By Matthew Roberson
The Seattle Storm (11-16) made its only trip to the desert this season, playing a Saturday night road game against the Phoenix Mercury (14-13). Seattle was playing its first game under interim coach Gary Kloppenburg, and the Storm responded with one of its best offensive outings of the season, winning 98-89 on Phoenix’s home court.
Seattle demonstrated the team’s impressive offensive capabilities throughout the night. The duo of Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd combined for 40 points, with each player scoring 20. Crystal Langhorne flexed her way to 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting numbers. Alysha Clark played one of her best games of 2017, putting up 13 points, five rebounds and a 15 +/- rating in 21 minutes of playing time. Seattle’s bench exploded for 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting, led by six points each from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Sami Whitcomb. Four players dished out five assists for the Storm, marking a franchise first.
Stewart tied the game at eight early in the night by drilling a deep three from the top of the key. The Storm would grab its first lead of the game (12-10) when Clark bullied her way to a basket in the low post. Loyd checked in with her first points of the game seconds later, cashing in a three from the wing off a Bird assist. Playing on the road did not negatively affect the team’s shooting, as Seattle made its first four three pointers while building a 20-14 lead.
Both teams’ offenses benefited greatly from free throws in the first quarter. Seattle went 5-for-6 from the line through 10 minutes of play, while Phoenix knocked in 8-for-10. Eight of the Storm’s 31 first quarter points came from its bench players. The 31 points was Seattle’s second-highest point total in a 2017 first quarter.
The Storm’s 31-28 lead at the end of one dissolved quickly in the second. Cayla George swished a three less than two minutes into the quarter to put Phoenix ahead by two (33-31). Stewart gave Seattle its first points of the second frame with a pull up jumper at 7:07. She would help the team reclaim the lead (39-37) on a baby hook and ensuing free throw. Before the halfway mark of the second quarter, Seattle’s dynamic young forward had already scored 12 points. Langhorne converted a fast break layup at the quarter’s 4:43 point to give the road team its biggest lead of the half (46-40). At halftime, the teams were deadlocked at 53.
Balanced scoring carried the Storm’s offense in the first half. Three players (Stewart, Langhorne, and Loyd) earned 10 points before the break, with Stewart leading all players at 14. Nine different players put the ball in the hoop for Seattle in the game’s first half. Stewart also led the team in green in rebounds, finagling five first half boards. Emma Cannon, who got just over nine minutes of action, led Phoenix with six rebounds. Diana Taurasi ran the Mercury offense and scored 12 points with three assists through two quarters. Seattle put on a shooting display, making 55.6 percent (20-for-36) of its first half field goals. The team did leave some points on the board, as it missed five free throws in the first 20 minutes of the ballgame. Seattle stacked up 15 assists on its initial 20 made field goals.
Clark rattled home a three early in the third quarter, serving as Seattle’s first points of the second half and snapping a streak of seven misses in eight shots. Taurasi buried a shot from three-point range four minutes into the third quarter, raising the Mercury lead to a game-high seven points (66-59). The Storm answered with a mini 7-2 run to get within two points as the third quarter clock melted away. Ramu Tokashiki knocked home a jump shot to supply Seattle with a four-point lead (72-68) in the quarter’s waning moments. Three fourths of the way through the game, Seattle had a 78-74 lead, and 22 assists on 29 baskets. Clark joined the big three in the double-digit scoring column, notching 10 points in the first three quarters of basketball.
Mosqueda-Lewis sank Seattle’s 10th three of the night to push the Storm’s lead to seven. On its next possession, Stewart banked in a leaning shot in the lane, extending the lead to nine (86-77) and capping an 8-0 run. That run would grow to 10-0 before Taurasi put a stop to it with a baseline J. With five minutes to go Seattle owned a 90-84 edge. Phoenix went scoreless until the 44-second mark, at which point Seattle had a 98-87 lead. The Mercury mustered two more garbage time points before the game ended, with Seattle on top 98-89.
The win at Talking Stick Arena was Seattle’s first road victory since July 1. Shooting and ball movement allowed for strong shooting numbers, as Seattle made 36-for-64 field goals (56.3 percent) and canned half of its threes (10-for-20). Phoenix turned the ball over a total of 13 times and recorded just 15 assists. Seattle’s assist-to-turnover ratio was much more efficient. The Storm dished 27 assists and coughed the ball away 10 times.
Seattle put a bow on its five-game road swing with a crucial victory. The Storm’s next game is Aug. 16 against Minnesota at KeyArena at 7 p.m. PDT. 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).