By Seth Dahle
Breanna Stewart buried the go-ahead three-pointer with less than two minutes remaining, and Jewell Loyd erupted for 27 points as the Seattle Storm muscled past Indiana, 87-82, in front of 7,969 fans at KeyArena on Opening Night presented by Swedish.
After returning from Los Angeles late last night, head coach Jenny Boucek said the team didn’t have much gas in the tank but showed toughness down the stretch.
“You saw a team that’s developed toughness and is figuring out how to make plays on both ends of the floor,” said Boucek. “I didn’t think we played great. We didn’t have a lot of gas in the tank because we used a lot of it yesterday, but they showed a lot of toughness to figure out a way to win when they weren’t feeling their best, which is huge for us.”
The reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year and All-WNBA Second Team selection, Stewart made her return to the Storm lineup in the home opener, tallying 15 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes of action.
For the second-consecutive contest and eighth time in her career, Loyd eclipsed the 25-point mark, as she shot 10-for-18 from the floor and drained three triples. Both she and Stewart also tied team-high honors for rebounds with seven apiece.
Causing most of her damage in the second half, Crystal Langhorne added 17 points on a blistering 7-for-8 shooting clip, while Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis registered 12 points off the bench, including a 6-for-6 effort at the line.
With the win, Seattle (1-1) improved to 11-7 all-time in home openers, including a 9-3 mark since 2006. While Indiana still leads the all-time series, 18-16, the Storm improved to 12-5 vs. the Fever at KeyArena.
The first six minutes of the contest were back and forth and featured six ties before Ramu Tokashiki swooshed a midrange jumper to put Seattle up two (15-13). A bucket inside by Mosqueda-Lewis extended the Storm’s advantage to three (17-14), but then Tiffany Mitchell buried a three for Indiana to notch the seventh tie of the frame, and the Fever ultimately took a one-point (22-21) edge into the second stanza thanks to a last-second perimeter jumper by Briann January.
Indiana (0-1) extended its advantage to as many as five (28-23) in the second until Seattle mustered a 14-6 spurt to end the quarter and take a 37-34 lead into the locker room. Stewart converted the and-one opportunity, Loyd connected on a three-pointer and then Mosqueda-Lewis found space inside for a layup to cap the Storm’s scoring in the half.
Despite shooting just 38.2 percent in the opening 20 minutes, Seattle owned a 17-13 edge on the glass and went a perfect 10-for-10 at the charity stripe.
The Fever opened the third with four quick points, and the Storm responded with a 7-3 run capped by a left-handed finish by Alysha Clark. Loyd continued to exhibit a versatile offensive display, burying a midrange jumper before finishing at the rim to anchor a 10-0 run to stretch Seattle’s lead to 12 (57-45), and the Storm entered the fourth with a 59-52 advantage.
In the fourth, Indiana crawled to within five (59-54) before Seattle responded with 14 of the next 24 to go back up by nine (73-64), thanks in large part to Loyd, who attributed 10 points in the run. The Fever refused to go away, carding a 13-3 run to snag a one-point (77-76) edge after Mitchell scored inside. That’s when Stewart made KeyArena erupt with a triple to put Seattle up two (79-77), and the Storm notched a defensive stop before Langhorne scored inside and Stewart came up with a big rejection to seal it.
Boucek said it was the crowd’s energy that gave Seattle the momentum it needed down the stretch.
“We needed the crowd big time today,” said Boucek. “We don’t make excuses, so we talked about how to be professional and how to perform when you don’t feel physically as energized. We talked about using the crowd and feeling connected to them. We know if we do certain things they will respond to that and that gives us a chance to respond back. We have to do our part in that, but this crowd will respond and when they do, it gives us a ton of energy that we needed today.”
Shenise Johnson led Indiana with a team-high 24 points and eight boards, while January added 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting.
In a game that finished with nine ties and 10 lead changes, it was Seattle’s free throws that paid dividends down the stretch, as the Storm outscored the Fever at the line, 24-13. Seattle also outrebounded Indiana, 34-25.
Seattle returns to the hardwood on Sunday, May 21 when it hosts the Washington Mystics at 4 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).