What can the Seattle Storm learn from Game 1?
A thriller provides some lessons for the rest of the series
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Minnesota Lynx v Seattle Storm -Game OnePALMETTO, FL - SEPTEMBER 22: Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm high fivesteammates during the game against the Minnesota Lynx in Game One of the Semifinals of the 2020 WNBA Playoffs on September 22, 2020 at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Seattle Storm won both regular-season meetings with the Minnesota Lynx by an average of 19.5 points. Tuesday’s 88-86 Game 1 victory over the Lynx was the most trouble the Storm had with them this season.
Giving credit where credit is due, the Lynx played well despite Sylvia Fowles and Lexie Brown’s absences and Crystal Dangerfield struggling. A Lynx win would have been well-deserved.
Yet, the Storm were fortunate to come away with the win and enter Thursday’s Game 2 with the 1-0 series lead. To avoid allowing the Lynx to gather too much confidence from their near victory, the Storm need to take the lessons from Tuesday and apply them going forward. Let’s look at what the Storm can take from their victory.
Don’t react to your opponent, make them react to you
Seattle converted on an exceptional 13-of-26 attempts from beyond the arc on Tuesday and were a combined 22-for-51 versus the Lynx from deep in their regular season. By comparison, the Lynx made 14-of-32 3-pointers in Game 1 and connected on 17-of-44 3-pointers in the regular season.
As I’ve written in this space before, the Storm making three-pointers isn’t a cause of the team playing well; it’s an effect. At their best, the Storm move the ball quickly up court and swing the ball to the open shooter before the defense gets set. The Lynx looked more comfortable and played more competitively forcing the Storm to play our paste. No one in this league wants to try winning a track meet with the Storm.
Asserting themselves early is going to be important because this Lynx team has confidence and knows it can compete, though Lynx head coach pushed back on the idea Minnesota is just happy to be here.
Still, the Storm are the ones playing with higher expectations.
When the Lynx do slow the game on certain possessions, the Storm will need to continue moving well off the ball and finding the best shot with the extra pass. That’s how the Storm can continue creating those great three-point looks that can give separation the Lynx throughout the rest of the series.
In their three meetings now, the Lynx have made five, 14, and 17 3’s in each respective meetings. Creating more great looks could compel the Lynx to keep up and prove they can trade bomb for bomb.
Make Breanna Stewart’s life easy
Truthfully, life will never be easy for a perennial MVP candidate. Yet, the Storm will have a tough road ahead if Breanna Stewart has more night’s like her 7-for-20 shooting night. Credit, again, to the Lynx, who have had to cope with opponents double and triple teaming Sylvia Fowles for years.
Now, the Storm will have to do the same.
The nice thing about Stewart is she can thrive in a number of ways. She doesn’t have many bad shot locations and can play inside and out. On Tuesday, we saw Napheesa Collier block Stewart’s shot three times and generally disrupt her rhythm. Collier is one of the few players who has the combination of physical abilities and skills to contest Stewart’s shots.
One idea could be using screens to gain a favorable switch. Having a smaller or less capable defender than Collier could prove beneficial to Stewart and the Storm. Stewart shot just five free throws, which could be seen as more evidence of the Lynx limiting her impact in Game 1.
Jewell Loyd probably won’t have 25 points on nine shots in every game this series like she did on Tuesday, so having Stewart fully optimized will help Seattle retain their advantage.
Depth is an asset
This series would be better with players like Sylvia Fowles and Lexie Brown. However, these absences create a potential competitive advantage for Seattle.
An easy way for the Storm to exploit this advantage is at the line. On Tuesday, Seattle drew one more foul but shot just two more free throws than Minnesota. By playing more aggressive and drawing more fouls, the Storm can force the Lynx to go deeper into their bench than they may like.
Putting someone like Collier or Bridget Carleton in foul trouble could force someone like rookie Mikiah Herbert Harrigan into heavier minutes.
Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield was 2-of-8 and foul trouble could either keep her on the bench or force Dangerfield to play through her struggles to beat the Storm.
The Storm are already seeing creative lineups because of Fowles’ absence. Drawing fouls is a way the Storm could not only create easy shots at the line, but force the Lynx to play lineups that haven’t played together often or groups they’d prefer not to play together.
Can’t count on miracles
Alysha Clark is fantastic. She defends almost everyone while connecting on half of her 3-pointers. On team full of great players, she may not receive the recognition she may enjoy on other teams. Her game-winning shot on Tuesday was just another example of her remaining ready and in position to help her team in any way.
However, this is not a sustainable strategy for postseason success. The Storm don’t want to give a talented team like the Lynx the confidence they can win in this series. Continuing to assert themselves on both ends, getting Stewart going, and forcing the Lynx into their bench are ways Seattle can avoid another close call in this series.