Storm rides hot start to rout Sparks, 88-63

Natasha Howard shoots. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Natasha Howard shoots. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Los Angeles – The Seattle Storm raced out to a big lead against the Los Angeles Sparks Thursday and never looked back, routing them 88-63 for their first win at Staples Center since 2015.

Alysha Clark led four from Seattle in double figures, with 17 points. Natasha Howard and Breanna Stewart each scored 16, and Jewell Loyd had 10 points. The visitors outrebounded Los Angeles, 36-26, outscored them in the paint, 40-30, and inflated their lead to as much as 25 points in the fourth quarter.

The Storm scored the first four points of the matchup and had a 24-9 lead after one quarter, while holding the Sparks to a season-low 22 percent shooting. The hosts came alive in the second period, as Nneka Ogwumike scored eight points and Candace Parker six to lead the team in outscoring Seattle, 24-18 and cutting their lead to nine at halftime.

The Storm responded by shooting 69 percent in the third quarter, with Clark scoring 12 points. Los Angeles coach Brian Agler kept Ogwumike, Parker and fellow starter Alana Beard on the bench for the entirety of the fourth period, giving his reserves ample playing time. Ogwumike was the lone Spark to score in double figures, with 19 points.

Veteran Seattle point guard Sue Bird said her team’s game began with their tough defense. Coach Dan Hughes agreed.

“We did a good job of just, making it rough defensively,” he said. “It was one of our better defensive games.”

The loss was the first for Los Angeles in over two weeks, but the Storm were aiming to rebound from their second loss of the season just five days earlier. Stewart said the break between matchups made the difference against the Sparks.

Alysha Clark shoots. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Alysha Clark shoots. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

“During that stretch of road games, we played six games in 12 days,” she said. “Then we had two days off and two days of practice. We had a really good scout on LA, and we knew what we wanted to do coming in. Our bodies felt great.”

Beard acknowledged that Los Angeles had defensive lapses and didn’t take care of the ball.

“Seattle came in obviously more focused and prepared to play this game,” Beard said. “At halftime we had nine turnovers, and our average is 11. We can’t afford to give them live turnovers, which puts them in their transition. We’re at our best when teams play against our set defense, and tonight we didn’t have very much of it.”

Parker said the Storm’s strong start set the tone for the game.

“Individually and as a team, we didn’t play well,” Parker said. “It started at the beginning. They played well and we have to give Seattle all the credit. We turned the ball over, we weren’t able to get out defense set, and they picked us apart in the half court so overall it wasn’t good. Lack of focus, lack of playing hard, lack of playing well, overall it was a disaster.”

Last year Los Angeles made their second straight WNBA Finals appearance, while the Storm haven’t had a winning record since 2011. This season, with the infusion of the high-powered rookie class of 2018, every team in the league is deeper. That includes Seattle, now 6-2.

“With this team, on any given night it can be any player who steps up,” Stewart said. “(Clark) stepped up in the third quarter tonight…..Natasha was all over the place, and our bench production was huge. When everything is falling for us, it’s hard for other teams to stop us.”

Agler said the game was a lesson for the Sparks.

“The biggest takeaway in a game like this is how vulnerable each team is in this league, including us,” Agler said. “We just didn’t get good rotations, we were continuously in defensive transition mode not getting matched up and they came down into their offense quickly, and did a good job with it.”

Both teams play home games Sunday, as the Storm hosts the Atlanta Dream and Los Angeles faces the Chicago Sky.

Sue Favor contributed to this report.