The Seattle Storm opened their 2018 WNBA season with an 87-82 defeat to the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday night in a game that offered reasons for optimism while also serving as a reminder of the team’s flaws.
Breanna Stewart filled up the stat sheet with 22 points, 15 rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks. Jordin Canada had a nice WNBA debut, finishing with nine points, one assist and four steals. Jewell Loyd struggled to get going, though, shooting 3-of-11 from the field to score 10 points.
The Storm had an opportunity to force overtime late in the fourth quarter. They inbounded the ball down 85-82 with 3.2 seconds remaining in regulation, but Stewart stepped out of bounds to give the ball back to Phoenix and extinguish any comeback attempt.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the game.
The Game in a GIF
Stewart’s defense isn’t all that bad here. She has good position on Brittney Griner and forces her to the baseline. But Griner just goes under the basket and makes her finger roll look effortless. Griner was simply a level above everybody else Sunday night. She had a double-double (29 points, 10 rebounds) and blocked three shots.
- All of the new additions played well for Seattle. Natasha Howard had 14 points and four rebounds, while Courtney Paris had six rebounds in a little over 17 minutes. The Storm struggled when they had to go to the reserves last year, and the trio of Canada, Howard and Paris did well to avoid letting the game get out of hand when head coach Dan Hughes rested the starters.
- Canada was a 5’6″ bundle of kinetic energy. Any time she got the ball in the backcourt, she looked to immediately get out in transition, and she looked like a natural with the ball in her hands. According to WNBA.com, Canada and Paris tied for the highest pace (91.5) among Storm players. Seattle generally slowed things down with the starters, so the second unit could offer a nice change of pace—literally—to keep opponents on their toes. In addition to all of that, Canada was a constant nuisance on defense.
- Howard was really solid, especially on defense. Last year, Seattle was a mess when it came to defensive switches and rotations. If opposing teams set enough screens, the Storm would fall apart and leave multiple players open. Howard was excellent at reading the game and moving to an open shooter.
Here’s an example from the third quarter. The Storm have Loyd rotate over to help Paris double Griner. Howard is shading toward DeWanna Bonner at the top of the key, while Stephanie Talbot is wide open on the wing.
Howard is reading the play and waiting for the pass to come from Griner. She reacts quickly to close down on Talbot, who’s forced to pass over to Bonner.
In that situation, you’re more comfortable leaving Bonner—a career 30.4 percent three-point shooter—open than Talbot, who connected on 38.1 percent of her threes as a rookie.
- The Storm outscored the Mercury 46-41 in the second half. Seattle got better as the game went on and turned what had the makings of a blowout into a close game. That gives Hughes and the players something to build on when they meet the Mercury again Wednesday.
- The Storm shot 37.9 percent on three-pointers but just 38.5 percent on shots inside the arc. That is *checks notes* not very good.
- Nobody had more trouble unlocking the Phoenix defense than Loyd. Creating off the dribble and getting to the basket is a big part of Loyd’s game, and she was unable to do that Sunday. All three of her made field goals were three-pointers, and she was 0-of-5 on two-point shots. Unable to make much progress in the paint, Loyd settled for too many bad mid-range jumpers.
- Seattle turned the ball over 16 times and had 15 assists. Canada committed three turnovers and had trouble adjusting to the speed of the WNBA compared to the college level. That’s something that will get better with more experience.
- Alysha Clark finished with a 134.0 defensive rating and a minus-29.8 net rating in her 25 minutes on the floor. Both Hughes and general manager Alisha Valavanis emphasized Clark’s value on defense, so she’ll need to have more of an impact on that end of the floor.
- The Storm were unable to counteract Griner on offense or defense. Seattle threw double teams at her right after she got the ball inside, which helped for a little but, but her scoring numbers speak for themselves. And on defense, Griner basically put a fence around the restricted area. There were long stretches where the Storm had to rely solely on jumpers outside the paint and foul shots for their offense.
Things could’ve been much worse considering the Storm trailed by 14 in the first quarter and were on pace to allow 104 points after the opening 10 minutes.
Still, a loss is a loss, and Griner’s big performance does nothing to ease the concerns about the Storm’s inability to sufficiently neutralize an elite post presence.