EVERETTT – Breanna Stewart added another marvelous chapter to her storied basketball career on Wednesday night.
The Storm superstar scored 12 of the final 14 points for Seattle in the final 3½ minutes during a 71-62 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks at the Angel of the Winds Arena.
Stewart finished with a game-high 27 points while Jewell Loyd added 18 in her first game back after missing Sunday’s win over LA with a sprained left ankle.
“Just letting the game come to me,” said Stewart who connected on 4 of 4 field goals and was 3 of 4 on free throws in the fourth quarter. “Picking the moments the moments to aggressive. And then, as we all know once you get in that zone that you make the first couple, you know the next one is going to go in. That’s what happened. We knew this was a big one at home.”
With Seattle clinging to a 57-54 lead, Stewart took over offensively and battered LA with a flurry of baskets at the end.
The barrage began when the 6-foot-4 forward collected a Loyd missed three-pointer for a putback. Then she drew a foul and canned a pair of free throws before plowing through contact on two short jumpers.
Then Stewart delivered the dagger – a three-pointer from the top of the key that put the Storm up 69-62.
There has been talk this season about Stewart’s inability to deliver in the clutch after she missed five potential game-winning shots. During her five-year career, she’s 0-for-13 when given a chance to win or tie a game in the finals 10 seconds of regulation or overtime.
However, Wednesday’s performance is a reminder of Stewart’s dominance and reaffirmed her status as the Storm’s go-to player in the biggest moments.
“Sometimes clutch gets labeled as a certain amount of seconds within a game, but there are different things that happen within a course of a game that can be labeled as a great play or a momentum shift or something that really impacted that game,” coach Noelle Quinn said. “She’s the best player in the world. Giving her the ball in the certain situations is because she shows this.
“She’s a hooper. She has an ability to really lock in mentally and physically get it done. When you see glimpses of greatness it’s a no brainer. … This is a form a clutch.”
With Loyd back in the lineup, the Storm took control early and raced to a 23-9 lead in the first quarter. LA outscored Seattle 20-15 in the second quarter, but the Storm went into the break ahead 38-29.
The Sparks pulled to within 40-33 early in the third quarter before Seattle answered with a 9-2 run that included a 25-foot three-pointer from Stephanie Talbot.
Still, the Storm was unable to separate from Los Angeles and led 53-43 at the end of the third.
Aided by three straight Seattle turnovers, the Sparks used an 11-4 run to pull within 57-54 midway in the fourth quarter and appeared poised for an upset.
However, Stewart wouldn’t let the Storm lose while Los Angeles (6-12) lost its fifth straight game.
“Breanna Stewart can’t be stopped,” said LA guard Erica Wheeler, who finished with 22 points. “A player like that, she’s going to go down as one of the best players in the world. She can play the one to the five. So she’s not a place that you just stop. You just got to contain her because she’s going to get her shots. You just got to make some tough shots because that’s who she is.
“Of course she came to play tonight and that’s expected. We knew the ball was going to go in her hands.”
Seemingly, everyone among the crowd of 2,730 at Angel of the Winds Arena knew Stewart was getting the ball at the end.
And yet, the Sparks were unable to prevent her from delivering a performance that ranks among her best in the WNBA.
“We needed her to step up,” Quinn said. “There’s a stretch where she doesn’t miss. She goes on a tear. It’s variations of greatness and excellence that we see within her.
“As far as ranking it, I’ve seen a lot of great games from Stewie. This one sticks out because of the will. How the buckets game. The timing and just getting the win. It’s just that tough grittiness. Sometimes with Stewie it’s more fluidity and it’s more 3s and it’s more open floor, but this one was more aggressive. It was intentional and it was tough.”
Loyd added: “That’s Stewie. I love watching her being in the zone. I love her stepping up for the challenge. It’s something we see every day in practice. It’s something we’ve seen for many, many years. It was fun. If you go back and watch, I’m literally smiling every time she has the ball. … She’s a beast. I’m glad I don’t have to guard.”
Normally Stewart outclasses opponents with a varied skillset that includes an array of perimeter shots, step-back jumpers and high-arching floaters.
However, this time Stewart matched an aggressive LA defense with grit while collecting a game-high 11 rebounds. She also canned 9 of 10 free throws.
“Just doing whatever I can for the team,” Stewart said. “Trying to make as many plays as possible. We were at a point in the fourth quarter where it was back and forth a lot with LA. We wanted to break apart a little bit. The multiple and-1s definitely helped that.
“Like Noey was saying, you need to be aggressive and that’s the mentality that we need to take into the next two games.”
The Storm improved to a WNBA-best 15-4 overall record and increased its lead atop the Western Conference in the Commissioner’s Cup race at 7-1 over the Aces (5-3). Both teams have two Cup games remaining.
Seattle needs to win one of its next two games – Friday at Phoenix or Sunday at home against the Mercury – to clinch a berth in the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup championship.
“We’re very aware of the Commissioner’s Cup, but we’re also aware of finishing these two games strong going into the break,” Stewart said. “That’s really the mindset. We want to go to Phoenix and have Phoenix come to us and finish our first 20 or so games of the season on a high note.
“But obviously, very aware of the Commissioner’s Cup and doing whatever we can to make sure we’re in that game on Aug. 12.”
– Reserve center Ezi Magbegor and Talbot will miss the next two games while participating with the Australian women’s basketball team that’s going to the Summer Olympics.
Seattle, which added forwards Cierra Burdick and N’dea Jones on 7-day contracts, will have 10 available players for Friday’s game against Phoenix.