Seattle escapes Stars, as Plum’s three is not to be

Jewell Loyd waits for the play to unfold, as Kelsey Plum defends.  Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Jewell Loyd waits for the play to unfold, as Kelsey Plum defends. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Seattle — About a half hour after her team pulled out a close win against the San Antonio Stars in front of a sell-out crowd at KeyArena, Jewell Loyd was back on the court.

She stood at the free-throw line in full uniform, taking one shot after another.

If Kelsey Plum had stood just an inch or so further back on her final shot, Loyd’s miss at the charity stripe with 10 seconds to play would have meant overtime on Friday night.

“I should have made my free-throw,” Loyd said after the game. “That’s on me. It shouldn’t have gotten to that point.”

Breanna Stewart scores over Dearica Hamby. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Breanna Stewart scores over Dearica Hamby. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Instead, Plum toed the three-point line, and the arching jumper of the University of Washington’s former star arching was merely a long two, as the Storm escaped with a 79-78 victory.

Breanna Stewart led all scorers with 22 points, while Loyd had 18 for Seattle. Dearica Hamby had a career-high 19 off the bench to pace San Antonio, while Kayla McBride finished with 18 points — 16 of which came in the final quarter — and Plum had 15 and five assists in her second trip to Seattle since being taken No. 1 overall in April’s draft.

With the win — and a Chicago loss in overtime to the Sparks — Seattle now has a 1.5 game lead on the Sky for the eighth and final playoff spot in the WNBA, and they pulled into a tie with Dallas for the seventh seed.

The Storm bench is excited after a shot in the first half of play.  Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
The Storm bench is excited after a shot in the first half of play. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

The victory was also Seattle’s third straight since Gary Kloppenburg was named interim head coach, and the second by a one-point margin, after they knocked off Minnesota 62-61 on Wednesday night. That’s a far cry from earlier in the season, when losing streaks went on for weeks.

“I think we kind of lost our composure in the fourth [Quarter], especially when it was close,” Stewart said of the team’s close losses. “We got tight, tense. And now we know, we’ve been in these situations like we have last year. And just continuing to play with the game and trust one another.”

Kelsey Plum looks for a passing option.  Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Kelsey Plum looks for a passing option. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

In the early moments of that final period on Friday, it appeared that San Antonio — winners of four of its last five entering the night — would keep it from being a close finish. After holding a three-point lead at the break, a five-point edge after three quarters, and going on an 8-2 run in the opening minutes of the fourth, the Stars had an 11-point cushion with just over seven minutes to play.

But what followed was a 20-5 Seattle run over the next five minutes, which included nine points from Stewart, to put the Storm up by four.

“We just stuck with it,” Stewart said. “We got a lot of good looks at the beginning of the game and they didn’t fall. We just continued to have confidence in our shots and be aggressive and finally get some stops on defense.”

Breanna Stewart blocks Dearica Hamby's shot.  Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Breanna Stewart blocks Dearica Hamby’s shot. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

San Antonio tied the game at 74 with approximately 90 seconds left, courtesy of a McBride three-pointer, and again at 76 with just under a minute to play with a layup from Isabelle Harrison.

Two free-throws from Alysha Clark put the Storm back up two, and after forcing a miss from Plum on the ensuing possession, Loyd was fouled, and stepped to the line for two shots with a chance to put the game on ice.

She made the first.

The second, however, was off the mark, giving San Antonio 10 seconds for one final play.

Though baseball and football commonly get the moniker of “a game of inches,” on Friday in Seattle, it was basketball.

“There wasn’t a play call,” Plum said of the final possession. “It was just get down there and get a good look. I got a pretty good look, tried to shoot a three, but it was a two.”

Jewell Loyd puts up free throw shots after the game is over.  Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Jewell Loyd puts up free throw shots after the game is over. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Instead, Seattle pulled out its second-straight one-point win, after losing its first three games of the year that had been decided by four points or less.

San Antonio head coach Vickie Johnson said her team’s turnovers, and points allowed in the paint cost them in the end.

“One thing that hurt us is turnovers, we had 16 turnovers,” she said. “We can’t win like that. Giving up 40 in the paint, can’t win like that either. I thought that their superstars really stepped up in the second half and made big shots. That’s what superstars do.”

Meanwhile, Kloppenburg pointed to his defense as what allowed the Storm to make its late run.

“We went back to using a lot of traps,” he said. “I think we forced some turnovers, Bird got a breakaway, and we got a couple of easy buckets off that. And it seemed like that energized us back up and got us back within range. And then we came down executed and hit a couple threes, and all of the sudden it’s a two-point game.”

“That’s the way these game can go. We were trying to tell them in the timeouts ‘Hang in, hang in’ because we start shooting the ball well and we can get this back pretty quickly. And I think that’s what happened.”

Seattle now embarks on a two-game road trip, and plays four of its last five away from KeyArena, starting with a crucial match up with playoff implications in Chicago on Sunday evening. San Antonio also finishes its season with four road games in its final five, a stretch that started Friday, and continues in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.

Dribbles:

  • Seattle is now 3-0 in the Gary Kloppenburg Era.
  • Moriah Jefferson did not play for the third time in the last four games, again out with left knee soreness.
  • Kayla McBride eclipsed the 1,500-point mark for her career on Friday.
  • With her 20th 20-point game of the season, Breanna Stewart tied a franchise single-season record set by Lauren Jackson.
  • Lanay Montgomery was the lone player to not see the court for Seattle, while Cierra Burdick did not play for San Antonio.
  • Attendance: 9,686 (sellout)

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