The Seattle Storm are in an interesting position. After a month long break for the 2016 Rio Olympics, they resumed their WNBA schedule on Friday night, where they were essentially tied for the 8th and final playoff spot with 10 games to play in the season. If they can make the playoffs, it’ll be a huge triumph for rookie Breanna Stewart and second year player Jewell Loyd. If they end up missing the playoffs, it might allow the Storm to land another Top 3 Draft pick which could be the final piece of the puzzle to a new dynasty. If Friday’s game is any indication of how this season may end, these players don’t want to have to wait another year.
Seattle had the difficult task of taking on the WNBA’s number one overall seed, the Los Angeles Sparks (21-3). But they were not intimidated as they jumped all over the Sparks, taking an early 7-2 lead. Seattle was hot to start the game, shooting 50% from the floor in the first quarter (9-18 FG). The Sparks came out very cold, shooting under 30% for most of the first quarter, but would end the quarter shooting 43% (6-14). Seattle had a 14-4 lead early in the game, before the Sparks were able to rally to cut the lead to four. But Seattle would not let up and would push their lead on Los Angeles to nine, 22-13, after one quarter. Sue Bird led all scorers with nine points in the first period on 3-3 shooting from 3-point range.
Seattle was rolling early in the 2nd quarter, up 11 at one point, 26-15, before everything came crashing down. Crystal Langhorne and Nneka Ogwumike were battling down low. Ogwumike would pick up a technical foul after being called for an offensive foul, after she threw the ball behind her into the stands. She then picked up another foul, her fourth in the first half and was forced to sit. However, Los Angeles would actually rally and find their shot and Seattle would go ice cold in the final six minutes of the half. Seattle managed to make just two baskets in the entire second quarter and shot 2-14 in the period (14%). Essence Carson hit a three to end the half, cutting Seattle’s eleven point lead in the quarter down to just three, 31-28.
Fortunately, Seattle came out on fire in the third quarter, going on a 10-2 run. Seattle pushed their lead up 13 at one point. Seattle shot much better in the 3rd quarter 10-18. Seattle was up 55-44 after three.
Seattle would stand strong in the fourth quarter. And not allow the Sparks to make any significant dent into their lead; despite Nneka Ogwumike doing everything humanly possible to keep the Sparks in the game. Ogwumike would end the game with 28 points on 11-15 shooting and also had seven rebounds. However, it wasn’t enough as the Storm got strong games from Sue Bird, Crystal Langhorne, and Jewell Loyd. They also got 19 points from their bench, including seven straight from Noelle Quinn between the 3rd and 4th quarters. Crystal Langhorne had her first double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds. She mentioned after the game, that there was a big emphasis that she needed to increase her rebounding for the team. Sue Bird came out on fire to start the game and ended with 15 points and six assists; which was great to see. Especially after she had injured her knee in the Olympics. And Jewell Loyd had a strong second half to end the game with 15 points and lead the team with seven assists.
Seattle Head Coach Jenny Boucek:
In response to having a strong 2nd half after faltering in the 2nd quarter:
“We’ve worked really hard at a mentality and our defense and rebounding. Going back to the old Storm days, that’s what kept us in games for many years. Although we have a lot of offensive talent on this team, we still need to have really solid defense and rebounding as our foundation. I felt like we did a really great job in hanging in there and not getting discouraged. In the past, with this team, when we don’t make shots, it effects our energy on the defensive end and we stayed pretty solid defensively, despite the fact that we were a little anemic for a while offensively.”
Her thoughts on Crystal Langhorne’s performance:
“So many things about Lang’s game were impressive. I haven’t seen anybody guard Ogwumike better one-on-one than what Lang did; especially spurts there; that was really great to see. But her rebounding, her boxing out, her decision making, her poise on the offensive end of the floor, and she’s always been a premier scorer when she gets enough touches. She put in a ton of work over the break and I was glad to see her get some reward for that on both ends of the floor. She played an incredible game.”
Los Angeles Head Coach Brian Agler:
His thoughts on the game:
“We talked about this over August and it seemed to play out tonight - some of these teams, like Seattle and probably five or six others, are really fighting hard to get into the playoffs. They’re going to play desperate and they’re going to play hungry and they’re going to be aggressive. (Seattle) played hungrier than we did.”
On if the time off from the Olympics hurt the team:
“I think we sat around for six weeks and everybody told us how good we were and I think we softened up. That’s why you don’t see repeat champions. Everybody gets in the offseason and everybody tells them how good they are and then they don’t have as good of a year. That’s sort of what happened to us for six weeks.”
The road to a playoff game doesn’t get any easier. Seattle will travel to Minnesota to play the Lynx (21-5) on Sunday at 4:00pm PST.