The Seattle Storm came home after losing to the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday and made a statement win against the then league leading Los Angeles Sparks.
Seattle (11-5) played a balanced and precise attack on the Sparks to pull out the win 81-72 and giving the Storm the edge in their series.
It’s an edge that is already showing as Los Angeles lost their next game to the Las Vegas Aces on June 29th moving them to 11-5. With Seattle having the same record and holding the tie-breaker against the Sparks it puts Seattle into second place behind the Phoenix Mercury (13-5) who are riding a three-game win streak.
Despite having a low percentage on their three-point shooting against the Sparks, normally a major part of their winning ways, the Storm used a variety of offensive and defensive plays to get the win.
“I thought it was a really good game that we had poise at the end to finish,” said Storm head coach Dan Hughes. “(We) got out to a great start. Obviously LA came back…(but) the part that impressed me about our performance was that we really didn’t shoot the three well which is something that is one of our strengths but we found a way. Our rebounding picked up a little bit, defensively I thought we contested well. We definitely went to the paint tonight. And that’s something we talked to them about doing and we needed to because we simply didn’t have the flow of three point finishes that have been a part of a lot of our games so I was pleased for us to find that kind of way as a team to win.”
With Storm forward Breanna Stewart once again leading the way putting in 27 points and grabbing eight rebounds Seattle outscored Los Angeles 48-36 in the paint and in fast break points 12-5. Stewart is the current scoring leader with a 22.7 average, almost two full points over the Aces rookie A’ja Wilson.
Fast breaks have been a part of the Storm this season and their defensive stances worked Seattle into more of those opportunities.
Defense plays by many helped to get those fast break chances including the play of Storm guard Sue Bird whose defense isn’t always talked about which caught her off-guard when asked about it.
“…I think (this) is the first time I’ve been asked about my defense so you might want to highlight this,” said Bird. “If I were to describe it, I’ve been in this league a long time, I know people’s tendencies. It’s not even something that I have to think about, I see a player, I know what they want to do. I just try to play to that more than anything.”
In one particular play where Bird used her understanding of a player’s tendencies she pointed out how she got the ball with 5:26 left in the fourth quarter from the Spark’s center Candace Parker. Bird stole the ball then turned and made an assist to Seattle guard Alysha Clark who broke toward the basket and made a running layup to give the Storm a 67-64 edge and started an 8-0 run.
“Candace is a player that when you let her go in the open court she’ll go and I knew in that moment she was going to be the ball handler and look to push it,” said Bird. “I knew it so I was behind her a little bit and she lost it so it’s not like I did much, but the minute she lost it I knew I could get to it and I was able to tip and go from there…Because I’ve played for so long I look at a player and immediately it comes to me what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are and I just try to play to that. I try to be as smart as I can because athletically I’m not necessarily going to be dominating anybody.”
Bird ended the game with 11 assists and 10 points. It was Bird’s 11th game with nine or more assists.
Four of the five Seattle starters hit double figures with Natasha Howard putting in 14 points with eight rebounds, guard Jewell Loyd added 13 points, six rebounds and four steals while Clark added eight points and eight rebounds with four assists.
“I think (this game) imitates what we’ve got to become good at,” said Coach Hughes. “It reminds us that it’s going to be these kinds of games as we get into the second half of the season and certainly as you get yourself into the playoffs, [the games] they’re going to be like this.”
The WNBA is a very competitive league and knowing that sometimes your “bread and butter” ways of winning may not work against another team you need to have other ways to win and other players to rely on.
For Coach Hughes this game showed his team what they need to do to get the win and the team showed everyone was going to play a part to help the Storm stay at the top.
“…Different things (worked), obviously with Stewie, she is just a warrior…some of those plays she makes are great for all of us to watch but how hard she works to get there that’s inspiring when you’re sitting on her bench,” said Hughes. “I thought Jewell Loyd when I look at her, you know she shoots it better on most nights than this but when I see the stat line, six free throws, I see six rebounds, three assists, four steals you know that’s kind of what you want out of your team, finding ways for your total game to contribute to it.”
Hughes mentioned how Howard gave good minutes and defense and reiterated Bird’s 11 assists with a “golly” as he read her stat.
“And Clark,” said Hughes, “(Her being) back in the game really gave us a defensive presence that kicked us out of the gate well. And it’s good to see that group back out on the floor together.”
This group and the rest of the Seattle team will be back on the court Sunday against the Connecticut Sun.
The last time the two teams met was a high scoring event that saw the Storm go over the century mark for the third time this season and the Sun (9-6) hit into the 90’s with Seattle scoring a 103-92 win at home.
It will be the Storm’s first home game in July before they begin a two-game away series in New York and Atlanta.
They return home for a three game homestand before starting a road-heavy game schedule over the next two months.
After the home series they head out for a five-game road trip, back home for one and then a four-game road trip before ending the regular season with a two-game homestand.
For now the Storm are focused on the next opponent as they take on Connecticut at 4 pm on July 1st at the KeyArena in Seattle. The first 3,000 fans will get a Sue Bird/Megan Rapinoe poster.