The Seattle Storm clinched a playoff spot with Friday’s 85-75 win over the Minnesota Lynx.
The result also maintained Seattle’s 3.5-game lead on the Atlanta Dream for first place in the WNBA after Atlanta beat the Chicago Sky 89-74.
Breanna Stewart led the Storm with 20 points and seven rebounds. Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird chipped in with 14 points apiece, while Bird added 11 assists for her fifth double-double of the season.
The Game in a GIF
The Storm scored 48 points in the second half, and Loyd accounted for every one of them. *Checks notes* OK, she had 11 second-half points. This layup was the perfect example of Loyd’s change after halftime. As soon as she gets the rebound, she’s off the races without a second’s hesitation. She then blows by Maya Moore and completes the layup despite the contact from Lindsay Whalen.
- Loyd was 4-of-5 from the floor and plus-16 in the second half. The 2018 All-Star didn’t put the Storm on her back and carry them to the finish line, but her turnaround may have been the single biggest factor in Seattle overcoming a nine-point deficit with 6:09 left in the third quarter.
Loyd wasn’t very good in June but closed out July by averaging 15.9 points and more importantly connected on 44.9 percent of her shots and 36.8 percent of her three-pointers. If that player continues to show up in August, then the Storm are easily the WNBA title favorites.
- Loyd’s scoring also helped the Storm speed up the tempo of the game. The Lynx dictated the pace in the first half. The two teams combined for 75 points, and Seattle had just two fast-break points. In the second half, the Storm had a 20-0 edge in fast-break scoring. Seattle generally doesn’t play at a high tempo—the team ranks seventh in pace, according to WNBA.com. But the Storm wanted to throw Minnesota out of its rhythm and take advantage of any fatigue the Lynx had from playing the second night of a back-to-back.
- Natasha Howard worked her rear end off. She finished with 15 points, six rebounds and five steals. Howard also took it upon herself to make life difficult for Sylvia Fowles, whether Fowles was going up for rebounds, trying to score inside or fighting for position.
- Speaking of Fowles, Seattle was much better at pushing her farther away from the basket before she received the ball.
Fowles was 11-of-15 for 28 points in Minnesota’s 91-71 win on June 26. It felt like the reigning MVP was basically in the restricted area every time she got the ball, which is basically an automatic two points.
Fowles wasn’t nearly as dominant Friday, scoring 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting. The Storm doubled her at every opportunity, while Howard used her height (6’2″) and more so her length to limit any passing lanes.
- The Storm were even better at neutralizing Moore. The five-time All-Star was 2-of-9 for seven points. To borrow a soccer phrase, Alysha Clark marked Moore out of the game. Clark won’t get serious DPOY consideration, but her defense—both on and off the ball—has been invaluable to the Storm in 2018.
- Like Loyd, Bird found another level in the second half. She had 11 points and eight assists over the final 20 minutes.
As the game wore on, no Lynx player looked more tired than Whalen. Whalen played 16 minutes Thursday’s 79-57 defeat to the Los Angeles Sparks, and she looked to be running on empty in the fourth quarter Friday night. That certainly helped Bird down the stretch as she carved up the Lynx defense with her passing.
- Crystal Langhorne had the highest net rating (36.8) of any Storm player. She was on the floor for 11:33, scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds. Langhorne has acclimated well to her bench role, which is a testament to her professionalism and willingness to sacrifice for the team. An 11-year veteran who hadn’t come off the bench since 2009, Langhorne could’ve been more resistant to having her minutes cut in half. Instead, she has grown more comfortable over the course of the season and given Seattle a massive weapon on the second unit.
- Seattle’s first half was one to forget. The Storm only trailed by a point, which was largely the result of having a 12-point advantage on three-pointers. Minnesota out-rebounded Seattle 24-15 and held the Storm to 37.8 percent shooting through the first two quarters.
It seems fair to wonder how Seattle would’ve performed against a more rested Lynx team. Cheryl Reeve rested her stars toward the end of Thursday’s game when the Sparks built a big lead, but Fowles, Whalen, Moore and Rebekkah Brunson had to tired after playing the 2017 runners-up and then turning around and flying up to Seattle shortly thereafter.
Credit the Storm for wearing the Lynx down and not letting the game get out of hand in the third quarter. But a slow start like the one it had Friday could be far more problematic in a postseason game.
- The Storm still didn’t have much of an answer when Fowles had the ball in the paint, so that’s still a real concern. Keeping the ball out of her hands entirely may be Seattle’s only real plan of minimizing her impact. That’s fine when the strategy is working, but the Storm will likely need a Plan B, especially if they face off with Minnesota in a five-game playoff series.
- The Storm handed out Breanna Stewart posters to fans at KeyArena but didn’t use the “MVBre” slogan I created for her Most Valuable Player campaign. (I’m really grasping at straws here).
While there are still some areas of concern, this was another huge win for the Storm. KeyArena was electric and created a playoff-like atmosphere and helped the team get one win closer to clinching the top seed in the WNBA.