By Matthew Roberson
Head coach Jenny Boucek and the Seattle Storm played arguably their best game of the season to beat defending WNBA champion Los Angeles by a score of 81-69. Breanna Stewart had a dazzling performance, putting up 26 points, seven rebounds and three steals.
The Storm hit the hardwood on Saturday coming off a tough home loss to the New York Liberty. Seattle had alternated between wins and losses in its last three games, with the lone win coming by 20 points against Dallas.
Jewell Loyd returned to form offensively, scoring 22 points and distributing four assists. Sue Bird captained the offense to the tune of 15 points, and her teammate Crystal Langhorne shot 50 percent from the field (5-for-10) on the way to scoring 13 points. Seattle muscled its way to 28 points in the paint and also got 24 points from three-point shots.
Balance was the name of the game for Seattle early. In the game’s first five minutes, each of the Storm starters scored and the team made six of its first nine field goals (66 percent). This diverse offensive attack resulted in easy buckets, as eight of Seattle’s first 13 points came in the paint. The Storm enjoyed great ball movement as well, registering assists on four of the first six made shots. Los Angeles came out of the gates with an 18-13 run. Nneka Ogwumike sparked the offense with 10 points, hitting all three of her field goals and all three of her free throws before being subbed out at the 2:13 mark.
The Storm (8-9) trailed 21-15 at the end of the first quarter. Seattle shot itself in the foot by turning the ball over five times in the first ten minutes of action. Los Angeles’ lead could have swelled even higher if not for a 1-for-6 start from beyond the arc. Ogwumike and Candace Parker combined to score 18 of LA’s first 29 points, helping the team open a 29-19 lead at the 7:46 juncture of the second quarter. An ensuing 5-0 run, capped by a Bird three pointer from the left corner, cut the lead in half (29-24) and forced Los Angeles into calling a timeout. Chelsea Gray headed to the Sparks locker room with 6:51 to go in the half after landing awkwardly on a jump shot. She would return less than three minutes later. Alysha Clark garnered her 500th WNBA rebound, just two games after notching 1,000 career points. Seattle reclaimed the lead (30-29) on a Stewart three off a Bird assist with the clock showing 5:18. This marked an 11-0 run for the home team. The unanswered point streak ended at 13 for Seattle when Jantel Lavender knocked down a midrange jumper to make the score 32-31 in favor of the Storm.
Loyd reached 10 points on a hoop and harm with 1:14 remaining in the half, joining Stewart and Bird in double digit scoring before the break. Los Angeles clung to a slim 39-37 lead at halftime. The Sparks shot just 13-for-33 (39.4 percent) on field goals, but canned all ten of its free throws. Ogwumike led all players with 14 points at the halftime buzzer. Stewart was the high scorer for Seattle, pouring in 11 points with Loyd and Bird right behind at 10 apiece.
Seattle connected on 15-for-31 (48.4 percent) shots in the first half, and four of eight (50 percent) launches from downtown. The effective ball movement continued, as the Storm assisted on 10 of its 15 made baskets. Stewart, Clark and Langhorne all had at least four rebounds at the halfway mark. Los Angeles’ offense was supplemented by nine bench points, while Seattle’s bench was a combined 0-for-6 from the field prior to halftime. Neither team missed a free throw in the first two quarters. The Sparks’ lead got as high as 10 points in a first half that featured nine lead changes and six ties. Over half of Seattle’s first half shot attempts (16-of-31) came in the post. Parker and Ogwumike controlled the glass for LA, each pawing five boards, equaling 71 percent (10-of-14) of the team’s total rebounds.
Stewart supplied Seattle with its first lead of the second half (45-43) by swishing a three pointer from the left wing. Two free throws from Stewart at the 5:17 point of the third quarter gave her team a 49-44 advantage. The lead would grow to 53-46 after Stewart found the bottom of the net on two more foul shots. A Loyd layup with just under a minute remaining in the third quarter stretched Seattle’s lead to 10 (60-50) for the first time. The quarter ended with Seattle leading 60-55, and Stewart having 22 points on an efficient 8-for-10 shooting clip.
After LA’s 12th turnover of the night, Boucek called a timeout with her team up 67-59. The lead again touched 10 points (69-59) when Stewart hit a pair of free throws with the clock showing 5:34. A Langhorne bucket in the lane at 3:24 gave her 10 points for the eighth consecutive game. Los Angeles (12-5) was able to get within eight points (75-67) under two minutes, but that was as close as the Storm would allow.
Seattle’s starting five combined to shoot 17-for-18 from the charity stripe (94.4 percent). Three-point shooting provided the difference in this game. Seattle was successful on 8-for-15 (53.3 percent) while holding Los Angeles to just 4-for-23 (17.3) from long range. As a team, the Sparks had a 37.1 shooting percentage (26-for-70) for the game. Seattle was able to get the win despite getting zero points from its bench players.
The Storm had four players eclipse 12 points (Stewart, Loyd, Bird, Langhorne). Ogwumike finished with 21, the high watermark for Los Angeles. The big three of Stewart, Loyd, and Bird shot a collective 22-for-35 (62.8 percent) and netted 63 of Seattle’s 81 points.
Seattle’s five-game homestand rolls on with a matinee game against the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday, July 12, with tipoff ready to go at Noon PDT at KeyArena. 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).