By Cal Barash-David
In its first game back from a three-game road trip, and with momentum of a 20-point victory at Dallas five days prior, the Seattle Storm welcomed the New York Liberty to KeyArena on Thursday night.
The game was the third and final contest of the three-game season series with Bill Laimbeer’s squad. After an inaccurate affair in which the Storm (7-9) shot 37.5 percent from the floor – its lowest clip of the season – the Liberty (8-7) broke the 1-1 split with a 79-70 win behind 29 points and 12 boards from Tina Charles.
After the Liberty tallied the initial two points from the charity stripe, the Storm scored seven unanswered. On the other end of the floor the Liberty got off to a cold start, missing its first seven shots before Epiphanny Prince broke the spell with a jumper.
Scoring in the post, including a Crystal Langhorne layup with 1.9 seconds to play, yielded a seven-point lead for the Storm (21-14) at the end of the stanza. Charles accounted for nine of the Liberty’s 14 first-quarter points. The Liberty shot just 23.5 percent from the floor in the first quarter. But the Storm wasn’t much better, shooting 36.4 percent in the opening stanza.
About three minutes through the second quarter, Langhorne sent her defender airborne with a pump fake and then threaded a bounce pass to an open Breanna Stewart for an easy layup to give the Storm a 25-17 lead.
With just under four minutes to play in the half, Jewell Loyd sparked a three-on-one fast break with a rebound and dished the ball to Stewart on the wing. Stewart tossed the ball up to a cutting Loyd who jumped, snagged the pass and, still hanging in the air, tossed it back to Stewart for an easy layup. On the next trip down, an Alysha Clark layup gave the Storm a 35-28 lead. But the Liberty fired back with seven unanswered points of its own to send the game to a 35-35 gridlock before a Seattle timeout. The Liberty eventually stretched the run to 10 straight points before Clark eventually halted the streak with an off-balance layup.
The Storm entered the break down one (38-37), with Stewart leading the way for Seattle with 12 points and seven rebounds.
The Storm was cold to start the second half, scoring only seven points in the first 5:52 of the third quarter. But Sami Whitcomb stopped the drought with a fastbreak and one to pull the Storm within five (52-47). On the ensuing position, Whitcomb stole the ball and splashed a three-pointer to make it a two-point (52-50) game. She later knocked down two free throws and drew an offensive foul in the quarter. Whitcomb recorded eight of Seattle’s 15 third quarter points, and she ended the night with 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting. This was not the first time Whitcomb catalyzed the Storm offense against the Liberty. On May 26, Whitcomb orchestrated a 10-point comeback with a 22-point effort in just 15 minutes on the floor to muscle the Storm to an 87-81 victory.
But Charles would not quit. The Liberty center, who averaged a league-fourth best 19.6 points per night coming into the contest, had tallied 22 by the end of the third. She finished the night with a game-high 29 points, and the Liberty led 60-52 going into the fourth quarter.
The game seemed to get out of hand in a hurry, as the Liberty pushed the lead to 14 (66-52) early in the fourth. But the Storm surged back. Stewart drained a drive-and-kick three off of a pass from Sue Bird, and on the following possession Whitcomb rang up a long-range trey of her own to slice the Liberty lead to six (70-64) with 5:46 to play.
The Liberty bolstered its lead with a five-point buffer, but Clark nailed a mid-range baseline jumper to bring the game back within single digits (75-66). While the Storm brought the game to 77-70, Seattle was unable to overcome the deficit, and the Liberty walked off the court with a 79-70 win, ending a three-game skid. For the Storm, the defeat marks the fourth loss in five games.
Stewart recorded 20 points and 14 rebounds to notch her sixth double-double of the season and her third in as many games. Kia Vaughn also recorded a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds for New York. Loyd and Clark scored 11 points apiece, while Langhorne added 10 points to the Storm effort.
Seattle hosts defending WNBA champion Los Angeles on Saturday at 6 p.m. PT. 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).