The Seattle Storm held on by the skin of their teeth to win Game 2 of the WNBA Finals 75-73. They needed another 4th quarter rally and excellent defense to take the second game of the best of five series for the WNBA Championship. Seattle outscored Washington 17-12 in the final period of play, including holding Elena Delle Donne scoreless in the fourth.
While the game was a literal nail-biter, it didn’t always look like it was going to be that way. In Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Friday, the Storm got out to an 11 point lead after one quarter 24-13 and would end up leading that game at one point by 27 points late in the third period. In Game 2, it looked like it was going to be more of the same. The Storm finished the 1st quarter up nine at 25-16. Seattle was getting easy baskets and Breanna Stewart was on fire with 11 points in the opening frame.
But then things went south in a hurry. Seattle had too many turnovers and did not shoot the ball well. Stewart was held scoreless in the 2nd quarter. Jewell Loyd was held to just one point in the first half. She missed her first four shots and her first three free throws, which was very unusual for the near 90% foul shooter. The Washington Mystics used a 24-11 second quarter run to take a 40-36 lead at halftime. From that point forward, the Storm were playing catch-up until the 4th quarter.
Fortunately, for the Storm, Jewell Loyd got hot in the third quarter. After scoring just one point in the first half, Loyd got the scoring going to start the second half. At one point, Loyd had her own personal 8-0 run and scored ten points in the quarter. But even still, the Storm weren’t able to turn the corner. Washington continued to hold onto a slim lead throughout the third period.
There were two incredible substitutions by Coach Dan Hughes in this game that really stood out to me. He put Natasha Howard back in for the last play of the 3rd quarter. With only a few seconds to go in the quarter, Jordin Canada was forced to just heave up a shot that didn’t have a prayer. Howard rebounded Canada’s air-ball in mid-air and put it back in to cut Washington’s lead to three 61-58 going into the 4th. The Storm would take the lead quickly in the 4th quarter with a 7-0 run.
The other key substitution was putting Sue Bird back in with about seven minutes left in the game. The very next play Stewart had the ball knocked out of her hands, Bird picked up the ball near half court with just two seconds left on the clock and banked in a three-pointer to put Seattle up 68-63. Seattle would never trail again.
Even though Seattle would never relinquish the lead in the final seven minutes of the game, Washington certainly didn’t make it easy and had plenty of chances to win the game. Kristi Toliver hit two extremely clutch shots in the final ninety seconds. One was a beautiful turn-around jump shot over the much taller Natasha Howard. The second was an incredible defensive performance by Alysha Clark where Clark followed Toliver all over the court and was with her every step of the way. With only a couple seconds left on the shot clock, Toliver was able to swish a step-back jumper with Clark’s hand right in her face. This cut Seattle’s lead to just one, 74-73 with 36 seconds left in the game.
In the next possession, Breanna Stewart was fouled with about 17 seconds left in the game with the Storm up one. However, the normally always clutch Stewart not only missed one but both free throws that would have likely sealed the game. This gave Washington the final possession and a chance to win.
Despite some clutch last-minute shots by Toliver, she also struggled in the 4th quarter. She had three turnovers in the quarter. None more costly than on their final possession, where Sue Bird was able to knock the ball loose. Toliver went tumbling to the floor. As did several other players all hustling to secure the loose ball as if the Championship was on the line (because it was). The referees called a jump ball between Natasha Howard and Tiana Hawkins. Howard tipped the ball to Loyd, who got the ball to Bird who then advanced to Clark who was finally fouled by Washington with less than two seconds to play.
Clark missed the first free throw, the third free throw the Storm had missed in the final 17 seconds. Clark did sink the second free throw to put Seattle up 75-73. Washington was all out of timeouts so they were not able to advance the ball. They inbounded the ball to Ariel Atkins who heaved up a shot from beyond half-court. It almost went in! Fortunately, for Seattle, it did not. Seattle was able to breathe a sigh of relief as they now go up two games to none and are just one win away from their third WNBA title.
Toliver was furious after the game, stating that Bird clearly fouled her and was doing so intentionally because Seattle had a foul to give. She said Bird made the right decision, but that she wished the referees IQ was as good as Bird’s.
Bird saw it a different way. She told ESPN, “Once she went by me, I did the good ol’ Sue Bird move and was lucky to get a piece of the ball. I knew we had a foul to give, but that was not my intention at all.”
For the record, there was definitely contact, especially during Toliver’s initial move to the basket. With that said, it’s the playoffs and it’s often up to the players to make plays and not rely on getting bailed out by the refs in late game situations.
What’s important for Seattle is that not only did the Storm win, but they won when they weren’t at their best. Washington played a much better game, compared to Game 1. Delle Donne said in the post-game press conference that it would have been difficult to play worse than they did in Game 1 and that it was disappointing that they played so well, but still didn’t come away with the win.
Delle Donne led the way for the Mystics with 17 points, but only five points in the 2nd half and zero in the 4th quarter. Toliver had a much better game scoring 15 points and Ariel Atkins had another impressive game for the rookie with 15 points as well. They also only committed seven turnovers all game long compared to Seattle’s 15. The Mystics also doubled the Storm up on steals (10) and had four times the number of blocked shots (4). Their defense was significantly better in Game 2 and it showed as they limited all of Seattle’s star players to below average games against Breanna Stewart.
The two areas that really hurt the Mystics in this game were the fact that they went 0-16 from three-point range and that the Storm out-rebounded them 36-26 on the glass. Seattle also had 11 offensive rebounds.
Seattle’s offense had an off-night. Only Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd scored in double-figures. With Stewart carrying the team on her back like only an MVP can, scoring 25 points, collecting 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Loyd had 13 points (10 in the 3rd quarter) and also added four assists and four rebounds. Natasha Howard really struggled offensively, missing several easy layups that she normally makes. However, she was an absolute monster on the glass with 13 rebounds.
The series now moves to Washington DC for Game 3 and potentially Game 4. Game 3 is on Wednesday 09/12 at 5:00pm and Game 4 (if necessary) will be on Friday 09/14 also at 5:00pm.