A sell-out crowd of 12,064 saw the Seattle Storm clinch their 14th playoff appearance in 19 seasons as they defeated the defending WNBA champs Minnesota Lynx 85-75 last Friday at the KeyArena in Seattle.
“It’s a good feeling for sure,” said Storm guard Jewell Loyd. “For us, we still want to get better every game, we still want to focus on our next opponents, but it’s definitely something that we wanted to achieve early on in the season, and we’re glad we did it.”
It was a game of switches as each team took turns taking the lead in the first half. The Storm (21-7) took a six point lead in the first quarter with a little over three minutes played but then Seattle didn’t score the rest of the quarter as Minnesota (15-12) went on a 12-0 run to end the quarter with the lead 22-16.
The second quarter found the Storm working to cut the Lynx lead as they traded baskets throughout before making some defensive stops and ending the second quarter outscoring Minnesota 21-16 and heading into the locker room at the half down by one point 38-37.
In the second half the Lynx worked their lead back up in the first few minutes before Seattle called a timeout at about the six minute mark. The Storm returned to the court and began to chip away at Minnesota’s lead finally tying the game at 50 points apiece on Loyd’s three-point shot at the 3:24 spot.
“I think it was our defense,” said Seattle guard Sue Bird. “They came out, started the third and it was like ‘score, score, score,’ and for us it’s like ‘miss, miss, miss,’ and they definitely had momentum. But there was a timeout, we talked about it and we knew if we can get some stops and run, that was going to be extremely advantageous to us.”
Storm forward Crystal Langhorne hit a jumper with five seconds left in the third and Lynx guard Tanisha Wright missed a three-point shot as the quarter ended leaving Seattle with a four point lead, 61-57, going into the final quarter. Bird pointed out that it was their decision to step up their defense that changed the game.
“I think it was us locking down,” said Bird. “We were a little passive on the defensive end and we said that in the time out that we were kind of rushing on offense or trying too hard on offense and not trying hard enough on defense, it needed to be reversed. So we talked about that and luckily just made enough plays. Stewie got a couple of steals, we were able to get some break out layups and sometimes it’s as simple as that to turn the tide.”
And turn the tide they did as the Storm quickly turned the four point lead into 10 as the defensive efforts took over.
In the fourth quarter Loyd grabbed a rebound then ended the possession with a layup that also drew a foul. After Loyd made the free throw Seattle forward Natasha Howard stole the ball on the Lynx’s next possession which ended up in another Loyd lay-up off guard Jordin Canada’s assist.
All the action gave an already loud KeyArena crowd even more reason to get louder and as always the Storm appreciated what the Storm Crazies bring to the Key.
“(The crowd) was everything to be honest,” said Bird. “The way our schedule has panned out, we’re gone or we’ve been gone a lot…So, it can get kind of, you know one city to the next, it gets a little mundane so to come back home, to be here for a couple of days and to have the fans bring the energy to us, and give us energy, like I said, it was necessary, I think it got us through.”
Minnesota finally scored a bucket then Storm guard Sue Bird sunk a three-point shot to give Seattle a 10 point lead 69-59.
The Lynx continued to battle but it was all Storm the rest of the way in the fourth as they kept a double-digit lead most of the way through the final minutes including a two minute stretch that saw Seattle forward Breanna Stewart go 6-0 with three consecutive baskets that put Seattle up by 12 points with two minutes left.
Stewart ended the night with 20 points, her 20th game with 20 or more points and seven rebounds. Bird finished with her fifth double-double of the season, her 28th of her career scoring 14 points and 11 assists. Howard scored 15 points and had five steals while Loyd scored 14 points.
Minnesota was led by Sylvia Fowles with 20 points and 16 rebounds while Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen each scored 12 points. Brunson, the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder, was held to zero rebounds while the Lynx top scorer Maya Moore, averaging 18 points a game was held to seven.
The win gave the Storm the first playoff spot of the season in the WNBA and gave the team a big lift from their fans as they head out on their final regular season road trip that will take them to four cities in the next week and watching the fans continue to bring the energy at each home game is something Seattle head coach Dan Hughes loves seeing.
“I think coming back home (in between road trips) for an opportunity to play, for an opportunity to just be in Seattle again, I think it’s vital,” said Hughes. “Otherwise (it) would have been a nine game road trip which is pretty massive. You know the thing that I like about (this team) is…they believe that we can control home or away by how we play. That’s what I see from them. And I think they’re proving it but what I’m really enjoying is watching the atmosphere in this building become even better. And I think that’s going to continue to grow if we continue to play in this way.”
The Storm will play in New York on August 6, Indiana on August 7, Washington on August 9, and Minnesota on August 12.
Seattle will play their final two games of the regular season at home beginning with the New York Liberty at 7 p.m. on August 17 and the Dallas Wings at 4 p.m. on August 19.