What a game. And what an impressive road trip for the Seattle Storm. Seattle has been battling for a playoff position all season long. And this four game road trip was going to be a huge test for them. A real make-or-break road trip for the young team, hungry to get back to prominence.
For the 2016 season, the WNBA has changed their playoff seeding. Previously, it’s been the Top four teams in each conference that advance to the playoffs. If that was the case this season, the Storm would already have clinched a playoff spot; as the San Antonio Stars and Dallas Wings have both struggled mightily this season. Seattle will finish no worse than fourth in the Western Conference this year. However, with the new playoff rules the WNBA just takes the best eight teams in the league, regardless of conference. This makes things tougher for a team that relies so much on their two young stars Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart.
Before the Storm went on their four game road trip, the media got to speak with Head Coach Jenny Boucek about the challenge of the upcoming road trip and she had this to say:
“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.”
And give everything they did. Not only has Seattle struggled on the road over the past two seasons; but the Storm were going to face four playoff quality teams. But they passed this test with flying colors. As I mentioned in my last article after they beat New York, this team looks different since the 2016 Rio Olympic Break. After going 3-1 on this most recent road trip, the Storm are now 5-2 in the seven games they’ve played since the Olympics.
Friday’s game against the Washington Mystics, was a lot like a playoff game. There was a lot on the line for both teams. Heading into the game the Storm held the 7th spot and the Mystics held the 9th spot. However, a win by Washington would have essentially flipped that. The winner would also have taken the season series as both teams had split their first two games (both in Seattle). These tie-breakers are absolutely critical with three teams (also Phoenix) fighting for the final two playoff spots.
Seattle shot the ball very well all game long, 30-55 FG for 55%. Especially to start the game, as Seattle was up 11-4 early in the 1st quarter. Washington would rally and both teams would go back and forth. Seattle would lead 23-20 after the first quarter. Both teams played very evenly in the second quarter, with the Washington Mystics edging Seattle 19-18.
The second half was very interesting; especially the third quarter. Seattle would unfortunately allow Washington to go on a 14-0 run and take a 12 point lead at 55-43 with 4:42 left in the period. After playing their 4th road game in 8 days, it could have been very easy to let this game slip away. But this team is focused and playing the best basketball of their season right now. They would not be deterred. Seattle would go on their own 20-6 run to the end the third quarter, actually reclaiming the lead 63-61. Stewart would lead the way with 10 points in the quarter.
The 4th quarter was a fun and intense back-and-forth battle between two teams that want to make the playoffs. Despite not having one of her better scoring games, Jewell Loyd came up huge in the 4th quarter, to help Seattle secure the lead. Loyd scored six points in the final quarter; including a pull up jump shot with 2:06 to play to put Seattle up for good 79-76. Ramu Tokashiki was also key in the victory with her contributions off the bench. Including 13 points in 13 minutes, seven of those points came in the 4th quarter.
Overall, Seattle had five players score in double-figures. They were led by Breanna Stewart’s 17 points and 10 rebounds. Sue Bird had 17 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds. Alysha Clark also had a strong game with 14 points on 6-8 shooting. Loyd ended with 11 points and four assists.
Washington had all five starters score in double-figures. They were led by Emma Meesseman’s 15 points. Stefanie Dolson had 12 points and 8 rebounds. Natasha Cloud added 12 points and five assists.
With the 81-76 win, Seattle has now taken the season series against Washington and owns the tie breaker two games to one. If both teams end the season with the same record, Seattle will advance and Washington will be eliminated. Proving how critical this victory was for the Storm.
Seattle finally returns home to face the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday at 4:00pm at KeyArena. The Sparks are the 2nd seed in the league, but have lost two in a row and six of their last 10. Including a 79-72 loss to the Storm on August 26th. Seattle can clinch a playoff spot with one more win and one more loss by the Mystics.