The Seattle Storm slipped to 5-4 with an 81-67 loss to the Connecticut Sun on Sunday.
Seattle trimmed the deficit to two points heading into the fourth quarter but ran out of gas in the final 10 minutes. Connecticut pulled away, and the score would’ve looked worse had Sami Whitcomb not connected on a three-pointer inside the final minute.
Natasha Howard had a team-high 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Jewell Loyd and Shavonte Zellous scored 15 and 14 points apiece.
Three-point shooting was a big factor in the outcome. The Storm were 3-of-13 from beyond the arc, compared to 9-of-20 for the Sun.
The trio of Shekinna Stricklen, Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones powered Connecticut’s offense, combining to score 49 points on 21-of-35 shooting.
As the WNBA heads into its next week, the Storm are sixth in the standings, a half-game ahead of the Indiana Fever.
Crystal Langhorne had to fall so the Seattle Storm could rise.
Langhorne opened as the Storm’s starting center in 2018 but quickly lost her job to Natasha Howard. Howard proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle for the Storm en route to winning the WNBA’s Most Improved Player Award. Langhorne, meanwhile, never adapted to her bench role and finished with the worst statistical season of her WNBA career.
Give Storm head coach Dan Hughes credit for wasting little time demoting a veteran who made 135 starts for Seattle over four years. He recognized the team wasn’t going to win a title if it continued using Langhorne as the first option at center.
Far too often the Storm got exposed against elite centers in 2017 as Langhorne was completely overmatched. She’s an underrated defender, but she’s always going to be at a disadvantage when she’s guarding Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles, etc.
What do you get the team that has everything? Seattle Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis and head coach Dan Hughes are about to find out as they look to build on a 2018 season in which the Storm were WNBA champions for the third time.
Incremental change was the theme of the 2018 offseason.
Valavanis didn’t panic after a season in which Seattle finished eighth and fired its head coach in the middle of the year.
The Storm could’ve taken a chance on a young first-year head coach. Instead, they hired Hughes, one of the most experienced coaches in WNBA history.
And rather than shaking up the roster, Valavanis signed eight-year veteran Courtney Paris and acquired Natasha Howard in a sign-and-trade with the Minnesota Lynx. Howard was a revelation in her first year with the team and the missing piece of the proverbial puzzle, but it didn’t look like Seattle got demonstrably better ahead of the 2018 campaign.
The Seattle Storm wrapped up the second half of a back-to-back Tuesday night, defeating the Indiana Fever, 94-79. The Storm notched a 96-80 win over the New York Liberty to start the week.
Breanna Stewart scored a game-high 32 points against the Liberty, the ninth time she has hit the 30-point mark in her WNBA career. She followed up with 17 points, 12 rebounds and four assists against the Fever.
Natasha Howard was excellent in both outings as well, going for 14 points and 10 rebounds Monday and then 19 points and eight rebounds Tuesday.
Likewise, Sue Bird continued to be a model of consistency, totaling 26 points and 15 assists over the two games.
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.
A little over eight months after their 2017 season ended at the hands of the Phoenix Mercury, the Seattle Storm will open their 2018 campaign at home May 20 against Phoenix.
Before that, the Storm and Mercury will meet twice for a pair of preseason games in May.
To some extent, Seattle’s disappointing first-round playoff exit may benefit the team this year. The Storm could be the biggest post-hype sleeper in the WNBA.
Mechelle Voepel of espnW.com and Brian Martin of WNBA.com both listed Seattle at No. 5 in their preseason power rankings in 2017. Expectations were high, and the Storm got fans even more excited with a 4-1 start to the regular season. Then came a humbling 100-77 defeat to the Minnesota Lynx at KeyArena, and things were never the same for Seattle.
No WNBA team may face more pressure to upgrade this offseason than the Seattle Storm. There are no more excuses should the Storm fail to at least earn a home game in the opening round of the playoffs.
Heading into the 2017 campaign, both espnW.com’s Mechelle Voepel and WNBA.com’s Brian Martin ranked Seattle fifth in their preseason power rankings.
But the 2017 season was nothing short of a disaster. Firing Jenny Boucek in the middle of the year provided momentary relief, but it couldn’t prevent the seemingly inevitable first-round exit—this time at the hands of the Phoenix Mercury.
It was a fitting coda to a disappointing year. Brittney Griner had 23 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, while the Storm scored 19 points outside of their big three (Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird). All season long, Seattle struggled to guard elite post scorers, and the team’s lack of depth behind Stewart, Loyd and Bird was glaring.
More of the same in 2018 would mean wasting another year of Stewart and Loyd’s development—as well as what’s left of Bird’s playing career. It shouldn’t be a stretch to say general manager/team president Alisha Valavanis should also be out of a job. At some point, the front office has to point to more than just selecting Loyd and Stewart first overall in 2015 and 2016.