EVERETT – Sue Bird didn’t hesitate.
The WNBA’s all-time assists leader is the consummate playmaker who normally looks to create scoring opportunities for her All-Star teammates.
But perhaps sensing the Storm needed something more on Tuesday night, Bird buried several early three-pointers – including three during a pivotal first-quarter stretch – that helped begin a deluge of long-distance daggers, which overwhelmed the Washington Mystics in a 105-71 victory at Angel of the Winds Arena.
“When she’s aggressive teams have to honor that,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “She’s an absolute shot-maker in this league. It’s good to see the ball go through the hoop for her. When Sue is aggressive and she’s flowing and hitting shots, we’re a more dynamic team in that way.”
It was the type of dominating performance Seattle hasn’t often exhibited since stumbling to a 3-5 record following the Olympic break and falling from first to fourth in the WNBA standings.
But for a night, the Storm looked like a team that put its troubles behind it and is gearing up to defend its WNBA title.
“If I were to describe the last 2-3 weeks, this team has been kind of going through it, kind of in the mud a little bit,” Bird said. “Had some tough losses. We’ve all been waiting for the day when we get over the hump. I don’t know what to attribute it to. Maybe it’s the time at home (and) being able to rest (and) being able to recover from the last couple of weeks for myself, having the Olympics and then coming right back into the season.
“Sometimes I even forget that I’m 40 years old. Whatever it was, we were all kind of waiting to get over the hump. Today it just felt like the energy was a little different. Sometimes you have to go through that as a team. Individually and collectively, you’ve got to go through a little adversity to come out on the other side and exhale. And today felt like a big exhale.”
Quinn and Bird said the Storm regained its identity, which was evident via a manic defensive attack that held Washington to 39.3% field-goal shooting, including 9 of 33 on three-pointers.
The key to stopping the Mystics began with Tina Charles and Seattle smothered and harassed the eight-time WNBA All-Star in the post with double teams, which limited her to just four points – 20 fewer than her league-leading scoring average – on 1-for-6 shooting and three turnovers.
“We know what she did the last time we played here in Seattle,” Quinn said about Charles, who scored 34 points against Seattle during an 87-83 Washington win on June 22. “She got rolling. With a player like that, it’s important to crowd her, smother her and sandwich her early. … She had to be a passer and a facilitator. We were locked into that. Getting to her early. Taking her out of popping threes and very aggressive with her within her sweet spots.”
This time, the Storm delivered a defensive masterpiece while forcing 19 Washington turnovers and converting those miscues into 25 points.
On the offensive end, Seattle was nearly flawless and at one point tallied 22 assists on 29 field goals. Seattle finished with 28 assists in a showcase that included a season-high tying 14 three-pointers.
Among the Storm’s highlights:
— Jewell Loyd dished to Ezi Magbegor for an alley-oop layup.
— Katie Lou Samuelson dropped a three despite being knocked to the court and converted a four-point play.
— Bird made all four of her three-point attempts for 14 points and seven assists.
— Loyd stole the ball from Natasha Cloud in the open court, but missed a fast-break layup at the other end under heavy duress. Seconds later, Loyd drove hard to the rim once again, scored a layup in traffic, pumped her fist and screamed with joy. The Storm guard, who had struggled offensively in the previous three games, finished with a game-high 20 points.
“I don’t think anybody did anything special,” Bird said. “We had a different energy about us and usually in basketball, good things happen when you have that kind of energy.”
After falling behind 3-0, Seattle fueled a 20-3 run, which included 14 straight points, with five turnovers, which it converted into four three-pointers for a 14-3 lead midway in the first quarter. Stewart and Loyd drilled shots from downtown while Bird nailed three deep shots from the corner, including a 25-footer that put Seattle up 20-6.
“We just really got going defensively,” said Samuelson, who finished with 13 points. “When we get going with our defense, it leads into easy buckets for us. That’s the way we like to play.”
Seattle, which led 33-23 after the first quarter, extended its lead to 19 points (52-33) before going into halftime ahead 54-39.
The Storm converted 10 three-pointers in the first half, which tied a franchise record for the most threes before the break.
In the second half, it was more of the same from Seattle, which outscored Washington 28-16 in the third quarter and 23-16 in the fourth.
The 34-point win was the 10th largest margin of victory in Storm history.
Shavonte Zellous led Washington (10-18) with 17 points while Ariel Atkins had 13 and Megan Gustafson 12. It was the Mystics’ most lopsided defeat since 2008.
Magbegor tallied 15 points and Russell had 11 for Seattle (20-10), which moved into third place in the standings behind Connecticut (22-6) and Las Vegas (20-8).
With two games remaining, the Storm leads fourth-place Minnesota (18-9) by a half-game and is a game ahead of Phoenix (18-10).
“Very tight race,” Quinn said. “I’m very aware of where we are and very aware of where other teams are, but I can’t really worry about anything but taking care of us and taking care of our business. That’s been our mindset and our motto. Just focus on the day and focus on taking care of ourselves so that we’re not relying on other people to win or lose.”
— Forward Breanna Stewart, who scored nine points, left the game in the third quarter with a left-foot injury and did not return. Quinn did not immediately have an update on her availability for Sunday’s game at Los Angeles.