By Matthew Roberson
The Seattle Storm (9-12) left the comfort of All-Star Weekend in Seattle and headed south for a duel with its longtime rival Los Angeles Sparks (15-6). After a back-and-forth game that saw the Storm trail by as much as 17 in the first half before regaining the lead in the third quarter, Seattle ultimately stumbled down the stretch on its way to a 68-60 defeat.
The Storm held Los Angeles to a 26-for-69 (37.7 percent) clip on field goals, but was only able to hit 39.6 percent (21-for-53) of its own. Breanna Stewart earned 20 or more points for the eighth consecutive contest, finishing with 23. Jewell Loyd had 13 points, second highest of anyone wearing green and gold. Sue Bird passed longtime teammate and fellow Storm legend Lauren Jackson in career field goals made, giving her the most in Seattle Storm history with 2,091. Bird also passed the 600-steal plateau, giving her another milestone for her storied career. Crystal Langhorne ended with a line of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Seattle’s veteran post presence has scored 10 or more points in 12 straight games. Over the course of those 12 games, Langhorne is shooting 70.5 percent from the field.
At the game’s first dead ball at the 4:59 mark of the first quarter, Stewart was a one-woman show. She had all of the team’s first eight points and recorded two blocks in the first two minutes. Despite starting 2-for-11 from the field, Los Angeles had a 10-8 lead at the first stoppage. Seattle was limited by three turnovers in the onset of the first quarter. The Sparks took a 21-19 lead on a Jantel Lavender layup to end the quarter.
Seattle’s offense was carried by the three ball in the first 10 minutes. The Storm shot 4-for-9 from beyond the arc and limited LA to just one deep ball in the opening frame. Los Angeles head coach Brian Agler utilized his bench heavily. At the end of one, LA had gotten 11 bench points to Seattle’s zero. Stewart attained her 1,000th career WNBA point by nailing a pull-up jumper during her explosive first quarter.
The home team’s lead extended to six (25-19) when Riqana Williams got a bucket with 8:32 left in the second quarter. Midway through the second quarter, the Sparks owned a 36-23 advantage. That lead would continue to grow as the Sparks put together an impressive run that would extend to 18-3. At its largest, LA’s lead hit 17 points (39-22). From there, Seattle responded with a 7-0 run to get back within 10 points. Los Angeles bounded into the halftime locker room with a 40-29 lead.
The Storm managed just 10 points in the second quarter. Stewart led all scorers with 15 points, a product of 5-for-7 shooting. Two main statistics separated the teams through one half of play: turnovers and bench points. Seattle fumbled the ball away 10 times, while Los Angeles turned it over just three times. The Sparks’ bench – led by Jantel Lavender’s 12 points – totaled 17 points to Seattle’s zero.
In addition to her 15 first half points, Stewart also swatted four shots. Loyd had seven points, thanks in part to a 2-for-3 start from three-point land. Langhorne was the leader in rebounds through 20 minutes, snatching seven boards. Candace Parker was the best player on the court for LA in the initial two quarters. She had 14 points and six rebounds at the first half horn.
Loyd got her squad back within single digits (42-33) with a leaner in traffic less than three minutes into the third quarter. An 11-2 run for Seattle out of the second-half gate brought the team back within two (42-40) at the third quarter’s 5:38 point. Bird tied the game at 42 with a midrange hoop, stretching Seattle’s run to 20-3 dating back to the first half. The first Storm lead of the second half (44-42) came on a Noelle Quinn fastbreak layup off a Bird helper. As well as giving her team its first lead since the early going, Quinn’s basket also supplied Seattle’s first and only bench points of the night. A 17-11 quarter in favor of Seattle set up an exciting finish, as LA clutched tightly to a 51-46 lead entering the final fourth of the game.
A free throw from Ogwumike made the score 54-48 in favor of the Sparks as the clock wound down to the eight-minute mark. Two more free throws from Williams pushed the Los Angeles advantage to 10 (58-48). Entering crunch time, Seattle found itself down six points (58-52), needing to stage a comeback in the final five minutes of action. Parker picked up her fifth foul of the affair at 4:33, stopping the clock and allowing Stewart to hit two foul shots. The Storm missed several shots that could have trimmed its deficit, leading to a nine-point hole with only three minutes to spare.
With a chance to cut the lead to four under one minute, Bird missed a three, and Los Angeles was able to salt the game away from there, winning by a final of 68-60.
The Sparks’ two-head monster of Parker and Ogwumike each recorded double-doubles. Parker was the leading scorer for Los Angeles with 17 points, and her 10 rebounds matched Ogwumike, who had 13 points of her own. LA’s bench tandem of Lavender and Williams posted 14 and 11 points, respectively.
Seattle’s loss drops it to 3-4 in its last seven games. The Storm’s first home game of the second half will be held on Friday at 7 p.m. PDT vs. the Dallas Wings. Fans can secure the best seats in the house with Storm 360 Memberships, available now, starting at $180, available online or by calling (206) 217-WNBA (9622). Packages and group discounts are available at 206-217-WNBA (9622).