The Storm takes an early 10-point lead, but Minnesota blows it open in the third quarter before holding on for a 96-84 win on Sunday at KeyArena. Breanna Stewart led Seattle with 21 points.
Selfishly, Sue Bird wanted to give Minnesota its first loss if for no other reason than to jump-start the Storm out of an early-season malaise that threatens to ruin its postseason chances.
“Right now we need to wake up,” she said following Sunday’s 96-84 loss to the Lynx. “We got to start winning.”
Seattle (4-9) lost its third straight game and has dropped four of its last five to stumble to 10th in the standings. The top eight teams advance to the postseason.
“It’s a weird season,” Bird said. “It’s kind of long, goes really fast and before you know it you can be in a really big hole.”
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A win in front of 5,749 at KeyArena would have eased some of the tension within a team looking to snap a two-year playoff drought. However, Seattle’s loss is a big gain for the WNBA.
The Lynx (12-0) cleared the last hurdle to set up Tuesday’s historic matchup in Los Angeles against the Sparks (11-0) in a battle between the league’s remaining unbeaten teams. Both teams eclipsed the league’s previous record for most consecutive wins at the start of a season.
“The league as a whole needs something like this,” said Bird, a 14-year veteran. “It’s generating an excitement that you normally don’t see this early in the season. People are talking about it. You see it on ‘SportsCenter’ and that kind of thing.
“You want those conversations to be happening. The attention that this matchup is going to draw is a good thing for the league. … But all that being said, I wanted to beat them so bad.”
For a few minutes in the second half, the Storm looked as if it might spoil the perfect pairing between the Lynx and Sparks.
After a teeter-tottering first half that included big momentum swings and double-digit lead changes, Seattle evened the score early in the third quarter and appeared poised to upset the defending champions.
However, the Lynx closed out the period with a commanding run symbolic of its record-breaking season.
“They started playing at a pace that we couldn’t keep up with,” coach Jenny Boucek said. “They’re a great team.
“When they’re firing on all cylinders like that and moving at the pace that they were, it makes it really difficult on your defense.”
The Storm led by 10 points (22-12) in the first quarter before giving it all away and trailing by the same margin (44-34) with 5:51 left in the second. Seattle trailed 53-46 at halftime.
Alysha Clark (14 points) knotted the score at 55-55 with a layup and free throw at the 8:31 mark in the third quarter.
Minnesota finished the period with a 22-8 run to go ahead 77-63 at the start of the fourth. The Lynx led by 21 points (84-63) early in the final frame before the Storm made one last push that came up short.
Breanna Stewart, who led the Storm with 21 points, dropped a midrange floater that cut Seattle’s deficit to 86-74.
The Storm didn’t get any closer in large part due to Sylvia Fowles. Whenever, Minnesota needed a basket the Lynx turned to its 6-foor-6 All-WNBA center who tallied 16 points on 8-for-13 shooting against the smaller Stewart.
“With this team you’re playing the positions that need to be played,” said Stewart a 6-4 forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. “With our post lineup, I have the most length and I use that to deter as much as I can. But obviously, it makes things difficult. But we have to find a way.”
Maya Moore finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and eight assists for the Lynx, which enjoyed a 35-23 edge on rebounds. Minnesota also received 14 points from Natasha Howard.
Jewell Loyd had 20 points and a career-high seven assists and Bird finished with 14 points. Seattle allowed Minnesota to shoot 56.2 percent, which is a season-high for a Storm opponent.
“We got a lot of work to do defensively,” Boucek said. “We’re not on point and in sync with what we want to do.
“Our defensive urgency needs to kick in. It needed to kick in awhile ago.”