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Storm clinch league’s top seed with win over New York

Breanna Stewart's 22 points and 15 rebounds against the Liberty Friday put her over the 2,000 career point plateau - the fourth-fasted in the league to achieve that feat. Neil Enns/Storm photos.
Breanna Stewart’s 22 points and 15 rebounds against the Liberty Friday put her over the 2,000 career point plateau – the fourth-fasted in the league to achieve that feat. Neil Enns/Storm photos.

Seattle – Dan Hughes smiled wide as he lauded the performance of his MVP contender.

“She’s truly a great player that understands greatness in more than just scoring or drawing attention to herself,” the Seattle Storm’s head coach said Friday night. “She seeks greatness because she seeks winning. If that’s a defensive presence, if that’s a defensive rebound, if that’s a hustle play, if that’s a hard drive, she gets that, and that I have learned to cherish (that).”

With her ninth double-double of the year — 22 points and 15 rebounds — Breanna Stewart again led the way for Seattle as they clinched the No. 1 seed in the WNBA playoffs with a 85-77 win over the New York Liberty at KeyArena. Sue Bird finished with 13 points, and Natasha Howard 12 as the other Storm players in double-figures, while Tina Charles had a team-high 21 points for the Liberty.

Seattle led by as many as 16 in the first quarter — propelled by 7-of-8 shooting to start the game — but held just a three-point advantage at the break, thanks to 11 points from Charles and eight each from Brittany Boyd and Bria Hartley for New York.

Charles gave the Liberty their first lead since the opening basket on a jumper with just over four minutes to play in the third, only for Seattle to respond with a 7-0 run to retake the lead for good.

It was an all-too-familiar tune for Liberty head coach Katie Smith, whose squad has now lost 11 straight.

“We’re in games and the third quarter is usually somewhat of a deciding factor for us,” she said. “We’re in ballgames, we’re tied, we’re doing stuff then there’s a period of time where we don’t hit shots, we turn it over and the other team takes advantage with offensive rebounds, finishing layups, knocking down shots – that’s the gap. We then can’t get ourselves back into it.”

On a night when Seattle set the league record for threes in a season (296), they went 13-for-29 from behind the arc. Five of those came from Stewart, who finished the night 6-of-8 from the field while dominating on the defensive glass with 14 of her 15 rebounds.

Storm players huddle after the win, which gave them the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. Neil Enns/Storm photos.

“What’s she’s doing and how’s she doing it, is really phenomenal,” said Jewell Loyd, who briefly hijacked Stewart’s post-game interview to push Stewart’s MVP credentials. “It hasn’t been just one month, or just one game, it is every single game. If we need a bucket she is there, if we need a big stop, she makes a block. She is making the right shots, she is making the right reads. She is just consistent.”

Seattle closes out the regular season at home on Sunday afternoon against Dallas, which clinched its playoff spot Friday with a win over the Aces.

The first 3,000 fans receive a “Stewie for MVP” T-Shirt.

“There’s so many factors that she helps you win by,” Hughes said. “Not just put up numbers, she helps you win games. She does tough things. She impacts the game in a direct line with success — with winning.”

Dribbles:

  • Attendance: 10,873. For the second-straight game, the team opened a portion of the upper deck of KeyArena, and will do so again on Sunday for the regular-season finale. It was the fourth consecutive lower-bowl sellout.
  • Seattle won the first two matchups, both on the road, 77-62 on July 3, and 96-80 on Aug. 6.
  • With a first-quarter 3-pointer, Breanna Stewart broke the Storm franchise record for field goals made in a season, with 259. Lauren Jackson set the previous mark of 258 in 2007.
  • Stewart also became the fourth-fastest and second-youngest in WNBA history to reach the 2,000-point-mark for her career with a pair of fourth-quarter free throws.
  • Seattle also set the WNBA record in the first quarter for three-pointers in a season with 284, breaking the previous record set by Phoenix in 2007.
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