went inside to Stewie, we got some backdoor cuts, so it was a little bit different than the way we’ve been winning but I think it’s a good sign for us. We want to be that team that can be able to put it down, get to the free throw line, and slash off the dribble as well.”
Kloppenburg and his team will have little time to take this victory. Seattle’s next game is against Las Vegas on Thursday. From there, they’ll face Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, and Minnesota. With a game every other day, there will be little rest and no guarantee of Sue Bird’s return.
The breakneck schedule means the Storm will need the same resiliency and focus they had during their nine-game winning streak. Every game matters for every playoff team right now, especially in such a tight race. The challenge for the Storm will be in their ability to impose their will on opponents as we’ve seen so far.