By Cal Barash-David
In its penultimate game before the All-Star break, the Storm squared off against the Atlanta Dream for the second time this season Saturday night. The initial meeting this year between the two teams took an overtime period to settle. This affair was similarly contested, but it was settled in regulation with a 90-84 Storm win.
The Dream struck first with a three, but the Storm answered with an 8-0 run in which Crystal Langhorne and Alysha Clark accounted for two baskets a piece. Atlanta then powered back and cut the lead to one.
The visitors made it close with strong interior play on the offensive end, but back-to-back buckets by Sue Bird and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis eventually pushed the Storm lead to 21-15 and forced a Dream timeout at the two-minute juncture in the first quarter.
Following the timeout, Mosqueda-Lewis still had the hot hand and drained a drive-and-kick three from the top of the key. On the next possession, Clark splashed a three of her own to make the game 27-15.
Layshia Clarendon and Bria Holmes cut the lead slightly at the line, and turnovers plagued the Storm attack and provided opportunities for Atlanta. The Dream capitalized, cutting the Storm’s lead to 27-23 after the first quarter.
To start the second quarter, Langhorne dialed up a three – her first attempt and make of the season. Later in the quarter, a three pointer by Bird made her the first player to reach double-digit scoring and gave the Storm a 13-point lead with 6:28 remaining in the half. Atlanta’s offense floundered, scoring only four points in the first five minutes of the second stanza.
But the latter half of the second quarter was a different story. The Storm scored only seven points in the final five minutes of the half. Meanwhile, the Dream tallied 16 points in the same span. The Dream cut what was once a 13-point lead to just a two-point deficit (45-43) as the halftime buzzer sounded. Bird led the way for the Storm with 10 points and four assists. Stewart had nine points and six boards at the half.
The third quarter was contentious, as the two sides swapped three’s then layups to start the quarter. The game was iced at 50-50, before a Langhorne layup broke the tie. On the ensuing possession, Langhorne scored again on an easy layup after an offensive rebound to make it 54-50 with 6:42 remaining. The Storm would not score again until the 2:27 mark. Meanwhile, the Dream also ran cold, as it failed to score from the floor between the 8:18 and 4:04 marks of the third quarter.
But four consecutive Storm possessions in the final 1:25 of the third, including a Langhorne layup off the glass, a Sami Whitcomb layup and trey and a Stewart steal and finish electrified the KeyArena Crowd of 6,993 and knotted the game at 65.
The beginning of the fourth was a testy affair, chopped up by six total fouls in the initial 4:40. And although the Dream held a five-point lead (74-69) with 6:20 remaining, neither team had the advantage of momentum on their side.
But Stewart gave the home side this advantage when she finished a layup then drew a charge on the other end of the floor. On the following possession, Langhorne drew and converted a hoop and harm to again ice the game, this time at 74 apiece. Bird changed a 76-all tie with a cross-court, no-look dime to a cutting Stewart, who dropped it in with 3:09 remaining for her 24th point.
Langhorne gave the Storm an 82-78 lead with 2:13 remaining when she scored a layup for her 20th point of the game. In so doing, she broke the record for most consecutive made shots without a miss in franchise history and also recorded her first 20-point game of the season. She finished the game 9-for-9 and has now made 18 straight shots from the floor dating back to the Storm’s July 8 contest against the Sparks.
Both teams continued to trade buckets as the clock ticked down in an increasingly loud KeyArena. The Storm scored on six straight possessions and held an 86-82 lead with one minute remaining. Layshia Clarendon then missed a three pointer, and Jewell Loyd grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled. She knocked down both efforts from the stripe, giving the Storm an 88-82 lead.
The Storm stymied Atlanta’s offense and made free throws down the stretch when it counted, ending the game on a 21-10 run and collecting a 90-84 win.
Stewart again paced the Storm with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds, as well as six assists. Langhorne added eight rebounds to her 20-point effort, and Clark returned to offensive form with 13 points. Bird led the Storm in assists with seven.
Tiffany Hayes led the Dream with 19 points, and Clarendon tallied 14 while dishing out a game-high eight assists.
Seattle hosts Chicago on Tuesday at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN2. 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).