The WNBA Seattle Storm started the 2018 campaign with an 87-82 loss against the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, May 20 at the KeyArena in Seattle.
The Storm had a slow start to the game and were down by nine (26-17) after the first quarter. The effort got the attention of Seattle head coach Dan Hughes.
“As I watched the game unfold, I didn’t feel like we got out of the gate well,” said Hughes. “That’s my responsibility, especially playing a team that’s played a game. They came in and I thought they were sharp, executed – played like a team that had a real game with real timing.”
Phoenix started their season last Friday with an 86-78 win over the Dallas Wings, a game that saw guard Diana Taurasi become the first player in the WNBA to reach 1,000 career 3’s. Having a game under their belt may have helped the Mercury heading into KeyArena.
“This is a team that has played a game so they had all those jitters out (and) now we have ours out,” said Seattle guard Sue Bird. “And hopefully we can just learn (from) the mistakes that we made today. Hopefully we don’t make (them) again and we can continue to work on ourselves.”
Hopefully Bird is right that the jitters are gone as the Storm will be heading to Phoenix on Wednesday to play again and making adjustments will be important to get their first win.
One area that was a bright spot was the bench production. Led by forward Natasha Howard with 14 the Seattle bench put in 28 points. Last year the Storm bench scored over 25 points only four times.
“We’re talented,” said Bird. “We’re probably deeper and more talented than we have been in the last couple of years. There’s some people coming off our bench who have been starters in our league. People that probably could be starters, will be starters in our league. That’s going to be one of our strengths.”
Seattle did pick up their game as the quarters went on. In the second quarter they put in 19 points to the Mercury’s 20 and though at the half the deficit was 10 points, 46-36, the team never thought they were done.
“We were down 10 at halftime but I don’t think anyone felt like we were out of the game,” said Storm forward Breanna Stewart. “…We had an opportunity to win the game, to tie the game. Especially your season opener at home, you want to win it.”
Seattle showed they had the will to win as they came back to outscore Phoenix by three points in the third and by two in the fourth but despite the effort they came up short in the final minutes trying to tie the game.
After battling back with some strong pressure to get within three in the fourth quarter the Storm had two chances to get the points they needed. Their first attempt with 9.8 seconds left was near the corner as Stewart received the pass but it was knocked out-of-bounds by Taurasi.
Then with 3.2 seconds left Stewart again received the ball but said it was a bit low and as she worked to gain a better control she was called for stepping out of bounds ending the offensive threat.
The Storm had a number of options on the court at the time, something Coach Hughes wanted to make sure they had with Stewart, Bird, Canada, Loyd and forward Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis all potential three threats.
But Phoenix knew they had to be a little different to keep themselves in the win column.
“We wanted to obviously switch everything,” said Taurasi. “We were up three and with the weapons they have on the court, sometimes it’s a little daunting to try and stop Sue (Bird), try to stop Jewell (Loyd), try to stop (Breanna Stewart) (and) try to stop Jordin (Canada). It was more of a mental focus to make sure we didn’t give up anything easy and luckily we got a stop.”
After the miss the Mercury added a couple of free throws and time ran out on Seattle’s comeback attempt.
For the Storm it’s back to work, watching film and preparing to take their game on the road against the Mercury. And according to Bird they have a game now to show what they have and what work needs to be done to try and record their first win of the season.
“Sometimes you don’t know who you are until you play a game,” said Bird. “Unfortunately, preseason doesn’t really show you, you don’t know who you are. We saw a lot tonight. I think we saw some good, (unfortunately) we saw some bad and we can work on things we need to work on.”
Despite the loss there were some individual goals reached by Storm players. Bird, who was celebrated at the game for becoming the WNBA assist leader with her own bobblehead, surpassed former WNBA guard and current San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, on the WNBA career points list with her first bucked of the day, a three, which moved her into seventh place.
Natasha Howard hit career field goal No. 100 in the third period and Loyd dished out four assists including her 300th assist which came in the fourth quarter.
Stewart led her team with 22 points and 15 rebounds to record her 22nd double-double of her career.
Bird scored 10 points with five assists, while Loyd and forward Alysha Clark also added 10 points. Rookie Canada put in nine points with four steals.
The Mercury were led by Griner’s 29 points and 10 rebounds. She was backed up by Taurasi and forward DeWanna Bonner each with 12 while guard Briann January put in 15.
Bird and company will head to Phoenix to play at 7 p.m. on Wednesday and then return home for their game at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 25 against the Chicago Sky.