Career night for Stewart carries Seattle over Atlanta

Breanna Stewart shoots and makes her last bucket of the night, for a career-high 38 points. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Breanna Stewart shoots and makes her last bucket of the night, for a career-high 38 points. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Seattle, Wash. – Breanna Stewart represents the future for the Seattle Storm.

Sue Bird remains as the final link from the championships of the past.

And from the outset, 2016 was going to represent a changing of the guard, as one era of franchise history bleeds into the next. And it couldn’t have played out better for Seattle than it did on Tuesday night against Atlanta.

While Stewart shouldered the scoring load for the night with a career-high 38 points on 12-of-16 shooting — and put Seattle ahead with under a minute to play with a key and-one — it was Bird who sealed a 84-81 victory over the Dream with a jumper with eight seconds to go.

Nursing a one-point lead, Seattle (6-9) forced an Atlanta (8-7) turnover with 26.8 to play. With such a small difference between the game and shot clocks, coach Jenny Boucek was fully expecting the Dream to foul quickly after the inbounds pass.

“That whole play didn’t go like we expected,” Boucek said. “I thought they were going to foul. I probably would have liked to see the shot clock just expire, and give them the ball back with one second, but I absolutely love Sue’s killer instinct. She went for the jugular, and that the Sue that won championships. She went straight for the throat on that play.”

The first-half played much like a replay of Sunday’s 98-81 victory over the Sun, where hot shooting more than made up for a disadvantage on the glass (Atlanta held a 24-13 rebounding advantage at the break).

Of course, it was Stewart leading the charge with 20 points in the first 20 minutes, while Crystal Langhorne had eight en route to a season-high 18.

Seattle also sported a new look off the bench early on, with newly-acquired guard Noelle Quinn and forward Krystal Thomas the first two substitutions for Boucek. The coach said both of them helped Seattle matchup wise against the Dream.

“They know this league,” she said, “and both of them are very vocal players, and it brings a unity to the court, because it keeps them on the same page. They have the experience and the confidence, and they’re both really good communicators.”

But out of the break Atlanta — led by Angel McCoughtry’s 22 points and Elizabeth Williams’s 21 on the night — whittled the deficit to one by the end of the third quarter, and retook the lead just over a minute into the fourth.

“I think they just continued to be aggressive,” Stewart said of the Atlanta run. “… Angel’s a great player, she got hot, she can make tough shots and she did.”

In the final quarter, the two sides traded baskets — with four lead changes and four ties — before Seattle used an 7-0 over the last 90 seconds to secure the victory.

“It was almost like waiting until the last 10 seconds, to then see who was going to have the opportunity to make the last play,” said Bird, who finished with 15 points. “They kept coming at us, we would answer a little bit, they took the lead, so it was a little bit of a grind of a game. So to finally have something go our way with Stewie’s tough shot dropping, and the foul, it felt good.”

Seattle has now won two-in-a-row for the first time this season.

“To be able to have this win against a really, really good team, it’s going to help us going forward,” Stewart said. “We have one more game at home, and we want to make sure we close this out.”

Seattle is back at Key Arena to close out its four-game home-stand against Dallas on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Dribbles:

  • Bench scoring was nearly non-existent for either team on Tuesday. Atlanta had nine points from its bench, while a two-pointer from Jenna O’Hea was the lone basket from a Storm bench player.
  • Markeisha Gatling, signed by Atlanta on Monday, was not with the team, while both Tiffany Hayes and Sancho Lyttle were out nursing knee injuries. Abby Bishop remained out for Seattle while she trains with the Australian National Team, while Monica Wright did not play for Seattle (coach’s decision).
  • Stewart’s 38 points was second-most in franchise history to Lauren Jackson’s 47 against the Mystics on July 24, 2007 (h/t Kevin Pelton)
  • Thomas on her first WNBA action of the season: “It was great. I loved every minute of it, mistakes, good, bad, everything. It was just great that the team got the win also.”
  • Points in the Paint: Dream 42, Storm 42
  • 2nd Chance Points: Dream 19, Storm 12
  • Fast Break Points: Dream 12, Storm 8
  • Attendance: 4,648.

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