With less than ten games to play in the WNBA season; most teams are fighting for playoff positioning and even one of the final playoff spots. On Wednesday night, in Seattle, we saw two teams that are currently on the outside looking in. This past week Seattle had jumped into the 8th and final playoff spot, before quickly falling back out to the 9th spot. It’s going to be a roller-coaster ride over these final games. Meanwhile, the Dallas Wings, a team that has a great core group of players has struggled mightily after playing pretty well the first half of the season. Heading into Wednesday night’s game against Seattle, Dallas had lost eight consecutive games and fallen all the way down to 11th place (in a 12 team league).
Seattle would pick up a very important victory on Wednesday. And for a moment, it looked like it was going to be quite easy. But Dallas wasn’t going down without a fight. Seattle would show their mettle with an impressive fourth quarter.
The Storm started the game off with great fast up-tempo action. They used it to build an 18-9 lead early and kept it going. Seattle was led by both Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart who each had eight points in the first quarter. Seattle shot 55% from the floor (11-20); meanwhile, Dallas only shot 37.5% (6-16). Seattle surprisingly had the edge in rebounds with an 11-5 advantage. Seattle’s quick pace allowed them to distribute the ball well, as they had an 8-2 advantage in assists. Seattle led 26-13 after one.
Both teams struggled to score in the second quarter, especially early on. The pace slowed down considerably in the 2nd quarter and the shots weren’t falling. After putting up 26 points in the first quarter, Seattle only managed to score 15 in the second period, on 6-17 shooting (35%). Fortunately, Dallas didn’t perform any better, scoring 17 points on 7-21 shooting (33%). At one point, Seattle played with a lineup that did not have Loyd, Stewart, or Bird in it. No real surprise, the team struggled to score during that time. Seattle’s youthful core of Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart each had 10 points in the first half. Dallas was led by Odyssey Sims who had seven and Plenette Pierson who had six.
Dallas came out strong in the third quarter as Seattle continued to struggle. Dallas went on a 10-2 run, to cut Seattle’s lead to three 43-40. Dallas would out-score Seattle 24-13 in the third period and tie the game 54-54 at the end of the quarter. Plenette Pierson had nine points in the third quarter, and a game-high 15 after three quarters. The Storm shot 5-14 (36%). Meanwhile, the Wings shot 8-15 (53%), which allowed them to get right back into the game.
Jewell Loyd started the fourth quarter aggressive, drawing contact and getting to the foul line. The game was tied up 59-59, when Sue Bird hit a big 3-pointer with six minutes left to play. But it was really Loyd who put the team on her shoulders and scored 11 of her 23 in the pivotal 4th quarter. Fortunately Seattle started the game very strong and finished the game very strong. Seattle out-scored Dallas 24-12, to win the game by a final score of 78-66. Seattle’s defense was absolutely key in this game, as they closed the game out on a 12-3 run.
Seattle was led by Jewell Loyd who had 23 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Breanna Stewart finally got out of her shooting slump, scoring 17 points on 6-10 shooting. She also added 12 rebounds and two blocked shots. One which was a huge block late in the 4th quarter that forced Dallas into a turnover, where they immediately fouled Jewell Loyd and sent Loyd to the line. All the starters played well, as Sue Bird added 13 points and four assists, Crystal Langhorne scored 12 points and had five rebounds, and Alysha Clark had nine points and five rebounds.
We talked to Jewell Loyd after the game and she had this to say:
What does tonight’s win mean?
“Tonight’s win means a lot. I think it just show how tough and how much better we’ve gotten since the beginning of the season and there have been a lot of close games where we’ve missed box outs or we didn’t finish. Today we just really locked in. They went on a run and we just kept focused and kept talking to each other. That communication let us build confidence and finish it out.”
In your second year now, how much more is it a priority to take over a game when the team needs it? You had 11 points in the fourth quarter tonight.
“I mean yes and no. I’m taking what the defense gives me. Sue tells me to stay aggressive, be aggressive, ‘we need you’. Having her say that, struck a light bulb for me. I gotta get it going. Get good shots for myself and others and I think that’s what I did. I could obviously do a way better job. I will definitely watch film and pick out things that I need to do better on. Overall, just trying to stay focused and finish this one out.”
What can you take from this game as you go out on the road?
“Just the mentality that we need to stay strong and finish the game out. Teams will go on runs. But we need to find a way to stop them and stop their momentum.”
Dallas was led Plenette Pierson who had 19 points and four rebounds. The only other Dallas player to score in double figures was Skylar Diggins who had 10 points on 4-13 shooting.
Seattle Head Coach Jenny Boucek:
On tonight’s defensive effort
“I was really pleased with that tonight. We obviously broke down ni the third quarter and we let them get a lot of momentum in that quarter. But, I was really proud that we were able to regroup between quarters and reestablish our defense. We got our defensive rhythm going and when we get it going, it leads to a good offensive rhythm. It’s been a big area of growth and emphasis for us because we haven’t been able to rebound the way we wanted to this year.”
How important, is it for Jewell Loyd in her second year, to be able to take over the game in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 points and willing the team to victory?
“There was a moment in the fourth quarter where I looked up and we were making our push, we had Jewell, Stewie, and Tok out on the floor, for a huge stretch in that game. And that’s our youth. That’s three very young players that are playing in crunch time, in a playoff caliber game. That’s essentially a playoff game. In these types of games where you’re trying to get in, they become like a playoff feel, a playoff mentality. So to have three of our young players in there together and then get it done. I think that says a lot about our future.”
Is there a different approach coaching when facing a team on a long losing streak like Dallas has been on?
“I pick and choose what we talk about. I didn’t talk about that with our team. We just focused on what we needed to do to beat them. That’s all we focused on. I think when you get into some of that stuff, you’re in speculation mode. And I don’t think speculation goes well in any area of life, so we try to stay out of that. And so we just focus on the things we can control. But they were a hungry team coming in, that’s for sure.”
How do you expect this team to perform on this 4 game road trip?
“Well I think we’re going to fight our tails off. This team is really excited about being in this position. It’s been a long time for our organization. For some players on our team this is their first playoff race. Sue hasn’t been in playoff race herself since 2012. So it’s an excited, young, hungry group and we’re going to give it everything that we have. I don’t know where that’ll leave us. But I can guarantee this group will give it everything they have.”
Dallas Wings Head Coach Fred Williams:
On the difference in the 2nd and 3rd quarter that allowed his team to tie the game up heading into the 4th quarter.
“Just picking up our energy. At the beginning, we had great energy, but they kept front-cutting us a lot and we kept giving them some touches going to the basket early. We tried to really make them a perimeter-shooting team. Then they made shots - Loyd and Bird from the outside.”
On what he tells the team moving forward after losing 9 straight games:
“You stay strong. We have a young team that’s been battling through some injuries throughout the season and some players still trying to get back to full strength. You just keep battling, keep playing hard and it carries over to each game you play and it will also build a lot of character for the future.”
Seattle goes on a 4 game road trip that will likely make or break the 2016 season. At least, when it comes to making the playoffs or not. The Storm are currently 1⁄2 game ahead of the Washington Mystics for the 8th and final playoff spot. Their next game is at Chicago against Elena Delle Donne and the Sky at 5:30pm on Friday 09/02/16.