The Seattle Storm opened their WNBA title defense with a 77-68 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday.
Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart missed the game due to injuries, while Alysha Clark rested after recently returning from France.
Natasha Howard led the way with a double-double (21 points, 16 rebounds) and added five steals and three blocks. Jordin Canada had 16 points and six assists, while Jewell Loyd poured in 17 points.
DeWanna Bonner did her best to almost single-handedly carry the Mercury across the line. She had a game-high 31 points, but Brittney Griner (18 points) was the only other Phoenix player to finish in double figures.
The Game in a GIF(s)
- We’ll get to the bad about Canada’s performance in a little bit, which was outweighed by the good she did. Canada has massive shoes to fill and looked comfortable running Seattle’s offense.
We already know Canada can be a terror in transition. She’s lightning quick and has the ability to finish inside despite being only 5’6″. (Note: When Jordin Canada does this, it’s a NAFTA step—not a Euro step.)
As a rookie, Canada was less effective when operating in a half-court setting. According to Synergy Sports, she ranked in the fifth percentile in points per possession in the half court (0.578) and turned the ball over 22.1 percent of the time.
That’s why this sequence was so encouraging. Canada was patient and let the play unfold before finding Shavonte Zellous cutting to the basket.
Also, if Canada can regularly hit mid-range jumpers, then opposing defenses won’t be able to sag off her as much to prepare for her drives to the basket.
Nobody doubts Bird’s value to the Storm, but they might be better than some expected with Canada taking over as the starting point guard.
- To quote Michael Scott, “Well well well, how the turntables have…turned.”
It used to be that the Storm operated with a sense of sense of inevitable capitulation when playing Griner. The Mercury center was going to grab literally every rebound and score any time she got the ball within five feet of the basket.
Now, the Storm have Howard, who’s almost equally as devastating to Phoenix. The Mercury are stuck in a tough position when it comes to defending her. Griner can thwart Howard inside, but Howard can counteract that by pulling Griner away from the basket and scoring from mid-range or the perimeter. By throwing Bonner on Howard, it opens up the paint a lot more.
Acquiring Howard continues to be a masterstroke by Dan Hughes and Alisha Valavanis.
- If a player can have a quiet 17-point game, then that’s what happened with Loyd. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
With Briann January defending her well, the 2018 All-Star didn’t try to force the issue offensively. She was content to impact the game in other ways, as evidenced by her three rebounds and four assists.
Loyd didn’t settle for bad shots either—only attempting three three-pointers—and worked off the ball to create open opportunities.
Loyd’s seven free throws are notable as well. She only averaged 3.4 free-throw attempts in 2018 as she adapted her game to suit Seattle’s offense.
The general assumption seemed to be Loyd would have the ball more frequently and generate her own offense in the wake of Stewart and Bird’s injuries. Instead, Seattle might be leaning even harder into the things that made Loyd such an effective off-ball scorer and all-around contributor in 2018.
- Until Bird returns, the Storm will have stretches were Zellous is effectively their secondary playmaker on the floor. Seeing her kick out to an open Sami Whitcomb is encouraging.
- Crystal Langhorne was more comfortable back in a starting role for Seattle. She shot 4-of-11 from the floor and collected six rebounds. Langhorne appears to be making an effort to extend her shooting range. In her first five years with the Storm, she attempted just 12 three-pointers. Seeing her heave up two shots from long range—missing both—may not be an anomaly as the team tries to replicate Stewart’s diverse scoring repertoire.
- Mercedes Russell played well in extended minutes even though she didn’t post big numbers (zero points, three rebounds). She made life difficult for Griner in the paint, which represents a large part of her job when the Storm are facing an elite post scorer.
- The Storm were 6-of-19 from beyond the arc as a team. That wasn’t too far off from Seattle’s output in 2018, when it averaged 7.3 made threes and shot 36.3 percent.
But this will be something to watch as the team continues to go without its No. 2 and 3 three-point shooters from a season ago.
- Stewart’s absence was obvious on defense and compounded by the fact Clark was rested, too.
With the full complement of their roster available, Seattle could’ve had Howard guard Griner and Stewart—or maybe Clark—matching up with Bonner. Instead, Gary Kloppenburg was faced with a clear dilemma. No matter where he put Howard, it would create a mismatch the Mercury could exploit.
This is an issue that will almost certainly present itself again when the Storm play an opponent with multiple All-Star-level players in the frontcourt. That’s not a small list of teams, with the Mercury, Washington Mystics, Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun all standing out as obvious examples and all of whom Seattle could play in a five-game postseason series.
- As much as Canada exceeded expectations, she remains a work in progress. She turned the ball over seven times. The most frustrating examples were when Canada painted herself into a corner and gifted the ball back to the Mercury. She’d drive the basket and suddenly—whoops, guess I better try to pass out of trouble now.
The second image was particularly headache-inducing because Canada couldn’t go anywhere with the ball. There wasn’t a single clean passing lane. Even if Zellous cuts to the basket, Griner is getting a hand to the ball before it reaches its destination.
Keeping things in perspective with Canada is important. She’s still adjusting to the speed of the WNBA and discovering what does and doesn’t work. In general, Canada needs to be more of a chess player, thinking one and two moves ahead.
You never want to read too much into a season opener. But the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm are 1-0 and a perfect season is on the table.