By Matthew Roberson
Playoff-bound Seattle (14-19) finds itself preparing for the last game of its tumultuous 2017 regular season. This game, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 3 at 3 p.m. PDT against the Chicago Sky (12-21), could serve as a much-needed course correction for the Storm in hopes of gaining momentum before postseason action.
Losing a heart wrenching 110-106 overtime decision to Washington on Friday gave the Storm its fourth 2017 losing streak of at least three games. The last taste of winning for the team came on Aug. 20 in the same arena that will host them on Sunday. That day, Seattle trucked the Sky 103-66 for its largest margin of victory all season. In hindsight, that was maybe the most crucial win the Storm got this year. A loss on that night in Illinois would have meant that these teams entered play on Sunday with the Sky playing for its playoff lives. Instead, the Sky is playing for nothing more than pride. Sunday’s affair will settle the season series between the two squads. Chicago took one on Seattle’s home court in mid-July before the Storm returned the favor with the 37-point whupping two weeks ago.
Chicago has presented one of the hardest opponents for Seattle to figure out in 2017. On July 18, KeyArena fans were treated to a 29-11 first quarter domination by the Storm. The wheels would fall off from there, as the home team was outscored 83-54 the rest of the way. Defense was the bugaboo for Seattle that day, as they allowed the Sky to score as many points in the final three quarters as the Storm scored all game. Breanna Stewart posted 25 points and 11 rebounds in the loss. Sue Bird, the WNBA’s new all-time leader in assists, finished one shy of a double-double in the July defeat. Crystal Langhorne and Jewell Loyd each went for 16 points.
Things changed the second time around, as the Storm shot 52.6 percent on field goals and made 12 threes on its way to the 103-point surge. Loyd entertained her home fans in Chicago with 17 points and four rebounds. Sami Whitcomb cracked 10 points off the bench, and each member of Seattle’s roster registered at least two points and one made field goal. That marked the first time in the 18-year history of the organization that every player got a bucket.
AT A GLANCE: SKY
Chicago has three of the elite offensive players in today’s WNBA. Allie Quigley, one of the most improved players in the league this year, gets 16.6 points per game while knocking down 43.9 percent of her treys. That is the third-best clip in the league, just barely behind teammate Stefanie Dolson. Chicago’s other All-Star is hitting 44.3 percent of her salvos from the great beyond. Dolson checks in at 14.6 points per game on a team-high 56.4 field goal percentage.
Courtney Vandersloot provides the prototypical point guard for Chicago’s offensive system. The former Gonzaga Bulldog is offering 8.04 assists per game, decimal points ahead of Ticha Penicheiro’s single-season record of 8.00 in 2002. Vandersloot is a bit of a marksman as well. She’s been true on 38.1 percent of her threes this season, and is rocking a 2.80 assist/turnover ratio.
Chicago was eliminated from playoff contention on Friday night. Playing the powerhouse Minnesota Lynx, the Sky was unable to slow down the offensive juggernaut. Minnesota rolled to 110 points and held Chicago to 87, crushing the dreams of the Sky’s fanbase. A 3-12 start to the season doomed Chicago before the All-Star break even came. The team got itself back into contention with a three-game tear to start the month of August, but has faltered since. In its last three games – all losses – Quigley & Co. are allowing just over 100 points a game.
The Storm boasts a 14-11 record against Chicago in the teams’ brief 12-year history. Playing in Chicago had been a struggle for the team as of late. Before taking the showdown earlier this year, the Storm had lost its previous two on the road against the Sky.
Bench play has been the key for Seattle in its two meetings with Chicago. In the July loss, the reserves managed just eight points. In the August beatdown, seven non-starters powered together for 32 points. Shooting has given the team no trouble in either of the games. While the Storm did blow a substantial lead, its players shot 50 percent from the field on July 18. Later, coach Gary Kloppenburg’s troops drilled 52.6 percent of its shot attempts in the August 20 demolition.
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