The Storm were 12 minutes away from what would have been their most impressive performance of the season and that final definitive statement win cementing them as WNBA championship contenders with the start of the playoffs just days away.
The Storm had a 10-point lead on the league-leading Las Vegas Aces in a thrilling game highlighted by pendulum-swinging momentum shifts and offensive fireworks.
Jewell Loyd, who poured in a personal-best 38 points, had never been better, Breanna Stewart (21 points and 15 rebounds) looked every bit like a WNBA MVP and the Storm concluded their three-game road trip with another sensational scoring performance that included a league-record tying 18 three-pointers.
But in a mesmerizing span of two minutes at the end of third quarter, Las Vegas scored 12 consecutive points to turn a 10-point deficit into a two-point lead and the Storm faded in the final minutes because of self-inflicting mistakes that led to a 109-100 defeat in the regular-season finale.
“I thought it was a fun game,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “We learned a lot today being up on road. Obviously, the resiliency that Vegas showed. They’re a tough team. We know that.
“We had great contributions all over, especially from Jewell. Big boards from Stewie. But we got to take care of the ball. Eighteen turnovers and 33 points off of those is way too many. But I liked the energy in the building and energy of our team. I thought it was a great game for women’s basketball.”
Loyd added: “Tonight, was a great performance by both teams honestly. … Tonight, was fun. As a fan you enjoyed it because it was back and forth. As a competitor playing in it, it was a good game for both teams to get ready for the playoffs.”
The Storm were down by 11 points in the first quarter and trailed 29-19 before taking control with a 15-point run. Epiphanny Prince capped the spurt with a three-pointer for a 34-29 lead early in the second quarter.
The Storm went up 12 points (48-36) when Las Vegas regained momentum and finished the first half with a 14-2 run to cut its deficit to 51-50 at the break.
Briann January, who scored 11 points in her second straight outing, canned a three-pointer that gave the Storm a 76-66 lead with 1:58 left in the third.
Then everything changed for the Storm.
Las Vegas guard Chelsea Gray began the definitive spurt with a midrange jumper followed by baskets from Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson. With time expiring in the third quarter, Gray swiped a steal from January, eluded the Storm guard and pulled up for a buzzer-beating three-pointer that gave the Aces a 78-76 lead.
“The turnovers, the live ball ones, you can’t have them,” Quinn said when asked what contributed to the momentum shift. “At least if we’re going to turn the ball over, then they have to take it out from the side, so we can set our defense. Careless with the ball and not being poised. We got to eliminate those.”
The Storm rotated several players to stop Gray and no one could slow her down. She connected on 10 of 15 field goals and was 11 of 11 at the free-throw line for a career-high 33 points and nine assists.
“She’s a top point guard in this league, and we all know that,” Loyd said. “To be honest, there’s not very many elite point guards in the world and she’s up there behind Sue (Bird). She’s incredible. She’s such a great person. She loves the game. Her IQ. I love playing with her on the USA team. … You just watch her sometimes. She’s a tremendous player.”
Despite a free-throw disparity — the Storm connected on 6 of 7 and Las Vegas 20 of 24 — and Gray’s 16 points in the fourth quarter, the Storm still had their chances and led 91-90 with 4:39 left.
Plum, the former Washington Huskies star, put Las Vegas up for good with a reverse layup on the next possession for two of her 23 points.
Minutes later, Wilson brought the sold-out crowd of 10,015 at Michelob Ultra Arena that included NBA stars Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Trae Young and Kyle Lowry on their feet with a block on Stewart’s layup attempt.
Wilson’s denial sparked a Las Vegas fast break that ended with Plum draining a dagger three-pointer for a 101-95 lead with 58.8 seconds remaining.
It was a seminal play for Wilson (25 points and 10 rebounds) who is competing with Stewart for WNBA MVP honors.
The Aces won the regular-season series against the Storm 3-1 and improved to 5-1 versus Seattle in home games since moving to Las Vegas in 2018.
More importantly, the Aces (26-10) secured the No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Storm (22-14) are the No. 4 seed and will host No. 5 seed Washington Mystics in the first round of playoffs. Game 1 in the best-of-three series is Thursday at Climate Pledge Arena.
“We definitely wanted to play at home,” Loyd said. “We wanted to make sure we play in front of our fans. Any advantage is a plus in the playoffs. Being at home to start gives us energy and it gives us a push.”
- Adding to her career accomplishments, Sue Bird hit her 1,000th three-pointer in the game. The only other player in WNBA history to do that is Diana Taurasi.
- The Las Vegas Aces honored Bird in her final regular-season game and gave the Storm guard a black leather jacket.