The Morning After: Reality Check

Coach Sue BirdThe Seattle Storm slipped to 5-4 with an 81-67 loss to the Connecticut Sun on Sunday.

Seattle trimmed the deficit to two points heading into the fourth quarter but ran out of gas in the final 10 minutes. Connecticut pulled away, and the score would’ve looked worse had Sami Whitcomb not connected on a three-pointer inside the final minute.

Natasha Howard had a team-high 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Jewell Loyd and Shavonte Zellous scored 15 and 14 points apiece.

Three-point shooting was a big factor in the outcome. The Storm were 3-of-13 from beyond the arc, compared to 9-of-20 for the Sun.

The trio of Shekinna Stricklen, Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones powered Connecticut’s offense, combining to score 49 points on 21-of-35 shooting.

As the WNBA heads into its next week, the Storm are sixth in the standings, a half-game ahead of the Indiana Fever.

Context-Free ScreenshotGeno

It’s important to recognize the biggest star from Sunday’s game: Connecticut Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma. In case you weren’t aware of UConn’s success on the hardwood, ESPN was ready to remind you every 10 minutes.

 

The Game in a GIFAlyssa Thomas Fast Break

Simply put, the Sun were too good for the Storm. Connecticut had more talent, which allowed head coach Curt Miller to do a lot more on offense than Seattle could handle. The Storm had some success early in the second half by trapping the Sun and forcing turnovers. You can’t execute that strategy when you’re missing your shots, though, and defending in transition.

 

The Good

  • Jordin Canada is apparently only day-to-day with a bone bruise. Her injury against the Washington Mystics on Friday looked pretty bad, making it easy to assume the worst. Instead, the second-year guard should be back relatively soon.
  • Canada’s injury meant Blake Dietrick started the first WNBA game of her career. Although Dietrick didn’t attempt a single shot, she had three assists and finished with the lowest defensive rating (86.4) of any Storm player, per WNBA.com.Blake Dietrick Defense 4
    The Blake Dietrick D(ie)fensive Player of the Year grassroots movement starts now.
  • Let’s just stop and admire this sequence where Alysha Clark defends four different players and then collects the rebound.Alysha Clark Defensive Rotation
  • I also enjoy watching bigs run the floor and get rewarded with a quick bucket inside.Mercedes Russell in Transition
  • Zellous was really good in the first half, providing a big lift to the Storm. She did so by largely initiating her own offense as well, which is necessary when a team doesn’t have a recognized point guard.
    Only two of Zellous’ 14 points came in the second half, though, which meant the starters were once again having to carry an unsustainable scoring load.

 

The Bad

  • At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Storm aren’t a very good three-point shooting team. And who would’ve thought removing the only healthy point guard would exacerbate the situation?
  • As somebody who has found Courtney Paris’ apparent demotion a bit puzzling, she can unquestionably be a defensive liability. You can’t count on her to effectively close out on shooters when teams move the ball around the perimeter.Courtney Paris Closeout
    Playing Paris more would probably help make the Storm a better rebounding team, but she might end up being a net-negative presence on the floor over long stretches.
  • Crystal Langhorne is too good with too long of a track record to attempt two shots in 11 minutes.
    Langhorne battled a rib injury and had to adjust to a new role in 2018. As a result, her struggles were understandable. Now, she’s healthy and the Storm need her even more to provide a scoring punch off the bench.
    Instead, she’s averaging 4.7 points on 41.0 percent shooting. According to Basketball Reference, Langhorne’s 7.8 shot attempts per 36 minutes are her lowest since her rookie year in 2008.
    It seems fair to wonder whether Langhorne is dealing with some level of confidence issues. She should be heaving this up without hesitation. Beyond the fact she’s wide open, there isn’t a clear path to the basket for a more efficient opportunity.Crystal Langhorne No Shot
    Langhorne drove inside and forced up a difficult shot against Kristine Anigwe and missed.

 

The Ugly

  • Zellous accounted for the only bench points in the second half until Whitcomb’s late three-pointer when the outcome was already decided. Langhorne and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis were a combined 0-of-2.
  • In general, this game was a stark reminder of the Storm’s limitations. Seattle has a really good Plan A and a pretty solid Plan B. But head coach Gary Kloppenburg only has so many gambits available before he runs out of tricks.
    Seattle’s defensive traps were a perfect example. Against a different team, applying a ton of defensive pressure might have worked. The Sun are so good at moving the ball, however, that that approach was bound to come undone sooner or later. And when it did, Kloppenburg didn’t have another counter. Connecticut went on a run to open the fourth quarter and that was that.
    The Storm are good enough to make the playoffs, but they’re probably destined for a first- or second-round exit. Even assuming Sue Bird comes back at some point and picks up where she left off in 2018, Breanna Stewart’s absence looms large.

 

The Verdict

There’s only so much you can expect from a team as short-handed as the Storm, especially when they’re matched up against arguably the WNBA’s best right now. All things considered, going 2-2 over the four-game road trip is a solid outcome.

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