The Seattle Storm earned their biggest win of the season Thursday night against the Los Angeles Sparks, sweeping the Sparks aside 88-63 on the road.
Alysha Clark had a team-high 17 points, while Natasha Howard and Breanna Stewart chipped in with 16 points apiece. Jewell Loyd’s 10 points tied her season low, but that mattered little toward the final result.
For the Sparks, Nneka Ogwumike’s 19 points led all players, but the Storm limited the trio of Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Sims to 20 points, well below their combined season average of 42.9 points.
The Game in a GIF
A collective defensive effort helped the Storm hold the Sparks to 37.3 shooting, and this is a great example of that collective effort. Clark is in pretty good position to at least force Gray to make a difficult shot. Howard eliminates any doubt by coming over and swatting Gray’s shot aside.
- If you would’ve said before the game Loyd and Stewart will combine to score 26 points against the Sparks, the assumption for most would be Seattle was headed for defeat. Instead, four of the Storm’s five starters scored in double figures, and the bench combined for 21 points.
There are nights when Stewart and Loyd need to take over a game, and they’re two of the WNBA’s top six scorers for a reason. But it’s nice when Seattle can give its two best players something of a night off, especially against a team as good as Los Angeles.
- The Storm looked to be on the ropes a bit in the second quarter. Down 15 after the opening frame, Los Angeles trimmed the deficit to as little as eight points and trailed by nine at halftime. Momentum was on the Sparks’ side, and a second-half comeback was potentially on the cards. Instead, Seattle outscored LA 31-20 in the third quarter to put the game out of reach for good.
It’s the second time this year the Storm appeared in danger of throwing away a big lead against a top-four contender. Just like the team did in their 87-71 win over the Phoenix Mercury on May 23, Seattle withstood a brief run by its opponent before showing the composure necessary to see the game out with relative ease.
- Loyd had the highest net rating of any player (55.5), which illustrated her impact on the game despite a relatively low volume of scoring. She had six rebounds and four assists, and she often matched up with Sims on defense, which allowed Sue Bird to guard Alana Beard.
- Good things are often going to happen for the Storm when Clark and Howard are combining for 33 points. Clark added three rebounds, three assists and five steals, while Howard finished with nine rebounds and three blocks on top of her offensive effort.
Not to belabor the point too much, but Seattle is a much different team when it’s getting contributions outside of its Big Three. Before, opponents could focus their defensive game plan on primarily limiting Stewart and Loyd, and that strategy would work to great effect. Now, coaches have to at least be aware the Storm’s supporting can step up and deliver.
- This will probably be the topic of another post later, but the Storm continue to use Bird in an incredibly efficient way on offense. She only scored eight points but dished out eight assists in just under 23 minutes on the floor. According to Basketball Reference, Bird’s 16.2 percent usage rate is the lowest of her career, but her 9.3 assists per 36 minutes are on pace to be a career high.
- There’s no question Stewart had a good game, but she continues to struggle from deep. She shot 1-of-5 on three-pointers Thursday, which is the fifth time she connected on fewer than 30 percent of her long-range attempts this season. By comparison, Stewart had nine such games through the entire 2017 season.
The numbers speak for themselves in terms of Stewart’s scoring this year. She’s averaging 21.5 points and shooting 52.0 percent from the field. Still, it would be nice if Stewart could make the three-pointer a staple of her game again.
- Listen, it’s nit-picking to criticize Stewart’ three-point shooting on a night when the Storm won by 25 points. Why get any more negative after a night like that?
Admittedly, I’ve been a bit hesitant to truly get on board with the Storm as one of the two or three best teams in the WNBA after they never recovered from their humbling defeat to the Minnesota Lynx in 2017. After Thursday night, it’s impossible to ignore not only how good Seattle can be but also how good the team is right now.