It was a night of celebration as the WNBA’s number one seed Seattle Storm wrapped up their regular season with an 84-68 win over the Dallas Wings during Fan Appreciation Night on Sunday, August 19th at the KeyArena.
The Storm (26-8) will have a week off to rest and prepare for whoever they will face in their semifinal series. Dallas (15-19) start their playoffs on Tuesday, August 21 at Phoenix Mercury in the first win or go home elimination game.
While Dallas played their starters for most of the game Seattle took a different route. Storm guard Sue Bird was in street clothes getting an extra day of rest while the normal starting lineup, forwards Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, center Natasha Howard and guard Alysha Clark played the first quarter and rested most of the second.
“This was a game where we wanted to try to get our team ready for the playoffs…and find success,” said Hughes. “(We wanted to) make the best of a situation that afforded us a chance to play all of our players and I thought we did a pretty good job of it. We rested Sue (Bird) but we also limited the minutes for some of the people that played them a lot. But they got something out of it and we got good minutes for our bench players and that was really important.”
Seattle knew they were going to have a solid opponent in Dallas especially with scoring leader Liz Cambage in the lineup. But the Storm contained her well throughout the game keeping her to 11 points in the contest.
As for Seattle the starters did their job, with guard Jordin Canada stepping in for her second start, playing a solid, smooth game before handing the ball over to the bench players.
The first half was notable watching the top two MVP candidates in Stewart and Cambage as well as another record fall for the Storm.
Stewart scored 15 points in a little over 12 minutes of work including a three-point shot at 7:16 to go in the second quarter that gave her the franchise record for most points scored in a season (742) as she once again eclipsed a Lauren Jackson record.
“I think that was a really cool opportunity, experience, all of the above,” said Stewart. “Anytime I am able to break a record, and break one that Lauren Jackson created, it’s huge. Obviously she’s one of the best to ever play the game, especially with her versatility and creating that point forward position for us. I’m happy to be here and it’s an honor.”
Besides the fans getting to watch Stewart set another record and Bird do some sideline coaching it was the bench play that continued to build the energy in the Key and had the starters cheering and jumping on the bench in support.
With the opportunity to play more minutes the players who normally sit for the majority of the game came through and gave the Storm Crazies a lot to shout about.
“We all know Lang (Crystal Langhorne) is a bucket,” said Stewart. “So to see her go out and kind of get things back going, get her groove back a little bit, it’s what we need especially (heading into) the playoffs. For her to do that, her footwork is like no one else’s and to be able to watch the bench…go out and be all over the court, Sami (Whitcomb) was getting her name chanted, that was awesome. It was a lot of fun and they deserved it because we didn’t do this without them.”
The Seattle bench scored a season high 50 points (37 vs Las Vegas 5/31) and grabbed 34 rebounds to give the Storm a 43-31 rebounding edge.
Langhorne showed her starter mentality coming off the bench to score 15 points going 7 for 12 and making moves to create baskets.
University of Washington alum Whitcomb seemed to be everywhere hitting three of five from the three-point line and playing aggressive defense that included four steals and a block. In one spurt her energetic play garnered the first ever player fan cheer of the year as fans chanted, “Sami, Sami, Sami” while the starters joined in from the bench.
The newest member of the team, rookie Mercedes Russell, came in to bump up with Cambage and did a nice job in 19 minutes of work, her season high in minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Seattle’s bench play has been key throughout the year for the Storm as Coach Hughes continued to work them onto the court to balance rest for the starters and still maintain consistency of play on the court.
Talking about his bench play Hughes mentioned that the players played to their abilities throughout the game.
“They played to their strengths,” said Hughes. “…I liked Crystal the last two games because she’s been extremely aggressive, and I like the aggressive side of Crystal. Mercedes, that was good for her to get out on the court and go against Cambage because we’re going to play some bigs, no matter what happens down the road there’s a lot of bigs coming this way…Courtney got eight rebounds…Sami brought an energy and shot the ball (well).”
Hughes said having a strong, consistent bench has been a yearlong goal to get them minutes and to help support the starting five.
“All year we’ve tried as much as we could in a couple ways to play the bench in a way so that they’re a part of who we are as we reach this stage,” said Hughes. “But it also has helped us to watch some of our starters’ minutes. We were able to play off the bench (this year) to the point that we didn’t have to go crazy playing Stewie or Sue or what have you. We were able to put them in line with what our goals were coming out of the season. That’s what a good bench does for you—it not only affords you a boost but it affords you an opportunity to get to the playoffs playing players in the amount of time that is conducive to keeping them on the floor.”
Langhorne was asked about how important the depth of the Seattle bench is in getting through the playoffs and ready to step in where needed.
“It’s going to be huge for us going down the stretch with these semi-final games,” said Langhorne. “It’s going to be important. We’re going to need everybody. We know we’ve got a great starting five but they’re going to need us too so we just have to be ready.”
The Storm, known for shooting the three, became the first team in WNBA history to hit over 300 three-point shots in the regular season ending with 307. Against Dallas the Storm hit 50 percent of their three point shots going 11 of 22.
Seattle has a double bye through the first two rounds as they wait to see who survives the single elimination games.
The first games are scheduled at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, August 21st with #8 Dallas at #5 Phoenix Mercury and at 7:30 pm with the #7 Minnesota Lynx at #6 Los Angeles Sparks. Both games will be shown on ESPN2.
The Storm, who holds home court advantage through the playoffs, will start their best of five series at 2 pm on Sunday, August 26 with the second game slated for 7pm on Tuesday, August 28 both at the KeyArena in Seattle.
“The fact that you’re not going to live and die by just one game is an opportunity for both teams,” said Stewart. “I think for us we’re just going to go out, especially playing in front of our fans the first two games (and) make sure we leave it all out on the court and take care of business.”