Progress. Progress is important this season for the Seattle Storm. A team that has been at the bottom of the WNBA standings for the past two seasons. But with new hope in back-to-back number one draft picks (2015, 2016), the team has a bright future. Now the fans need to see progress.
When they played at Atlanta on Tuesday. We didn't see much progress. The team was out-scored significantly in the 4th quarter, resulting in a lopsided loss 77-64. As a fan, it's frustrating to watch. They're playing at about where most had predicted up to this point. But Storm fans aren't used to several losing seasons. And frankly they don't want to get used to it. They're not the Mariners.
On Wednesday afternoon, at the Garden in the Big Apple, the Storm got off to a terrible start. Seattle only managed to score 11 points in the opening frame and they were already down a dozen points after one (23-11). A young inexperienced team on the second game of a back-to-back, it looked like it was going to be a complete blowout. And yet we saw something in this game, despite the eventual four point loss. We saw progress being made.
After trailing by as much as 18 points in the 2nd quarter, 31-13, after the Liberty's Shavonte Zellous nailed a jump shot with 7:38 to play in the first half; the Storm would rally big time. Closing the quarter out on an 18-4 run, including nine points in the period by rookie sensation Breanna Stewart. Seattle was able to go into the break only down four points, 33-37. Which also came with help from Seattle's bench. Something the team desperately needs.
New York would go back up double-digits in the 3rd quarter with the help of Sugar Rodgers and her 3-point shooting. She made three shots behind the arc in the period to help extend the Liberty's lead. Rodgers would finish the game with 14 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. New York led 64-54 after three.
It would have been very easy for the Storm to mail it in. They had just played the night before in Atlanta; had to travel to New York and play the best team in the Eastern Conference and they didn't shoot the ball well (41% for the game). But the Storm didn't give up. Led by a couple of UConn Huskies, Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis helped keep the game close. Breanna Stewart was once again the standout in the game for Seattle, with 26 points and 14 rebounds for yet another double-double.
But Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis also played an important role in the game. She started hitting some of her shots, which helped a lot since Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird both struggled mightily from the field in this game. KML scored a season high 10 points on 4-7 shooting, including 2-4 from three point range. She was a plus 17 in the Plus/Minus stat tracker. Mosqueda-Lewis was in the game when the Storm made their runs. And it's incredibly important that she gets more playing time so that she can develop into the off-the-bench scorer the Storm desperately need her to be.
Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird both struggled in this game, each scoring just six points. Loyd was just 2-6 from the floor and played less minutes because Kaleena was playing so well. Sue Bird was really off in her game on Wednesday. Last season, Coach Jenny Boucek would rest Sue Bird on the 2nd game of a back-to-back. She didn't do that this year, or at least not in this game. Bird struggled and shot terribly, going 2-12 from the floor. However, she did dish out 10 assists and pulled down six rebounds; so she was still having a positive effect overall. Unfortunately, Bird missed one of two critical free throws with under five seconds to play, that allowed the New York Liberty to escape with a win without having the game go into overtime.
Tina Charles of the Liberty, just won player of the week for the 5th time this season. She is my front runner for WNBA MVP if the season ended today. Charles did not disappoint in this game either. She knocked down several long range jumpers and also dominated down in the low post at times. She had 18 points and six rebounds in the game.
However, it was former Seattle Storm guard Tanisha Wright who may have had the biggest impact in this one. Wright, always known for her tenacious defense, was able to score a season-high 18 points against her former team. She also added four rebounds and five assists. But it was when Seattle had cut the lead to just three points, 64-67, that Wright then scored on the next two possessions for the Liberty to put New York back up by seven with 6:37 left to play; really putting a halt to the Storm's momentum at the time.
Ultimately, the Storm weren't able to execute or score at the very end when they needed to. But they could have also called it quits after being down 18 points earlier; especially on the road, against one of the best teams in the league, and on the tail end of a back-to-back. Their effort and play in this game should be encouraging for Storm fans. Sometimes progress takes place even in these losses and I think Seattle made progress in this game.
Key Notes from the Game:
*(Surprise, Surprise) Seattle was out-rebounded by New York 41-32. Including 10 OREB to Seattle's 5.
*Breanna Stewart missed three free throws total (2-5) and two in the 4th quarter; Bird also missed one.
*Seattle held the edge in Assists with 24 to New York's 19. Including a season high 10 from Bird.
*Kaleena and Tok were the only two Storm players to score off the bench, but they combined for 18 points.
*Kaleena was a +17 in Plus/Minus. Jewell Loyd was a -21 in this game. (That doesn't mean KML is > Jewell)
Seattle tries to salvage this road trip by winning at least one game on the road. They will have to do it in San Antonio, Texas as they face the Stars on Friday July 8th.