Before Friday night, Breanna Stewart had never scored the winning points in the final 10 seconds of a WNBA game, which was a glaring omission in an otherwise brilliant résumé for the Storm star.
No matter, Noelle Quinn still had faith in Stewie.
“I’ll live or die with putting that decision in her hands,” the Storm coach said. “I know she’s going to make the right play. I know that she’s built different. Just like her approach to everything. Her mentality.
“I will always make sure our best player has a crack at helping us win a game any way, shape or form.”
After blowing a 12-point lead late in the third quarter and another frightful 10 minutes in which Seattle was outscored once again in the fourth, Stewart saved the Storm at the end with a pair of clutch plays and a couple of game-winning free throws for a thrilling 89-88 victory over the Dallas Wings at College Park Center.
“I feel that I’m very confident on the floor and know that no matter what the defense gives me, I’ll be able to make an aggressive move, have a shot or find my teammates,” Stewart said. “It’s the luxury of playing with other amazing players and smart players. I have the confidence of when I’m on the court, I want to dominate and that’s just the way it is.”
Stewart’s dominance looks like 32 points on 12-for-22 shooting and 11 rebounds for her first double-double performance of the year.
The 6-foot-4 Storm forward stole the show in an entertaining showcase that included an array of improbable three-pointers from Jewell Loyd and Arike Ogunbowale as well as Awak Kuier flushing the first dunk of the WNBA season.
But Stewart saved her best for the end when Seattle lost control of the game.
The Storm were up 66-54 with 1:26 left in the third quarter and had a 66-59 lead to start the fourth.
However, Dallas outscored Seattle 29-23 in the fourth — it’s the 10th time the Storm have been outscored in the final frame.
Ogunbowale gave the Wings their first lead (74-73) with 5:18 left, and Seattle trailed 85-83 in the final minute when Stewart took over.
During a timeout, Quinn drew up a play for Stewart, who drove hard to her left, absorbed contact from Allisha Gray before pulling up for a short jumper that rattled in despite being fouled. Stewart hit the free throw, which put Seattle up 86-85.
On the next possession, Briann January stole the ball and hit one of two free throws for an 87-85 Storm lead.
At the other end, Ogunbowale answered with a layup and free throw, putting Dallas was on top 88-87 with 12.7 seconds left.
Quinn went back to Stewart, who was 0 for 16 with a chance to win the game in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime.
“She’s the best player in the world,” Quinn said. “I continue to say that. I live and die with getting her the ball. Obviously, there’s feel of the game and seeing where we are and seeing who’s hot in those moments. I’m not saying that anyone else can’t make those plays. But at the end of the day … why not give her a chance to win the game for us?”
Stewart caught the ball inside, drew a foul and hit both free throws to put Seattle on top by one.
However, Dallas still had 6.7 seconds and Ogunbowale, who has a propensity for draining last-second game-winning shots.
“We wanted to contest shots,” said Loyd, who finished with 18 points, five assists and four rebounds. “We know she’s going to get them up. We wanted to be in her space as much as possible. Our scheme was to make it tough. She’s a great scorer. She makes tough shots.”
Ogunbowale, who had a team-high 23 points on 6-for-17 shooting, raced down the court and fired up a 24-foot three-point attempt that rattled out of the rim as time expired.
“That reminded me of Everett,” Quinn said, noting that she hit a game-winning three-pointer with 0.7 seconds left that beat the Storm 68-67 last year. “Same exact side of the floor. It just rimmed out. She had a great look. In those situations don’t want to foul. Bri denying her and making it tough for her. I thought for sure she was going to hit that.”
Ezi Magbegor tallied 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks while Gabby Williams finished with a career-high nine assists, which tied the most this season for a Storm player.
Seattle (7-5) faces Dallas (6-6) in a 1 p.m. Sunday rematch for the second game in a five-game road trip.
“To pull out a gutsy win on the road that matters, especially in this league,” Quinn said. “It’s a moral victory that ended in a win because of what we battled through. The lead going down. Coming down and hitting big shots. Executing defensively and making sure we’re sharp offensively. No matter how it looked, we pulled it out and we stayed together. We found ways to get stops. We found ways to execute on offense. That’s a sign of a team getting better.
“Our goal is to peak at the right point to where we’re playing some good basketball down the road. I’m happy about that, but not content with where we are. We have a lot of growing to do, but it was a lot of positives tonight.”
— Kuier made WNBA history in the first quarter when she threw down her first career dunk. The 6-foot-5 center is the eighth player in WNBA history with a dunk and the first this season. There have been 29 dunks in league history, including 20 from Brittney Griner.
With 4:11 left in the first quarter, Kuier stole a pass from Sue Bird and raced down the court ahead of Stewart and flushed the ball.
— Stewart is second behind Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson in the early returns of fan voting for the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game. Wilson leads the league with 21,688 votes and Stewart has 20,866.
Seattle had three players among the top 10 of fan voting, including Sue Bird (ninth, 9,299) and Jewell Loyd (10th, 9,268). Fan voting represents 50% of the total vote, with current players and media accounting for 25% each. Voters can select up to four guards and six frontcourt players for their ballots.
The 10 All-Star starters will be announced June 22 and WNBA coaches will select 12 reserves, who will be announced June 28. The two players with the most fan votes will serve as team captains and select their respective rosters July 2.
The 2022 WNBA All-Star Game is July 10 at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena.