The Seattle Storm defeated the Los Angeles Sparks 78-60 on Sunday at KeyArena, clinching a spot in the playoffs with two games to spare. Seattle secured a postseason berth for the first time since 2013, improving to 15-17 and remaining in the seventh playoff spot heading into the final week of the regular season.
Storm Guard Sue Bird said the excitement was incredible.
“It feels good. You can feel in the locker room there already is a bit of a buzz,” she shared. “It’s not easy at times to make the playoffs in this league and for awhile, I think our franchise even took it for granted because making the playoffs was the expectation. To not get in there the last couple of years and to finally get back feels really good.”
Head Coach Jenny Boucek was hoping for a win – for Bird.
“I am really just excited for the players; they have worked really hard to put themselves in this position,”
she said. “They have been really excited about the playoff race. I am excited for Sue. For her it has been since 2012, and with her making the commitment to us, to retire here, I was really hoping that before she retired we would end up in big games and that she would have a lot more big games left in her career here.”
The Storm has now earned four consecutive home wins and four straight victories overall, its longest winning streak since 2012. Seattle is 6-2 since Olympic break.
All five starters scored in double figures for the Storm, led by the 20 points of rookie Breanna Stewart. Alysha Clark and Crystal Langhorne each poured in 15 points, with Langhorne also grabbing 10 boards for her second double-double of the year. Bird had 12 points in addition to a game-high seven assists, while Jewell Loyd added 10 points.
Candace Parker led the way with 20 points for the Sparks, who were held to their lowest scoring output of the season. Former All-Stars Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver, typical starters for L.A., did not play on Sunday.
After going 16-of-16 at the foul line against Atlanta one week ago, the Storm hit all 18 of its free throws on Sunday, marking the second most foul shots without a miss in franchise history. Seattle also handily won the rebounding battle 40-24.
The Storm created separation from the Sparks right away, taking a quick 8-2 lead and increasing the edge to double digits after four minutes. Seattle got open looks on the perimeter and took advantage, as Bird, Stewart and Clark each drained a three-pointer in the first period. Stewart scored seven straight points, finishing the frame with nine as Seattle held a 28-15 edge.
Langhorne was the catalyst early in the second quarter, scoring inside the paint as the Storm increased its lead to as many as 24. Seattle’s edge was 20 by the midway point of the second frame, and the hosts took a 49-27 lead into halftime thanks to a 10-2 run late in the quarter.
The second half was mostly an even battle, as the Storm shot much less efficiently and Parker’s team continued to battle. Parker notched nine of her 20 points in the third frame, but Seattle always had a response on the other end of the court, maintaining a 22-point edge heading into the final quarter. The Storm had its biggest lead of the night, 58-32, midway through the third. Stewart was dominant in the frame with nine points.
The Sparks pulled within 15 early in the fourth quarter, but that was the closest it would be after the Storm’s starters returned to the floor. Langhorne each scored a pair of baskets in the final minutes – three-pointers for Clark – to help Seattle hold off the second-place Sparks (24-8).
After playing three games in five days, the Storm will have three days off before battling Phoenix on the road this Thursday. Seattle’s final regular-season contest is at home next Sunday against Chicago.