EVERETT, Wash. – Breanna Stewart came close to outscoring the New York Liberty all by herself during the second half.
Fortunately, she had some help from her Seattle Storm teammates.
Stewart tallied 21 of her 33 points after halftime, with 13 of those during the third quarter, and the Storm finished the game on a 31-11 scoring run to beat the Liberty inside Angel Of The Winds Arena on Thursday night, 85-75.
Seattle (19-10) thereby snapped a three-game losing streak and kept itself in contention for one of the top two spots in the standings and a bye through the two knockout rounds of the playoffs. The Storm currently have the No. 3 overall spot by one percentage point ahead of Minnesota (17-9).
New York (11-18), which has lost six straight games since coming from 15 points down to snag an 83-79 victory against Seattle in Brooklyn on Aug. 18, forged a pair of 10-point leads during the third quarter. The second of those was at 64-54 with 1:49 left in the period.
But the Storm rang up the final nine points of the third, with Stewart accounting for the last seven of those: a lay-in and subsequent three-point play, then four straight free throw. That brought Seattle within one at 64-63 entering the fourth.
The Liberty twice went back on top by three, the last time at 68-65 with 7:28 to go. The Storm then rang up the next 10 points to take the lead for good. Epiphanny Prince and Stewart hit back-to-back driving lay-ins for a 69-68 lead with 6:36 left – the first Seattle had been ahead since the 1:01 mark of the opening quarter.
Stewart, who hit 12-of-22 for the night, wasn’t finished yet. Her jumper from the right side of the foul line off a feed from Loyd made it 71-68. She followed that with a turn-around eight-footer straight in front of the hoop and polished it off with a putback of her own missed shot, making it 75-68 at the 3:18 mark.
New York got within four on three occasions after that, the last time at 79-75 with 1:28 left. Seattle tallied the last six points of the game, all at the free throw line: two by Loyd, and the final four by Sue Bird.
The Storm got the early jump on Thursday, going up 16-9 by the midpoint of the first quarter. The Liberty then started draining them from downtown, hitting four from long range to spark a 20-8 scoring burst that left them with a 29-24 lead at the end of the quarter. It was still a five-point margin at halftime in New York’s favor, 45-40.
After falling into the 64-54 hole late in the third quarter, the Storm tightened the clamps defensively In limiting the Liberty to just 11 points through the final 11 minutes, 49 seconds of the game, they limited them to just 4-of-18 shooting from the field and forced seven turnovers.
Although she didn’t score in the final 3:18 of the game, Stewart effectively clinched it for the Storm when she blocked a short shot from the left of the hoop Sabrina Ionescu with 52.3 seconds left, preserving what was still just a six-point lead..
Ionescu finished with 20 points for the Liberty. She hit her first five shots, with two from behind the arc. But Seattle limited her to just 3-of-11 the rest of the way, and 0-of-5 from downtown.
The Storm wrap up a four-game homestand next Tuesday, Sept. 7 against the Washington Mystics, tipping off at 7:00 p.m. (JOEtv).
IT FELT LIKE TURN-BACK-THE-CLOCK NIGHT
–Prior to tip-off, the Storm presented championship rings from last season to Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb. Both were traded to New York during the offseason.
–At halftime, the team celebrated its 2004 and 2010 WNBA championships, the first two in a collection that now has grown to four. Coming out to midcourt for recognition were Tully Bevilaqua, Sheri Sam, and Finals MVP Betty Lennox from the ’04 team, and Ashley Robinson from the ’10 squad. In addition, there was a scoreboard video tribute to Lauren Jackson, who was part of both teams.