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Top 5 Takeaways from the Storm’s 87-82 loss to Phoenix

The Storm lost their season opener to Phoenix, but there was a lot going on. Check out our Top 5 takeaways from last night’s game.

Natasha Howard goes up for a shot against the 6’9” Brittney Griner.
Neil Enns/Storm photography

Sunday evening, the Seattle Storm opened up their 19th season of basketball in Seattle in front of a good crowd. Unfortunately, the Phoenix Mercury looked like a team that made the semi-finals last year and could make another run at a championship this year. Phoenix came out strong in the first quarter as the Storm struggled to make shots and the Mercury were hitting every wide-open shot. Phoenix went up 26-17 after one period of play and were up double-digits by half-time.

The Storm would rally in the second half but with every big run, the Mercury had an answer. More often than not, that answer came in the form of 6’9” Brittney Griner, who absolutely dominated the game; more on that later. The Storm would attempt a comeback in the second half but it was never enough. By far their best quarter was the fourth where the Storm furiously rallied and even cut Phoenix’s lead down to one on a couple occasions. Seattle scored 28 points in the 4th and out-scored Phoenix by five in the second half. The Storm had a chance to send the game into overtime down three in the final four seconds of the game, but Breanna Stewart stepped out of bounds while attempting a corner three.

The Storm are now 0-1 to start the season and will face the Mercury again next, this time down in Phoenix on Wednesday, May 23rd. Before then, let’s take a look at the five biggest takeaways from the Storm’s season-opener.

1) Jordin Canada will get lots of playing time early
Last year Seattle drafted Alexis Peterson, a point-guard out of Syracuse with their first pick (2nd round) in the WNBA draft. Ideally, Peterson was going to develop and eventually build towards becoming the heir apparent to Sue Bird. That never happened, and as the season progressed Peterson rarely left the bench and got very little playing time. She struggled to adjust to the WNBA and was released during the off-season after just one year with the Storm.

Fast forward a year later and the Storm drafted another PG with their first pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft, this time selecting Jordin Canada out of UCLA 5th overall. Despite having very similar college stats and being of similar size (Canada 5’6” and Peterson 5’7”), Jordin has already shown she has the ability to adapt to the pro level. Canada impressed in the two pre-season games scoring 15 and 17 points respectively. Where Peterson rarely got playing time, Canada was the first player off the bench in tonight’s home-opener. Canada got over 20 minutes on the court in her first official WNBA game, including the majority of the 4th quarter while the Storm made their big push to cut the deficit down to one.

Canada finished the game with 9 points, four steals, and one assist. She did commit three turnovers, all in the first half; which probably were caused by nerves and a lack of chemistry with new teammates. For anyone worried that Canada wasn’t going to get an opportunity this year, it looks like those concerns can be quelled for now.

2) Natasha Howard was an excellent acquisition.
The second biggest thing that stood out to me during the game was the impact and role Natasha Howard played. For those unfamiliar, Natasha Howard came to Seattle via a trade this off-season. Howard was likely going to leave Minnesota as a restricted free agent, so Minnesota worked out a trade with Seattle where the Storm parted with this year’s 2nd round pick and an exchange of 1st round picks in 2019. Howard was a key reserve player for the Lynx during the championship runs over the past 3 years, but played behind multiple All-Stars in Minnesota. In Seattle she has the opportunity to play an even larger role and that showed up tonight.

Despite not starting, Howard logged nearly 23 minutes and was the second leading scorer on the team with 14 points on 4-8 shooting and 6-6 from the foul line. Howard also played a key defensive role for the team, pressuring at times and collecting four rebounds with two blocked shots. Her overall game with her ability to score, rebound, defend was very impressive. Howard will need to continue to play well and hopefully for several seasons as Seattle essentially gave up their 2019 first round pick to acquire her. So far it looks like Howard will be worth the trade.

3) Same old, same old
One thing I was very curious about heading into the season-opener was if new Coach Dan Hughes would look to change up the starting lineup. For better or for worse, he did not. Hughes kept the same starting five that we saw last year of: Crystal Langhorne, Breanna Stewart, Alysha Clark, Jewell Loyd, and Sue Bird. Seattle’s front court was completely undersized against the much larger Mercury team with Stewart (6’4”), Langhorne (6’2”) and Clark (5’11”) going up against Griner (6’9”), Lyttle (6’5”), and DeWanna Bonner (6’4”). Surprisingly, while the Storm were out-rebounded at halftime 18-16, Seattle ended up winning the rebounding advantage 37-28, mostly thanks to Breanna Stewart’s game-high 15 rebounds. However, Seattle struggled mightily to defend Phoenix’s post-players, epecially Griner. Langhorne consistently struggles against much taller players and I thought it was an odd coaching choice to start Langhorne over Paris in this game.

For what it’s worth, the Storm’s starting five came out ice cold and allowed Phoenix to build a large lead early. The 1st quarter was by far Seattle’s worst, giving up 26 points and only scoring 17. And they had to rally a bit just to keep it under double-digits. Seattle made their comeback in the 2nd half when Courtney Paris spent more time guarding Griner. While she wasn’t able to completely stop Griner she did slow her down and it allowed Seattle to get back into the game in the 4th quarter.

Langhorne, who tends to struggle against tall post-players, finished the game with just two points and one rebound. She was completely ineffective in her 15 minutes.

4) Coach Dan Hughes needs to find ways to get Jewell Loyd involved more.
What is probably the most concerning item on this list was Jewell Loyd’s performance. It’s just one game, and Jewell, like any good WNBA player, is going to have off-nights, but Loyd really struggled in this game. She did not score in the first half at all, which is unacceptable as Loyd has been the team’s second best scorer on this team since she entered the league. Last season she averaged nearly 18 points a game and was in the Top 10 in scoring for the entire league. She ended the game with just ten points, all in the second half. Loyd did have six rebounds, four assists, and two blocked shots to go along with those ten points, so she didn’t have a terrible game. However, the 3-11 shooting and only getting to the foul line once is very concerning.

What’s even more concerning to me is that it looked like Loyd wasn’t really a part of the offense. It felt like she rarely got the ball. One potential drawback to Jordin Canada’s immediate emergence as the team’s back-up point guard to Sue Bird is that it takes the ball out of Loyd’s hands too much. In previous years, Loyd would often run the offense while Sue was on the bench. Tonight it was all Canada, especially since Noelle Quinn did not play (knee soreness/Coach’s Decision).

Loyd is a dynamic scorer who can create her own shot and has 3-point range. She finally got on the scoreboard in the 3rd quarter with back-to-back 3’s. If Loyd scores just three more baskets in this game, Seattle wins it. Of all the takeaways, this is the one I’m most interested in following the next handful of games to see how things play out. The hope is that Loyd or Coach Hughes will find ways to get Jewell the ball more and Loyd will knock down her shots.

5) Brittney Griner is a dominant force
Griner made shot after shot and has significantly improved her offensive game in recent years. Despite Dianna Taurasi being the greatest scorer in WNBA history, this is clearly Brittney Griner’s team now. While Taurasi made a few clutch 3’s and free throws, she was not her dominant scoring self finishing the game with just 12 points. But it didn’t matter because Brittney Griner is an absolute stud. Griner was nearly perfect from the floor early in the game, on her way to 17 first half points. Seattle could not stop her defensively. Even when they attempted to double-team her, Griner is so tall she was able to turn and find the open shooter for a pass. And to the Mercury’s credit, the other players knocked down almost every wide-open look they got. Griner finished the game with 29 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.