Seattle — The first WNBA team to clinch a playoff spot this season is the Seattle Storm.
Behind 20 points from Breanna Stewart, 15 from Natasha Howard, and 14 each from Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird, the Storm (21-7) guaranteed itself a postseason spot for the third straight year with an 85-75 victory over Minnesota on Friday night at KeyArena. Sylvia Fowles led the Lynx with 20 points and 16 rebounds in their losing effort, while Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen each finished with 12.
Though happy to have made the cut, with a 3.5-game lead on second-place Atlanta for the No. 1 seed, and just six games left in the regular season, Storm players knows there are still many miles to tread in the next two weeks before the regular season ends.
“It’s a good feeling for sure,” Loyd said. “For us, we just want to get better every game, we still want to focus on our next opponents.”
A 12-0 Minnesota run over the final three minutes of the first quarter gave them a six-point lead after one, while Seattle used an 8-0 run of its own in the waning moments of the half to cut their deficit to one at the break.
The Lynx pushed their lead back to nine in the opening minutes of the third, forcing Storm head coach Dan Hughes to call timeout.
The topic of discussion? Defense.
“We knew, if we can get some stops and run, that was going to be extremely advantageous to us,” Bird said.
Seattle held Minnesota to just 27 points the rest of the night, outscoring them by 19.
“I thought we had them right where we wanted them,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “Then they shot close to 60 percent in the second half. That was layups off of our bad offense. They ended up making 12 threes, but if we don’t turn it over and give up 40 points in the paint, we could actually survive 12 threes.”
The loss – their second in a row – dropped the defending champions to seventh in the standings, 5.5 games back of first.
Seattle, which hadn’t had a home game since July 14, now heads back on the road for a four-game trip, starting Monday morning at New York — one of two Liberty games at Madison Square Garden this season. Minnesota returns home for a Sunday evening tilt with Atlanta.
The Lynx face a special kind of urgency in a season that they began by going 3-6.
“Everybody’s got a tight race,” Reeve said. “Everybody’s got their challenges. What do we have to do? We’ve got to go home and, by whatever means necessary, win our next game. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
And though Friday was the Storm’s lone home game in a nine-game span, Hughes said he’s been pleased with how his team has handled the road.
“They believe that we can control home or away by home we play, and that’s what I see from them, and I think they’re proving it,” he said.
Not to say the home crowd doesn’t provide it’s own advantage.
“But what I’m really enjoying is watching the atmosphere in this building become even better, and I think that’s going to continue to grow if we continue to play this way,” Hughes said.
- Attendance: 12,064. The team opened the upper deck of KeyArena for the first time this season, and will do so again for the regular season finale Aug. 19, against Dallas.
- The season series is now tied at a game apiece. The Lynx won the first matchup at the Target Center on June 26, 91-79. The two teams meet for a final time this year on Aug. 12 in Minnesota.
- Seen: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan was on hand, while former Microsoft CEO and current Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was seated courtside, next to Storm owner Lisa Brummel. Brummel served as human resources director at Microsoft during Ballmer’s tenure. Interim (soon-to-be permanent) Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best was recognized on the video board during a fourth quarter timeout.
- Alexis Jones and Endy Miyem did not play for Minnesota, while Noelle Quinn sat out for Seattle.