By Matthew Roberson
The Seattle Storm (14-19) burst into Capital One Arena on Friday night for a date with the reeling Washington Mystics (18-15). After 45 minutes of back-and-forth basketball, the Mystics earned a four-point win to clinch the fifth seed in the upcoming WNBA playoffs.
Sue Bird passed Ticha Penicheiro for the top spot on the WNBA’s all-time assist list, earning her 2,600th career dime in the first quarter. She would finish with a season-high 13 assists for the ballgame. Breanna Stewart scored and rebounded her way to her first double-double since Aug. 16, ending with 12 points and 13 boards. Alysha Clark eclipsed 20 points for the second time in 2017, shooting 9-for-13 in 36 minutes on the court.
Seattle started the game by making 4-for-5 of its initial field goals. Bird’s first assist of the game came on a bounce pass to Crystal Langhorne in the post, who laid it up and in as she’s done so many times before. A three-point play by Loyd early in the game tied the score at 13. The score would remain that way until Delle Donne nailed a three to bring the score to 16-13. Bird dished the record-tying assist on Seattle’s next possession, feeding Carolyn Swords for a contested shot at the rim. With 3:37 left in the first quarter, on almost the exact same play, Bird floated a pass to Swords again off a pick and roll. Swords gathered, went up, and flipped the ball in from the right side of the hoop. Aside from breaking the assist record, the bucket also gave Seattle a 17-16 lead. Swords executed her best game in a Storm uniform, getting a season-high 10 points on a flawless 5-for-5 shooting performance. Seattle possessed a 26-24 lead at the end of one.
Seven different Storm players scored in the first quarter, combining to shoot 60 percent (12-for-20) from the floor. The Mystics made their first four field goals of the second quarter, but failed to pull away. Langhorne stuck two free throws to quell the Mystics’ momentum and pull Seattle back within four (36-32). Bird twirled home a three with 4:29 on the second quarter clock, changing the score to 40-37 Washington. She would tie the game at 42 with an off-the-dribble three less than two minutes later. The Storm grabbed a 44-43 lead on a Stewart jumper from the mid-post.
Bird swished a three as the buzzer sounded to tie the score at 49 at halftime. The half consisted of 13 lead changes and eight ties. Each team made more than half of its shot attempts, with the Mystics making good on 20-for-36 (55.6 percent) and Seattle checking in at 52.6 percent. The road team enjoyed an efficient first half of offense. Wearing its gold jerseys on Washington’s home floor, Seattle handed out 15 assists and just four turnovers through 20 minutes. A large chunk of the Mystics’ attack came from deep; Washington was 4-for-9 (44.4 percent) from behind the arc in the game’s first two quarters.
In addition to setting a WNBA record, Bird also scored the ball prolifically in the first half. Seattle’s veteran point guard owned 11 points and six assists at the halftime break. Loyd was right behind her with nine first half points, while Stewart’s line read seven points and six rebounds. Led by six from Swords, the Storm bench finished the opening half with 10 points. Sami Whitcomb had two early steals, and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis dealt two assists. Langhorne and Clark each contributed six points in the first half. The pair combined to shoot 5-for-11 to start the game. Washington’s two-headed monster of Delle Donne and Emma Meedseman totaled 25 of their team’s 49 first half points.
With Washington gripping a five-point lead, Clark hit a big three to make it a one-possession game (59-57). She tied the game with a lefty layup on the next journey down the floor. Seattle took a 62-59 lead on a looping three from the right hand of Loyd as the shot clock expired. With three minutes to play in the third, the Storm were pocketing a 65-61 advantage. Allison Hightower reclaimed the lead for Washington at the end of the quarter, laying a ball in to go up 68-67. Stewart connected on a wide-open jumper on Seattle’s last touch of the third quarter. At the end of three high-potency quarters, Seattle trailed 70-69.
Swords started the fourth quarter with a go-ahead bucket, edging Seattle ahead 71-70. When Noelle Quinn swished a three to bring the count to 74-72, it was the 20th lead change of the night. Whitcomb hit Seattle’s ninth three of the game with 6:58 left in the contest. The shot resulted in a game-high seven-point lead for the Storm (81-74) and a 10-2 run. Entering crunch time, the playoff-minded Storm had an 85-81 lead. Two free throws by way of Delle Donne gave her 30 points and closed the gap to two points (85-83).
Meesseman tied the game at 85 as the clock ticked toward two minutes. Clark gave Bird her 11th assist of the night on a three ball that bounced off the rim and backboard before settling in. The scoreboard read 88-85 Seattle at that point, but Delle Donne evened things on a deep ball seconds later. Clark would get to 20 points on a step through layup to push Seattle ahead 90-88. With a minute left, both sides had scored 90 points. Seattle got a stop on its last defensive stand of regulation, getting the ball back with 5.8 seconds on the ticker. Stewart’s buzzer beating attempt went begging, forcing overtime to settle this contentious clash.
Midway through the overtime period, the Mystics were up two (95-93) thanks to a Delle Donne jimmy. Loyd responded to a Meesseman three with a trey of her own, getting Seattle within two (98-96). Langhorne tied things at 98 with a picturesque baseline jumper, taking the air out of the Capital One Arena. Tianna Hawkins hit the shot of the night for Washington, burying a three with 30.9 seconds on the overtime scoreboard. Bird was fouled on a three-point attempt, and promptly hit all of the free throws. Ivory Latta nailed her two free throws to stretch Seattle’s deficit to three, and the team would free throw its way to a 110-106 win.
Seattle will storm into Chicago for its last game of the regular season. The finale is set for Sunday, Sept. 3 at 5:00 p.m. CDT at Allstate Arena. NBA TV will televise the action.