By Seth Dahle
The Seattle Storm’s dynamic duo of Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd combined to score 54 points and help Seattle overcome a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit en route to sealing an 85-80 road win at Chicago to cap the 2017 regular season.
Seattle (15-19) issued a stifling defensive effort in the fourth quarter to get the job done, holding Chicago to a 29.4 shooting percentage in the final 10 minutes, and the Storm outscored the Sky by 13 (24-11) at the free throw line in tonight’s outing.
Stewart’s 29-point performance marked her 21st game this season with 20 points or more, breaking Lauren Jackson’s record of 20 set in 2003. Loyd lit up the stat sheet as well, recording 25 points on 8-for-16 shooting to go along with five assists. Crystal Langhorne logged her fourth double-double of the year with 13 points and a season-high 12 boards, while Noelle Quinn directed the Storm offense with seven dimes.
Both teams got off to hot starts offensively, combing to shoot over 68 percent in the opening five minutes. Stewart netted nine of Seattle’s first 19 points to lead the Storm to a 19-18 advantage at the media timeout of the first frame. A Langhorne and-one at the 3:29 mark scooted Seattle’s lead to four (22-18), but Chicago responded with a 7-0 run to go up by three (25-22) after a triple by Courtney Vandersloot. Anchored by 14-combined points between Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, the Sky ultimately took a 29-26 advantage into the second stanza.
The following stanza featured five ties and seven lead changes, as Carolyn Swords scored four straight to give Seattle a two-point edge (34-32) before Chicago racked up five unanswered to go up three. Loyd canned a triple before Stewart booked two at the stripe at the 4:36 juncture to grant the Storm a two-point (39-37) lead, and Chicago went up by as many as four (43-39) before Seattle fired back with six straight to claw back in front by two (45-43). Seattle led at the break, 47-46, with Stewart leading three Storm players in double figures with 13 points.
The third stanza was back and forth early on, as Stewart pushed Seattle to a 58-54 advantage at the 5:47 mark with a layup on a feed from Quinn. Chicago went back in front by one (61-60) before Loyd connected on a three and Swords nailed another jumper to cap a 5-0 Storm run with 2:40 left in the quarter, and Chicago managed to muster an 8-1 burst to crawl to a 69-66 lead at the conclusion of the period.
Despite hanging around, Seattle never could get over the hump in the early stages of the final frame, pulling within one twice before Chicago extended the advantage to 10 (78-68) after a three by Jordan Hooper, forcing a Storm timeout at the 5:50 mark. The Sky, playing for pride alone, notched some momentum thanks to a big-time block by Vandersloot, who proceeded to net a layup for her 15th point on the night a mere 1:26 later.
But between the one-two punch of Stewart and Loyd, Seattle clawed its way back, booking 11 unanswered, including a three by Loyd to put the Storm back in front 79-78 with 3:11 left to play. After a Quigley bucket, Stewart connected on a jumper for her 27th point of the night at the 1:49 mark, and despite getting a stop on its next possession, the Storm coughed up a turnover to give Chicago another chance. Vandersloot got the look Chicago wanted on a cut to the hoop for a layup, but the Sky came up empty, and Stewart and Quinn drilled free throws down the stretch to seal it.
Kahleah Copper paced Chicago (12-22) with 18 points, while Quigley and Vandersloot added 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Seattle will travel to Phoenix as the eighth seed in the 2017 WNBA Playoffs and play the fifth-seeded Mercury on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. PDT on ESPN2.