The Seattle Storm earned their first win of the 2018 season Wednesday night against the Phoenix Mercury, beating the Mercury 87-71 on the road.
Jewell Loyd was the game’s leading scorer, dropping 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting. She was also a perfect 10-of-10 from the charity stripe. Loyd’s big night helped offset an uneven performance from Breanna Stewart, who narrowly missed out on a double-double (nine points, 11 rebounds) but had four turnovers and shot 3-of-12.
Defensively, the Storm did well to limit Phoenix’s supporting cast. Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi had 18 and 23 points, respectively, but DeWanna Bonner (nine points) was the team’s next-highest scorer.
Let’s get to the breakdown of the game
The Game in a GIF
Although this was only the Storm’s first bucket of the night, it set the tone for the rest of the game. Loyd was feeling it from mid-range, and that left Griner largely ineffective on defense.
- Here are Loyd’s shotcharts from Seattle’s first two games. Sunday’s loss is on the left and Wednesday’s win is on the right:
No player had more trouble combating Griner’s presence inside than Loyd. She was unable to drive to the basket with any success, and she settled for a lot of bad shots as a result. On Wednesday, Loyd focused much more on her mid-range game and let that open up the rest of her offense.
Loyd can make you want to pull your hair out at times, but Wednesday night was another example of why she can be one of the WNBA’s best scorers at her peak.
- Loyd has grabbed 11 rebounds, including five offensive boards through the Storm’s first two games. She’s been very aggressive about crashing the glass, which isn’t something you’d say about her first three years. She was averaging 3.4 rebounds over her career entering 2018.
Loyd got off to a hot start in 2017 before leveling off a bit later in the year, so fans should keep their excitement in check for the time being. But rebounding isn’t something that generally lends itself to hot nights and cold nights. If Loyd can become a more consistent presence on the glass and thus a more complete player, then she takes another step toward earning her first All-Star trip.
- Alysha Clark shot 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, making her 4-of-5 on three-pointers to start the year. That’s not really cause for celebration, but Clark was a 32.8 percent three-point shooter in 2017 after hitting 38.7 percent of her attempts in 2016. Getting her three-point shooting back to its 2016 level would be a big luxury for Seattle.
- Head coach Dan Hughes inserted Natasha Howard into the starting lineup over Crystal Langhorne, and it worked extremely well. At 6’2″, Howard gave seven inches to Griner, but her length and athleticism helped cause problems for Griner close to the basket.
As the Storm, you’re happy to see Griner scoring 18 points after she put 29 on you Sunday. Howard succeeded in using her reach to deny Griner the ball. Not only did Griner attempt two fewer shots Wednesday compared to Sunday, but she also shot just three free throws, down from 10 in Seattle’s opener.
Howard impacted the game more than any player not named Jewell Loyd.
- Sami Whitcomb made her 2018 debut and played over eight minutes in the win. She was 2-of-3 from beyond the arc in her brief time on the court. Based on Seattle’s first two games, Whitcomb will have a smaller role on the Storm than she did in 2018. Still, Whitcomb can be a player opposing teams have to account for based on her quick trigger.
- The Storm outscored the Mercury 25-14 in the fourth quarter. Phoenix closed the gap to five points entering the final frame, and it looked like Seattle was on the ropes. Camille Little made it a three-point game with 9:13 left in the fourth. The Storm proceeded to go on a 10-2 run, which provided them with a much-needed cushion. It was a great response on the road at a critical juncture.
- On a night where so much of the offense was working, Stewart’s line stands out. Of course, there’s no reason to panic. Taking a more critical look, Stewart’s eight turnovers and 35 minutes per game are two negatives through two games.
- It’s tough to critique much from the Storm’s performance, since Seattle was so strong across the board. Crystal Langhorne had a game to forget, though. She was the only Storm player to finish with a negative net rating (minus-6.4), and she attempted only one shot. While Langhorne made the shot, she didn’t exactly look entirely confident taking it.
Last year, I advocated for Langhorne to come off the bench for the Storm, with Carolyn Swords occupying the starting spot at center. That may be happening now, with Howard supplanting Langhorne with the first team.
The assumption was that Langhorne’s efficiency would carry over were she to be a reserve forward. That line of thinking doesn’t account for the adjustment Langhorne would make having to come off the bench. She’d have less touches during the game, and it alters her entire pregame preparations.
Hughes may put Langhorne back into the starting five now that Griner and the Mercury are out of the way for the time being. Should Langhorne continue to be the backup to Howard, how quickly she acclimates herself to her new role will be something to watch.
Sunday’s win was a complete performance. The Mercury were excellent in their first two games, and Seattle beat them at both ends of the court. It was as dominating an effort as you’re going to see the Storm have against a Phoenix team with everybody healthy. The key is maintaining that momentum against an improved Chicago Sky and a Las Vegas Aces squad that should be at full capacity this weekend.