During a brilliant performance Sunday afternoon, Breanna Stewart proved once again why she’s arguably the greatest female basketball player on the planet and probably not the person you want taking a last-second shot to win a game.
The 6-foot-4 superstar poured in 35 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three blocks. It was the fourth time in WNBA history a player has tallied those marks in a game and the second time this season for Stewart.
“Whatever my stat line was, it obviously wasn’t enough,” said Stewart, after the Storm’s 95-92 overtime loss in the final regular-season game against host Las Vegas.
This was Stewart at her spectacular best in a Sin City showcase between the top two teams in the WNBA standings.
In a battle of WNBA MVP candidates, she converted 14 of 26 shots, including four three-pointers, and was simply unstoppable while outplaying the reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Stewart nearly did it all for the Storm in front of a raucous crowd of 3,766 at Michelob Ultra Arena that created what she described as “a playoff atmosphere.”
“It was loud in there,” she said. “That’s what you want as a player. You want those games where it’s loud and tough to hear. Adrenaline is rushing.”
Stewart, who also had two steals, lives for these games and at one point, she engaged in a playful exchange with a courtside fan.
“It’s actually really nice to have courtside fans just because you miss that jawing back and forth,” she said. “You miss the engagement. The guy said I stepped out bounds on my three. When it went in, I just had to turn around and look at him.”
The Storm, which took the lead late in the first quarter, led by nine points (55-46) late in the third.
Seattle was ahead 69-62 early in the fourth when Las Vegas went on a 13-5 run to go up 75-74 with 5:47 remaining.
From there, neither team led by more than three points. There were also nine lead changes and the score was tied six times the rest of the way.
“I definitely knew it was going to be a battle,” said center Mercedes Russell, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. “It was obviously back and forth in the second half, which we expected. It came down to the last few minutes.”
Stewart had a couple of chances to be the hero and win the game in regulation.
Tied 84-84, she missed a 15-footer jumper over Kelsey Plum, the former Washington Huskies star, with 2.1 seconds left.
The Storm retained possession and had just 0.5 seconds for another attempt. However, Stewart’s hurried 9-foot jumper hit the bottom of the rim as time expired in regulation.
“Honestly, I thought there was a lot of contact on the one that Stewie had,” coach Noelle Quinn said referring to Stewart’s shot over Plum. “Again, a good look, close to the basket and the best player in the world who was cooking got a very good look at it.
“The same with the last attempt. With the amount of time that we had, we had two options with Jewell coming off and also Stewie at the rim as well. Sometimes it comes down to makes and misses. The execution was there, but just couldn’t buy a bucket in that juncture of the game.”
It was the second straight game Stewart failed to deliver in the final seconds, including a missed 8-footer with 7.6 seconds left in Tuesday’s 87-83 loss to Washington.
During her five-year career, Stewart is 0 for 13 when given a chance to win or tie a game in the final 10 seconds.
“We had them,” she said. “Even at the end, there were opportunities where we just needed one stop or something like that. Obviously, credit to them. They made plays. In the fourth I felt like we were getting into a good rhythm and a place where we wanted to be, but they’re going to make plays too and we know that.”
Last-second shortcomings plagued the Storm in overtime and proved to be the difference in the game.
In the extra period, Stewart canned two free throws to put the Storm up 92-91 with 21.4 seconds left.
Before the ensuing possession, Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer drew up a play on the sideline and directed Wilson to set a screen for Chelsea Gray, which would isolate her against Stewart.
At the other end of the court, the ESPN broadcast captured Quinn telling the Storm to switch defensively on the pick-n-roll. “We haven’t done it all game,” she said.
Gray, who scored 15 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, came off the screen and eluded Stewart with a crossover dribble before draining a mid-range jumper that gave the Aces a 93-92 lead with 10.6 seconds left.
After a Seattle timeout, Sue Bird curled around a Stewart screen for a good look at the basket and launched a 28-foot jumper that hit the of the rim and bounced away.
It was a curious decision considering the Storm needed two points to win and Bird struggled shooting outside while finishing 1 for 8 from long range and 3 for 11 from the field for seven points.
“The last possession was getting our three best players in action and leaving it up to a great playmaker to decide what was open,” Quinn said. “It was a deep three, but we got them to switch on our action. It was up to our playmaker to decide what was open there.”
Jewell Loyd scored 11 points on 5-for-17 shooting and five assists for the Storm, which dropped to 12-4 and lost consecutive games for the first time this season.
Meanwhile, Las Vegas (11-4) won the regular-season series 2-1 against Seattle, which could prove to be pivotal in playoff seedings or determine home-court advantage if the teams meet for a second straight year in the WNBA Finals.
Plum added 15 points off the bench for the Aces while Jackie Young and Riquana Williams each had 12.
“The takeaways from this game is I need to continue to be aggressive and continue to be ready for all those shots that I’m given,” Stewart said. “That’s the thing going forward. With our team we feel that we can still get so much better.
“So we’ll take the loss. We’ll take it on the chin. We’ll go back to Seattle and continue to get better. … It’s going to be really important to see how we finish this little stretch before the Olympic break and also carry that momentum post-Olympic break.”
The Storm has five games remaining before the WNBA’s five-week Olympic break starting with Friday’s home contest against Atlanta.