In Affectionate Remembrance
THE SEATTLE STORM
which died at the Target Center
6th June 2012,
Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing
friends and acquaintances
N.B. – The body will be cremated and the
ashes taken to Minnesota.
Okay, so I’m being a touch overdramatic. Also, there’s about three people who’ll read this and actually understand that reference (check here if you’re interested). Nonetheless, there was one WNBA game last night, and unless you happen to be a Minnesota Lynx fan, it was depressing. If you’re a devoted Seattle Storm fan, it must’ve felt a hell of a lot worse than that.
The Storm have had a horrendous schedule to start the season, there’s no doubt about that. Six games, five of them against LA and Minnesota, and four of those on the road. As was pointed out last night by the Storm’s Kevin Pelton, if you add up Seattle’s results in the four road games against the Sparks and Lynx last season, the total was actually worse last year. They just weren’t all one after the other. But watching Seattle’s start to the season, especially last night’s game, brought home how far this team has fallen since the dominating 2010 team that rolled through the WNBA and swept their way to a championship. The torch was obviously passed when the Lynx won last year’s title, but the chasm that’s opened up between the teams in such a short space of time is remarkable.
The Storm were even handed a break before last night’s game. Minnesota’s best player, Seimone Augustus, was ruled out with a right quad injury, replaced in the starting lineup by backup Monica Wright. That should’ve encouraged Seattle. You hear before tip-off that an MVP candidate is missing from the opponent, your hopes of winning the game ought to be raised. However, the Storm looked defeated before the opening tip was thrown up. There was no energy, no life, no belief about this team. They stepped out on the court looking like they expected to get beaten. The Target Center in Minnesota has become the hardest place in the WNBA to win on the road, but that’s still completely unacceptable. You come out and put up a challenge. You come out all guns blazing and give them everything you have. You come out and play for the fans who are still supporting you despite how you’ve started the season. Otherwise you might as well stay home and save the airfare.
The Lynx just steamrolled right over the Storm in the opening quarter. Augustus or no Augustus, it made no difference. They still had Maya Moore and Candice Wiggins to make the shots from outside, they still had their crisp ball movement to create easy chances inside, and they still had their dependable team defense where everyone takes collective responsibility for the results. Seattle seemed to give up on the possibility of feeding the ball into the paint almost immediately, just jacking up shots from outside fairly early in the shot clock without even making a pretense of looking inside or trying to create anything better. It’s hard enough to beat this Lynx team at the best of times, but if all you do is throw up low-percentage outside shots, you’ve got no chance. Minnesota will almost certainly outshoot you even if they simply take the exact same shots at the other end. Once you throw in the easier oppoortunities they’ll create, you’ve got no chance.
Minnesota have had an unfortunate habit of helping opponents back into games of late, however, so their own fans must’ve been waiting with bated breath to see if they’d maintain a lead that was as high as 18 points in the first quarter. The Lynx tried to give it away, they really did, but the Storm weren’t in the mood to gather up the gifts on offer. Minnesota got desperately sloppy in the second quarter and on into the third, handing over countless cheap turnovers under minimal pressure, just as they’ve done after building huge leads in other recent games. The Storm just couldn’t execute well enough offensively to build any belief that they could realistically come back and win this game.
Minnesota’s lead, 25-7 in the first quarter and 43-30 at halftime, was down to 47-38 midway through the third quarter when a telling play killed the game off. Yes, there were 15 minutes to play, and one possession all but ended the contest. Even after all those turnovers and the collapses in previous games, the Lynx were still moving the ball and themselves on offense. Moore went by Katie Smith and was fouled from behind – sideline possession. Candice Wiggins fired a three, realised it was off, and chased her own shot. She outfought Tina Thompson for the board, and when the ball broke loose after Devereaux Peters dropped the pass that followed, Wiggins outfought Thompson and Tanisha Wright for the loose ball. She gave the ball up to Moore, who didn’t just fire a three but realised that with all those players on the ground, someone was open. She rotated the ball, and Lindsay Whalen put up a wide open triple. It was off, but guess who was right there for the offensive board? Moore grabbed it, and dropped in the putback. Two missed shots, but hustle, energy, movement and hard work had kept the possession alive. Suddenly, the crowd was back in the game despite all those giveaways, and everyone was reenergised. These are the plays that the Lynx make these days when they have to. The plays that seem so rare from the Storm.
That possession kicked off an 11-0 run for the Lynx as the Storm capitulated in the face of a Minnesota team that had their heads back in the game. Mid-range jumpers, threes, ball movement for layups, offensive rebounds – the Lynx were once again beating up on the Storm in every way possible. Sue Bird and Ann Wauters both started the fourth quarter on the bench, and Brian Agler never bothered to bring either back into the game. He’d quit, and his team had followed suit. Minnesota eventually won 79-55, and the 24-point gap between the sides seemed just about fair.
Minus Augustus, the Lynx were still outstanding. They had that lull in the middle of the game, where another collapse looked possible, but they stepped it up when they had to. Taj McWilliams-Franklin led five double-digit scorers, shooting a perfect 8-8 for 17 points, the vast majority on layups. Rookie Devereaux Peters, who right now seems to be the first choice backup post for the Lynx ahead of Jessica Adair and Amber Harris, finished 5-7 for 14 points and 4 assists. The only real negative from this game for the Lynx is that Augustus’s MVP chances may have taken a hit. When Minnesota can dominate teams like this without her, people are going to question her ‘value’ compared to some other stars around the league.
So remember, this is a Lynx team without their best player. That had 11 turnovers in the space of barely 12 minutes in the middle of the game. And this is a Storm franchise that won a championship barely 21 months ago. Apart from the fact that they didn’t have much depth then and they’ve still got virtually none now, this Seattle team is virtually unrecognisable compared to that squad. Some of the key players remain (Bird, Wright and Camille Little, with Svetlana Abrosimova and Lauren Jackson hopefully still to arrive in 2012), but so much else has changed beyond the personnel. They used to move the ball. They used to cut, and slide, and just generally move without the ball. They’d find points in the paint even without a standard post-up player (even then, LJ liked to score a lot of her points with jumpers). They’d play some of the most impressive team defense you’d ever seen, constantly in the right places to help when teammates got beaten, switching and rotating to help whenever necessary. So much of that has fallen by the wayside.
There are gaps in the defense that were never there before, and Tanisha Wright, their typical perimeter stopper, has been a shadow of herself so far this year. Ann Wauters, a dominant offensive post player at her best and still very impressive this year in Spain, has been completely negated by Seattle’s inability to find her in good position. The offense as a whole goes nowhere for long stretches, failing to move the defense around or create any gaps for themselves. Wright actually had her best offensive game of the season in last night’s encounter, legitimately penetrating into the defense on a few occasions, but it made little difference. There was no support, and no belief across this team that they could turn things around.
Despite the tone of this piece, there’s still time for the 2012 Storm to at least offer something. The schedule will get easier, eventually, and Abrosimova and Jackson will add extra options. Plus there are several other terrible teams in the Western Conference that should help keep them in the playoff race. But this isn’t the Storm team that neutrals like myself fell for in 2010. This isn’t even a shadow of them. This is their ghost. Rest in peace.
Nothing much. It’s been a quiet couple of days.
Today (Thursday June 7th):
Tomorrow (Friday June 8th):
New York @ Washington, 7pm ET
Connecticut @ Indiana, 7pm ET
San Antonio @ Atlanta, 7.30pm ET
Tulsa @ Chicago, 8.30pm ET
Phoenix @ Los Angeles, 11pm ET