Storm vs. Lynx Takeaways: Despite Loss, Seattle Making Steady Improvements Early in Season

Save for the final score, Sunday’s home opener against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx was a success in many ways for the Seattle Storm. In front of a raucous group of 9,686 fans at KeyArena, the Storm went back and forth with the WNBA’s best team throughout the night, ultimately losing 78-71 and dropping to 1-2 on the season.

Here are some of the things we learned from Sunday’s contest.

Competing With the Best of the Best

Seven days earlier, Seattle had lost by 30 in its season opener at Los Angeles. The amount of growth this team has displayed in the short period of time since then, from battling with the Lynx to defeating a very talented Phoenix team on the road Friday, shows what the Storm is capable of in 2016 and beyond.

Minnesota used full-court pressure on defense, just as the Sparks did in L.A. to force Seattle into 26 turnovers. There were mistakes again on Sunday, but not nearly as many as the season opener, and the Storm was just as stifling on the other end. The Lynx had put up 97 and 95 points in their first two games before Seattle held them to 78 and a season-low 40.5 percent shooting. Aside from a 9-0 run by Minnesota in the second quarter, Seattle stayed right with the three-time champions the entire way.

“That’s the best team in the world. So for us to be able to go toe-to-toe with them, it says a lot,” head coach Jenny Boucek said. “They have been a dynasty for five years. They are the cream of the crop in our league, they’ve been together a long time, they know how to win together, and they’re loaded with amazing players. That’s where we strive to get. That’s the team that is the measuring stick in our league.”

“I think it was a good test for us, coming off the huge win in Phoenix, to see how we were going to act,” forward Alysha Clark said. “I think we fought really hard down the stretch, obviously not the outcome we wanted, but we made them work for everything and that’s something we can learn from for the next game.”

Clark Enjoys Career Night

In a game full of superstars – six United States Olympians and six No. 1 draft picks were on the court Sunday – it was Clark who shined the brightest. After totaling four points in the first two games, the fifth-year forward scored seven in the first quarter en route to a career-high 20 on 7-of-13 shooting. On the other end of the court, Clark spent most of the night defending one of the best players in the league (Maya Moore) and held her to a season-low 17 points.

Clark had also scored 20 in a preseason game, and the repeat performance on Sunday was no surprise to her teammates.

“This is a player that led the nation in scoring in college,” guard Sue Bird said. “You have to remember that. That speaks to a mindset more than anything. Obviously it speaks to a skillset, but to me it speaks more to the mindset. She knows how to score.”

Bird Still Droppin’ Dimes

No need to elaborate here, because Bird has been doing this for 15 years now. But she put on another passing clinic against the Lynx, finishing with nine assists and just three turnovers while matched up with fellow Olympian Lindsay Whalen. After a slow start against L.A., Bird is averaging 14.5 points and 6.5 assists on 50 percent shooting in the last two games.

Stewart Holding Her Own

In her third WNBA game, Breanna Stewart was held scoreless in the second half after putting up 14 in the first. She still finished with her second straight double-double, and there were plenty of highlight-reel plays: a skyhook shot on the baseline, a crossover that led to a bucket while getting fouled, and taking it coast-to-coast and assisting Markeisha Gatling after soaring for a defensive rebound.

Speaking of rebounds, Stewart had a game-high 13 boards Sunday, once again tying Lauren Jackson’s team record for rebounds by a rookie. Seattle had the league’s lowest rebounding percentage last year, and that’s one of the many areas where Stewart is helping guide the improvement.

“It’s been fun watching Stewie. She goes from Candace Parker, to Brittney Griner, to now Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson,” Boucek said. “She’s really attacking every challenge, excited about every challenge. Whether it’s an individual or a team challenge, you’re seeing why she’s so great, and why she will be so great. She’s got talent, but she is extremely hungry and unafraid. She wants to go against the best.”