Not content to sweep them in the 2018 WNBA Finals, the Seattle Storm continued to torment the Washington Mystics.
The reigning champions outscored Washington 22-8 in the fourth quarter and overcame what was a seven-point deficit in the final three minutes to earn a 74-71 win Friday.
Jewell Loyd delivered the game-winner, hitting a jumper from just past the free-throw line with 7.7 seconds remaining. Loyd had 14 points, three rebounds and two assists in the victory.
Mercedes Russell had a career night, setting personal bests in points (15) and rebounds (11). Natasha Howard matched her double-double, pouring in 19 points and collecting 11 boards.
Elena Delle Donne led the Mystics with 19 points, but only four of those points came in the second half. Kristi Toliver only played 9:28 after getting two quick technical fouls.
The Game in a GIF
- According to WNBA.com, the Mystics are allowing opponents to shoot 64.5 percent inside five feet, which is second-worst in the league. Opposing teams are also shooting a league-high 47.4 percent between five and nine feet.
This was a weakness the Storm looked to exploit on almost every possession. Seattle’s strategy wasn’t pretty but brutally effective. The Storm outscored the Mystics 28-22 in the paint and out-rebounded them 40-30, which allowed Seattle to have a 13-6 edge in second-chance points. The Storm’s success or failure on the boards has often been a great barometer for the team’s overall performance this year.
- Spinning off that, the scoring threat Howard consistently posed led directly to Loyd’s game-winner. Look at how many Mystics players converged on Howard as she was driving into the paint. Also, that’s excellent awareness from Howard to pass out of trouble.
As a result, this is how much space Loyd was afforded.
Howard probably has little chance of winning MVP, and one could sensibly argue Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner have built stronger cases to start the year. But you shudder to think where the Storm would be without her.
- All hail Mercedes Russell, Queen of the Paint.
It’s incredible to watch Russell go from seldom-used bench player to key player for the Storm in a little more than a year.
Although Delle Donne isn’t an elite rim protector, she can hold her own defensively close to the basket. And yet, Russell was simply too good at times for the 2015 MVP.
This is what happens when Russell develops some post moves to go along with her 6’6″ frame.
It will be really interesting to see what happens with Russell when Breanna Stewart is healthy in 2020. Stewart’s absence has allowed Russell to thrive, and the Storm are playing an offensive style that relies heavily on a traditional center. With Stewart, Seattle will presumably return to an offense that emphasizes floor-spacing and doesn’t necessarily need somebody who almost exclusively plays with her back to the basket.
Then again, being able to seamlessly move between the two systems could be a big luxury for Seattle next year when Russell likely moves back to the bench to make way for the 2018 MVP.
- Congratulations to Blake Dietrick for being the New Sami Whitcomb.
Dietrick made her second appearance for the Storm, finishing with only one rebound and one assist in 12:28 on the floor. Her biggest impact came on the defensive end. According to WNBA.com, Dietrick finished with a 40.9 defensive rating, which isn’t a typo.
This might sound patronizing but isn’t meant to be; sometimes you simply need players who are going to run like crazy and not do a whole lot else. Dietrick deserves some credit for Seattle’s dominant fourth quarter because she doggedly followed Natasha Cloud around the half court.
This is basically a mirror image of Kevin Love’s defense on Stephen Curry in the 2016 Finals, too.
There was some surprise when the Storm signed Dietrick instead of a traditional point guard to run the offense for the second unit. Based on Friday night, it’s easy to see why Seattle targeted Dietrick.
- In defense of Toliver, I’d want to be ejected in the second quarter too if I had to face the prospect of this for an entire game.
- This was almost the exact inverse of the loss to the Chicago Sky that kicked off this four-game road trip. In that defeat, the Storm outscored the Sky in three quarters but couldn’t claw back from a first quarter in which they fell behind 29-16.
The Mystics outscored Seattle in the first, second and third quarters, only to have the Storm blow the doors off in the fourth.
Already down Stewart and Sue Bird and without head coach Dan Hughes, the Storm players watched Jordin Canada exit the game in the first half. They could’ve packed it in and looked ahead to Sunday’s game against the Connecticut Sun.
Instead, Seattle continued to hang around and never panicked. The Storm didn’t get desperate offensively and simply pounded the ball inside because that’s what was working.
Seattle is third in the WNBA at 5-3. If we’re going to be objective, the team probably won’t finish there, but it’s clear the 2019 season shouldn’t be the kind of lost year fans feared after the injuries to Stewart and Bird.
- A play in three parts:
- The Storm won’t and shouldn’t drop Crystal Langhorne entirely, but this game was an example why she was deservedly demoted in favor of Russell.
Langhorne shot 0-of-1 from the field, adding three rebounds and two assists. She didn’t give Seattle much on offense and was toasted by Delle Donne on multiple Mystics possessions.
Langhorne’s minus-11.0 net rating is the second-worst of her career, per WNBA.com. Her performance is probably going to improve slightly, but this is the second year in which she has really struggled out of the gate.
- Canada left in the second quarter after her left knee bent awkwardly on a layup attempt. According to The Athletic’s Alex Coffey, the Storm have yet to determine the extent of the injury. But Canada needed to be helped off the floor. Couple that with the way in which her knee buckled and it’s easy to jump to the worst-case scenario.
Here’s a quick look at the healthy players the Storm still have on the roster.
Toliver’s ejection made things easier for the Storm, but it’s not like Seattle wasn’t short-handed itself. Canada’s injury does put a damper on an otherwise strong effort.