You might think you are in control when you take a 19-point lead on the Seattle Storm. Alas, you have merely fallen into Dan Hughes’ well orchestrated plan.
Many people (myself included) left the Storm for dead at halftime. A late layup by Breanna Stewart made it a 15-point game in favor of the Minnesota Lynx, who were seemingly scoring at will inside with Sylvia Fowles. This was two days after the Las Vegas Aces pounded Seattle for 48 points in the paint, and the same story appeared to be playing out Tuesday.
But a second-half surge, including a 37-point fourth quarter, propelled the reigning WNBA champions to a 90-78 victory on the road. Jewell Loyd, Jordin Canada and Sue Bird combined for 60 points to compensate for Stewart’s off night. The team combined to go 12-of-25 from beyond the arc, claiming a 21-point edge in three-point shooting.
To borrow the soccer cliche, this was truly a game of two halves.
This was Minnesota’s first bucket of the game. Fowles gets position inside on Ezi Magbegor and scores while getting fouled.
The Aces’ shot chart basically looked like a putting green to the right of the basket, so this wasn’t a great omen. Until we get a better glimpse of Mercedes Russell, rim protection remains a glaring issue for the Storm, and it’s one the Lynx were all too happy to exploit.
Even when a Seattle player was seemingly in a good position to guard Fowles one-on-one, she was simply too strong.
So what happened in the second half?
Right out of the gate, Hughes and his staff basically left nothing to chance. On Minnesota’s first possession of the third quarter, Stewart sagged off of Dantas to proved help for Magbegor.
Seattle effectively approached Fowles in the same way NBA defenses guard against Stephen Curry, which is to say throwing as many people at the situation as possible. Eventually, a Hall of Famer such as Fowles gets tired after having to fight so hard for shots inside.
The Storm showed how offense can be the best defense, too. They dictated the pace much more in the second half and pushed the tempo. That required Fowles to run up and down the floor with more frequency, something the squad did to counteract A’ja Wilson and especially Liz Cambage in the opener and couldn’t achieve in the rematch.
As well as the Storm did to neutralize Fowles in the second half, the absence of Napheesa Collier made it much easier. Having multiple defenders shade toward Fowles and harass her in the post could backfire when Collier, a 37.9 percent three-point shooter through two seasons, is also on the floor along with Kayla McBride on the perimeter.
That will be something to watch when the teams are back in action on May 28.
Jewell is a Gem
This was yet another quintessential Jewell Loyd game, at least within the context of the player she has become over the last three seasons. The 27-year-old filled out the stat sheet with a game-high 23 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block.
Sometimes you know exactly how a game is going to unfold for Loyd based on her start, so it was encouraging when she knocked down her first three shots, all of which were from long range. She promptly missed her next three but went 5-of-8 the rest of the way.
There aren’t many scorers like Loyd across the league when everything is clicking. She’ll hurt you off the ball if you leave her with space on the perimeter, and she can make you look silly off the dribble.
McBride combined for 33 points in Minnesota’s first two games but had just six on 2-of-7 shooting Thursday. Advanced numbers for one half are far from definitive, but her 62.9 offensive rating in the second half, per WNBA.com, felt like it correlated to her impact on that end of the floor.
After Chelsea Gray torched Seattle on Tuesday, Loyd delivered a performance that will go toward her All-Defensive team campaign.
More than that, Loyd has probably been the Storm’s MVP through three games.
All Aboard the Jordin Canada Rolller Coaster
To be honest, it’s difficult what to make of Canada’s showing.
Her 16 points spearheaded a 31-point night from Seattle’s reserves. The Lynx, by comparison, had 26 bench points, 22 of which were from Crystal Dangerfield alone.
In addition, Canada unquestionably had a pivotal role in the team’s second-half turnaround.
Her predatory instincts helped Seattle force nine turnovers.
In the fourth quarter, the 25-year-old was extremely aggressive off the dribble, and she accounted for 10 of the Storm’s 37 points, just from the charity stripe.
With Canada due to become a free agent, this was a game you’d highlight to argue why she can truly be the heir apparent to Bird as the starting point.
However, the question is how much this is replicable.
Getting to the foul line is something Canada can and should look to do because she has the speed to blow by almost anyone in the WNBA. She’s also a 75.8 percent free-throw shooter, so she’ll capitalize on those opportunities more often than not.
But 14 free throws is an exceptional number for any player. They’re nearly double Canada’s previous single-game high (eight).
In general, it’s tough to get around the fact the fourth-year guard has six made field goals through three games and is 0-of-2 on three-pointers. Those signature drives to the basket are more difficult when teams don’t have to respect your jumper.
Maybe Canada is simply so good she can work around that.
From Dangerfield to Safetyfield
Because Loyd was often occupied with McBride, Bird had to defend Dangerfield. Hughes likes to hide Bird on less potent offensive threats, and that wasn’t a luxury he enjoyed Thursday. Dangerfield came off the bench to score a team high on 10-of-16 shooting.
Her shot chart illustrates how frequently she was beating her defender off the dribble.
Without Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard, the Storm don’t aren’t the same kind of defensive team they were a year ago. They require a strong collective effort more regularly, and that’s exactly what they got in the second half on Thursday.