Round 1 goes to Noelle Quinn and the Storm who made all the right moves and converted just enough plays to beat Las Vegas 76-73 in the series opener of the WNBA semifinals.
“Vegas is trying to protect home and we’re trying to steal one on the road and possibly two,” the Storm coach said. “You understand what happens in a series. If you get another one on the road and you get in front of your home crowd, then things become different.”
Historically, 23 of 29 WNBA teams who won the first game in a best-of-five series advanced to the next round.
Fifteen teams have won the first two games in a best-of-five series and those teams are 15-0, including 12 teams sweeping the series.
Game 2 is 7 p.m. Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Here are three takeaways:
Playoff Tina is looking for a ring
Before her Seattle arrival, 12-year veteran Tina Charles was 6-9 in the playoffs with teams in Connecticut and New York that featured the 6-foot-4 center who is fourth all-time on the WNBA scoring list.
However, Charles doesn’t necessarily have to score for the Storm. In fact, her biggest contributions have been her rebounding and defense.
Take Game 1 for instance.
Seattle doesn’t win if Charles doesn’t collect a career-playoff-high 18 rebounds, which set the franchise record.
“When I made the decision to come here, I’m here to try and fill in the holes,” Charles said. “I knew that was rebounding and being the third or fourth option scoring and just taking my shots when they come to me.”
In her 13th start with the Storm, Charles started aggressive offensively, but connected on just 1 of 6 shots in the first quarter. She attempted 18 shots — the most since joining the Storm — and sank six for 13 points.
Charles benefitted from Las Vegas’ trapping Jewell Loyd, who scored 38 points against the Aces in the previous meeting. Loyd dropped bounce passes between the double team to Charles, who had difficulty finishing at the rim.
Still, Charles led Seattle to a 37-34 edge in rebounds. The Storm are 11-3 when they outrebound their opponent.
“For me coming into this game, the thing that I could control was being on the boards,” said Charles, who is now two wins away from her first WNBA Finals. “Watching their tendencies when they box out, I took it personal coming into this game to try to be on the boards. Start early outlets and get second-chance opportunities. I know those are always key come playoff time.”
Not all the stars showed up
There were seven former No. 1 overall WNBA draft picks and six players who participated in this year’s WNBA All-Star Game on the Michelob Ultra Arena court Sunday.
Most of the stars performed as expected with the noticeable exception being A’ja Wilson.
The four-time WNBA All-Star who is a cofavorite along with Breanna Stewart to win the WNBA MVP award this season had a negligible impact on the game.
Wilson collected a team-high 12 rebounds and blocked three shots, but the Storm held her to just eight points on 3-for-10 shooting in 38 minutes. She was scoreless in the first and fourth quarters and had just two points in the second half.
“They really swarmed her every time she touched the ball,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “If they’re going to bring bodies like that, you have to be strong with the ball and the ball has to keep moving. The ball got sticky there and we lost some of our movement.”
The Storm rotated several players to slow down Wilson, but the initial defense began with Stewart, Charles and Ezi Magbegor off the bench. Seattle often sent an extra big defender at Wilson, which explains why Aces center Kiah Stokes attempted a season-high seven shots.
Coach Noelle Quinn didn’t want to give away any secrets when asked about the strategy to defend Wilson. Still, she noted Seattle’s tendency to switch on ball screens prompts Aces guards to attack bigger defenders, which keeps the ball out of Wilson’s hands.
“We are preparing the next game and A’ja is getting the ball more,” Quinn said. “She only took 10 shots today. That’s not enough. So we understand that and we have to plan, scheme and adjust.”
It was the second lackluster playoff performance for Wilson, who also had eight points in Game 1 in the first round. She’s averaging 11 points in the postseason, which is 8.5 fewer than her regular-season average.
Bird is pushing the pace
Sue Bird put on a master class in how to run an offense Sunday and she scored just two points.
The WNBA’s all-time regular-season assists leader became the league’s all-time postseason assists leader with 12 dimes and zero turnovers while dissecting a Las Vegas defense with a handful of full-court passes.
Often, Bird connected with Loyd, who outran defenders, like a quarterback throwing a deep pass to a streaking receiver in the end zone for a touchdown.
Without Gabby Williams, who is the Storm’s secondary ballhandler, Bird put an emphasis on fast breaks, which explains why Seattle outscored Las Vegas 16-0 in transition points.
“In that third quarter, I felt that Vegas was a little gassed,” Quinn said. “So, taking advantage of those leak outs, eyes up, kick aheads, playing in the middle third (of the court) and playing in transition. We talked through this and prepared for that. … The third and fourth quarter hit, we go into a second gear and try to wear out teams and I saw that today.”
Bird’s counterpart Chelsea Gray, who had 21 points and five assists in Game 1, has the added burden to provide scoring, which detracts from her ability to make plays for teammates.
Kelsey Plum exploited a defensive mismatch against Bird while scoring 20 points. However, the former Washington Huskies star converted 8 of 23 shots, including 2 of 10 on three-pointers.
“She’s the best point guard in our game for a reason,” Quinn said when asked about Bird. “You talk about how she thinks the game and how smart she is. Picking her spots and still able to be very effective on the floor.”