After Sunday’s win over Chicago in the regular-season finale, Storm captain Sue Bird addressed the sellout crowd at KeyArena, thanking the fans for their support and noting how badly the team wants to advance far enough to host a playoff game.
“See you soon,” she said to the 12,186 in attendance.
In order to give the fans another chance to pack KeyArena, the Storm will need to win two straight road games, starting on Wednesday against the Atlanta Dream. Seattle, the No. 7 seed, will face the sixth-seeded Dream at 5 p.m. PT in the single-elimination first round at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.
Depending on who wins the Indiana-Phoenix matchup – teams are re-seeded after each round – the Storm would play either New York or Chicago in another single-elimination situation this weekend.
While the new playoff format will surely be frustrating for the teams that bow out right away, the Storm benefits by not having to face either of the top seeds, Minnesota and L.A., until the Semifinals. In years past, Seattle would have met the 26-8 Sparks in the first round. Now, the two best teams in the regular season have byes all the way to the best-of-five Semifinals.
“The idea of having one game against a team that has virtually the same record is exciting,” Bird said. “And once you move on, you tend to gain confidence, and who knows what could happen?”
Making its first postseason appearance since 2013, Seattle has a roster full of veterans with plenty of playoff experience, including two-time champion Bird. But if the Storm is going to get by Atlanta, it will need contributions from a number of young players making their postseason debuts. This will be the first playoff game for rookie Breanna Stewart and second-year players Jewell Loyd, Ramu Tokashiki and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
When the Storm beat Atlanta on the road just two weeks ago, Stewart and Loyd both played vital roles in the victory, scoring 23 and 17 points, respectively. It’s not just the pair of back-to-back No. 1 picks, though – Tokashiki and Mosqueda-Lewis emerged as key bench players late in the season.
Mosqueda-Lewis scored a season-high 16 points on 4-of-6 from deep in the regular-season finale, and Tokashiki added 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Tokashiki, a superstar on her National Team and club team in Japan, has started just one game this year after 16 starts as a rookie. Her playing time inevitably went down due to Stewart’s arrival, yet Tokashiki remains a crucial part of the rotation.
“I think there’s a few things that are key in this league: staying healthy, getting bench scoring and having a little bit of luck,” Bird said on Sunday. “That’s really what gets you championships in this league, because everybody is so good. When we have our bench playing the way it did tonight, it really puts us on another level.”
With a new core of young players intact, the Storm is one of the hottest teams in the league heading into the playoffs. Seattle has won five of its last six games – three of which were on the road – and finished 7-3 after the Olympic break.
No matter how long the playoff run lasts, head coach Jenny Boucek is thrilled about the progress her team made this year and knows the future looks even brighter.
“I still think it’s ahead of us,” Boucek said of the Storm peaking at the right time. “This team has a high ceiling. We’re going to fight and contend to be our best at whatever point this season ends.
“This is a multiyear plan with a young team. We want to extend the season as long as possible and get better with every moment we have together. And then we’ll take the momentum from this season and keep building. Our goal is championships.”