Before the Storm would face the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday afternoon, the team and fans found out that a win would clinch a playoff spot for Seattle. That’s because the Washington Mystics had lost earlier in the day to the Indiana Fever 80-73. And because Seattle had beaten Washington on Friday, Seattle needed just one more win and one more loss by the Mystics to clinch.
Interestingly enough, the Sparks head coach Brian Agler decided to rest key starters in today’s game. Top MVP Candidate Nneka Ogwumike did not play at all. Neither did starting PG Kristi Toliver. After the game, when asked why he sat two of his star players, Brian Agler said “Just trying to get them back to feeling 100 percent.”
Seattle started the game off very hot, taking an early 11-4 lead. The biggest keys to the first quarter play was Seattle’s fast paced tempo that allowed them to shoot 8-15 from the floor for 53%. The Storm were also very aggressive getting to the foul line nine times and going 9-9. Seattle also held a strong rebounding edge of 12-5. By comparison, the Sparks shot just 38% on 6-16 FG shooting. Seattle held a 28-15 lead after one.
Seattle continued to dominate the game in the 2nd quarter. Candace Parker picked up her fourth foul of the game mid-way through the 2nd quarter. Seattle would build a twenty point lead 41-21 with 5:09 left in the second quarter. Seattle shot just 6-14 for 43% in the second quarter. But the Sparks weren’t any better at 5-15 FG at 33%. Most impressively was Seattle’s ability to get to the foul line and knocking down those shots. Seattle went 18-18 from the line. Seattle out-scored Los Angeles 49 to 27 in the first half.
Both teams played very evenly in the 3rd period. One of the stand out plays was a beautiful sky hook by Breanna Stewart to give her 18 points for the game (at that point). The Storm shot 7-17 from the floor in the 3rd for 41%. Both teams would score just 15 points in the 3rd quarter and Seattle would carry a 64-52 lead into the finale frame.
Seattle continued to struggle in the 4th quarter. But they had built such a large lead in the game that Los Angeles never really threatened. Seattle shot just 6-15 for 40% in the fourth and only scored 14 points. LA scored the most points of any quarter in the fourth, but were still held to under 20 for the quarter. One of the biggest issues for the lack of scoring in the 2nd half was the fact that the Storm didn’t get to the foul line once in the entire second half; despite going 18/18 from the line in the first quarter. The Sparks made a small run in the fourth, but ultimately the Storm would prevail 78-60.
Seattle’s starters did all the damage. All five starters would score in double-figures. The Storm were led by rookie Breanna Stewart who scored 20 points and eight rebounds. Alysha Clark and Crystal Langhorne had big games, each adding 15 points; Clark added seven rebounds and Crystal Langhorne got her second double-double of the season with 10 rebounds to go with her 15 points. Sue Bird added 12 points and led the team with 7 assists. Including an incredibly impressive assist to Ramu Tokashiki, where Bird had an open 3-pointer, lured the defender to her which freed up Tok for a wide open lay-up below the basket.
Despite getting into foul trouble very early on, Candace Parker had picked up four fouls in the first half along; Parker was able to lead the Sparks with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Chelsea Gray was the only other Sparks player to score in double figures with 13 points.
Media spoke with the players after the game.
Sue Bird interview:
What are her thoughts on making the playoffs.
“It feels good. You can feel in the locker room there already is a bit of a buzz. It’s not easy at times to make the playoffs in this league and for awhile, I think our franchise even took it for granted because making the playoffs was the expectation. To not get in there the last couple of years and to finally get back feels really good.”
You’ve been to the pinnacle, won the championship twice. What can you share with the younger players like Jewell and Stewie heading into the playoffs.
“Just that making it is great. But once you get there, it’s a whole other ball game. The intensity goes up times ten. During the regular season, you’re on road trips, six games in twelve days. There’s all these different things going on during the regular season . But when teams get into the playoffs, you just have to focus on one team, one game. You see an entirely different beast out there. It really is different.”
With the change in format, to a single elimination. How is that going to be different for you as you’ve always had series (in the playoffs)?
“I think it’s great! Listen, if this was a regular year and we finished fourth and had to play Minnesota in a 3 game series, that would be hard. Let’s be honest. They’re at the top for a reason. We’d have to win a game on the road at their place and they like never lose there. The idea of having just one game against a team that’s virtually all the same record, give or take a few. It’s kind of exciting. And once you move on, you tend to gain confidence. Even though it’s just one game, you never know what might happen.”
Breanna Stewart interview:
How rewarding is it knowing that you were a big part of this run to take the team to the playoffs after they had struggled a lot the past two seasons?
“It’s huge! I think that’s been our biggest goal. The drive to get this team to the playoffs because it hasn’t been done in a while. And a franchise like this that has been so dominant at times; getting us back is a huge first step. And let’s see what we can do after that!”
On the Storm’s impressive 6-2 run since the Olympic Break:
“Just to see how much more confidence this team has. With the WNBA season, you don’t get a lot of prep time ahead of the season. So to have that month where the majority of our team can recuperate, fix some things, and get better individually and as a team; when we came back, something was different. The mentality was different. And we just rode that wave.”
After winning 3 of 4 on the road, what can you take from that to prepare you for these upcoming single elimination playoff games:
“You know with how many games we’ve had now with our backs against the wall. We have to fight back. Just one game, we’ve been doing that for five games (straight). Just taking that forward. Obviously, we have to finish these last two regular season games. And in the playoffs, just know that it’s one and done. And that’s a good thing and a bad thing for us. We have nothing to lose and can go out swinging. But also, we know we’re a better team than the first half of this season. So the teams that had our number, we’d like to play them again.”
Seattle Storm Coach Jenny Boucek:
On the team going 6-2 since the 2016 Rio Olympics:
“Our defense is better, our rebounding is better. I think our players that were here over the break gained some confidence and resilience. I think our synergy has grown, just our ability to make plays together on both ends of the floor.”
On the satisfaction on securing a playoff birth:
“I am really just excited for the players; they have worked really hard to put themselves in this position. They have been really excited about the playoff race. I am excited for Sue. For her it has been since 2012, and with her making the commitment to us, to retire here, I was really hoping that before she retired we would end up in big games and that she would have a lot more big games left in her career here.”
Seattle has clinched a playoff spot. They are currently the 7th seed. But they play at Phoenix next on Thursday September 15th. Seattle holds the tie-breaker over Phoenix if they end up with the same record, but if Phoenix beats Seattle; it’s likely Seattle will finish as the 8th seed.