Seattle – Sunday was the culmination of awards season for the Seattle Storm.
Just hours before the first game of the team’s WNBA semifinals series with Phoenix, Sue Bird, Natasha Howard, and Breanna Stewart accepted their league honors from league president Lisa Borders — the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award, Most Improved Player, and MVP, respectively.
But in the closing moments of game one, the spotlight belonged to another.
With seven of Seattle’s 12 fourth-quarter points — including what would prove to be the game-sealing jumper with a minute to play — it was Jewell Loyd who put the finishing touches on the Storm’s 91-87 win in front of a sell-out crowd at KeyArena.
The fourth-year guard finished with 23 points, as one of four Storm players in double-figures.
“Everybody sees the shots she made, what I’m going to appreciate is what she did before she took the shot,” Storm head coach Dan Hughes said of Loyd. ” … What she did before precipitated the finish. That’s just a young player evolving and knowing how to put herself in the best situations when the game is on the line.”
Stewart led all scorers with 28 points, while Howard had 20, and Bird 10, as Seattle’s starters combined for all but four of the team’s points on the afternoon.
DeWanna Bonner had a team-high 27 points for Phoenix in the losing effort, with 25 from Diana Taurasi and 13 from Brittney Griner.
Both teams benefited from strong shooting early — combining for six made three-pointers in the first five-plus minutes — with the Mercury holding a two-point lead after one quarter, and the Storm a four-point advantage at the break.
But after nine lead changes and five times tied in the first 20 minutes, Seattle responded with a 16-4 run to open the second half, to build a cushion that would prove critical in the final moments.
“We came out very sloppy in the start of the third and they got that separation and got the momentum,” said Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello.
That momentum slowly turned after the Seattle run, as the Mercury chipped away, getting the deficit into single digits with just over seven minutes to play, and all the way down to two on a Griner lay-in with 1:40 left.
On the ensuing possession, an Alysha Clark three bounced out, only for Stewart to grab the rebound, with Bird finding Loyd for an open pull-up jumper. Those would be the final points of the afternoon.
“We made some hustle plays that gave us multiple possessions,” Stewart said, “especially the one where Jewell hit that big shot. That was huge.”
As Bonner put it, her team was “one rebound away.”
“We have to be better than that,” she said. “They are great at offensive rebounds as a team. I think that we were just one step behind.”
Despite now trailing in the series, Brondello did find positives, saying she liked her team’s aggressiveness down the stretch. And after allowing Stewart to score 19 points in the first half, she was held to just nine in the second.
“I just think we gave her too many open looks (in the first half),” she said. “This is the MVP. She’s a pretty special player and she can score. She had five threes in that first half. I don’t think we were locked in. We weren’t playing with a sense of urgency. We were closing out when she caught the ball instead on the flight of the ball. Just those little things I thought we did a little bit better in the second half.”
The Mercury will also hope for a better outing from Griner, with Brondello noting she wasn’t at her best on Sunday.
“I think Brittney played a little too fast,” she said. “This is something she can control. For some reason she was playing fast and even though a guard was coming, it just disrupted her.”
While Tuesday will mark Phoenix’s fourth game in eight days — after winning back-to-back loser-out match ups to reach the semifinals — it will be the first time in that stretch the team didn’t have travel in between. For Seattle, it will merely be the second game in three days after a weeklong break, with Hughes saying the gap between semifinals games more closely resembles what his team has grown accustomed to over the course of the season.
Loyd said, however, that it doesn’t take long for Seattle to find a rhythm, even after an extended break.
“Someone hits a shot, we feed off the crowd, then someone else hits another shot or gets a block, once we start rolling, it’s tough to pull back,” she said. That is something that we
have been doing all year.”
Tip-off for game two is set for 7 p.m. PT. at the Key.
- Attendance: 9,686. It was Seattle’s sixth consecutive sell-out, a new franchise record.
- Faces in the crowd: NBA legend Bill Russell was seated courtside, alongside fellow Basketball Hall of Famer Ann Meyers, who co-owns the Mercury. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, and Tod Leiweke, the President and CEO of NHL Seattle, were also on hand.
- Seattle is now 11-0 when Jewell Loyd scores at least 20 points.
- In the first quarter, Diana Taurasi became the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer in the playoffs, and the record-holder for most field goals made in the playoffs.