Down two points with 0.8 seconds left, Jewell Loyd wasn’t thinking about her 1-for-6 three-point shooting in the game.
Instead, the Storm star lamented a blown layup and missed putback beneath the basket seconds early that pushed the Storm to the precipice of a heartbreaking defeat.
Still, Sue Bird told her: “You’ll get another shot at it. Stay focused.”
Loyd got another shot and delivered one of the biggest baskets in franchise history, a contested three-pointer from the corner that rattled in the rim as time expired for an improbable 90-89 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks in Bradenton, Fla.
“I knew it was good,” Loyd said during a postgame Zoom call. “I practice those shots all the time. … I knew once it left my hands it looked good. My teammates were already yelling. It felt good and I’m glad I hit the shot.”
Coming out of its final timeout, the Storm talked on the sideline about OG Anunoby’s game-winner with 0.5 seconds left that gave the Toronto Raptors a 103-101 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of their NBA playoff series on Thursday night.
“We were saying, we’re going to be like Toronto,” Loyd said. “We have a lot of time. We’re good. We’re going to get a shot off and we’re going to win the game.”
Loyd had a marvelous performance and finished with a team-high 25 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals.
However, she wasn’t the first option on the Storm’s last possession.
Assistant coach Noelle Quinn designed a play for Breanna Stewart at the rim. But the Sparks smothered Stewart, which forced Bird (10 points and seven assists) to fire a perfect pass to Loyd who was racing to the corner.
“I was cutting, but I wasn’t open,” said Stewart who finished with 20 points, a career-high tying nine assists and eight rebounds. “It was a quick pass to Jewell and she made it. That was it. I saw the ball go right through the basket.
“Credit to her. She’s obviously an amazing player and she stepped up big for us tonight.”
And speaking of steps, Loyd tippy-toed along the sideline and kept her right foot hovering above the black stripe before raising over Brittney Sykes’ outstretched arms and dropping the decisive dagger.
The referees reviewed the play to see if Loyd got it off in time and replays showed her heel might have been out of bounds. However, the shot was ruled good, which sparked a celebration on the Storm sideline.
“I gave it my best contest,” Sykes said. “Whether the refs saw her foot out of bounds or not, it’s a tough one. We just got to chuck that one up to the basketball Gods and get them later on in the playoffs.”
The Storm (15-3) stretched its winning streak to four in a row and has a 1 1/2-game lead for first place in the standings with four regular-season games left.
The Sparks (13-5) missed a chance to tie Seattle for first and fell into a third-place tie with Minnesota behind Las Vegas (13-4). The top two seeds receive a double bye and a spot in the WNBA semifinals.
“This was a playoff game,” Loyd said. “You have two really good teams trying to get into a rhythm before going into the playoffs. Every time we play LA it’s always a really good game.
“It’s what you want to see. You want to see competition throughout the game. You don’t want to see constant blowouts. … Both teams were playing really hard. That’s what you watch sports for, the excitement all the way down to the buzzer.”
This one had the look and feel of a playoffs preview, which is appropriate considering the WNBA postseason begins in 10 days and the Storm and Los Angeles are two of the top championship contenders.
Seattle overcame a ragged start and traded baskets with the Sparks in the final 15 minutes in a game that included 15 lead changes after the break.
Behind 17 first-half points from Candace Parker, who finished with a game-high 25 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals, Los Angeles dominated early and seized a 13-point lead midway in the second.
Parker’s three-pointer gave the Sparks a 42-29 lead with 4:37 left before the break.
However, Seattle went on a 16-7 run to cut its deficit to 49-45 at halftime.
The Storm kept the momentum and Stewart’s driving layup capped a 24-10 run for a 53-52 lead. It was Seattle’s first lead since the opening minute.
“Obviously, the first half we got off to slow start,” Stewart said. “The second half we came back and we jumped on them a little bit. And then from midway in the third quarter through the fourth we were trading baskets.
“It was a playoff-type of a game. … We made some big plays down the stretch as did they. But we made more.”
Despite the absence of WNBA All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles kept pace with Seattle until the end.
Neither team led by more than four points in a wild, back-and-forth fourth period that included a handful of clutch baskets. The Storm appeared to give the game away in the final minute with several unforced errors.
Ahead 86-85, Loyd missed two shots and Natasha Howard (13 points and seven rebounds) fired a pass out of bounds before committing a foul that sent Chelsea Gray (18 points) to the line where she split a pair of free throws with 20.8 seconds left.
Stewart sank a driving layup on the ensuing possession to tie the game with 14 seconds remaining.
However at the other end, Riquna Williams slipped behind the Storm defense for a layup before being fouled by Stewart. The Sparks guard sank both free throws with 0.8 seconds left that put LA up 89-87 and set up the dramatic finish.
In hindsight, the Sparks second-guessed whether it would have been prudent for Williams to intentionally miss the second free throw and try to kill the clock even though Seattle had a timeout.
“Definitely something to keep in mind the next time we’re in that type of situation,” said Los Angeles coach Derek Fisher, who wasn’t sure the referees reviewed if Loyd stepped out of out bounds on the final play.
“We had our chances,” he said. “If you don’t grab a game and win, then you leave yourself in position to possibly lose it. Human error is a part of it. Whether they got it right or wrong, we had the opportunity to finish this game out and we didn’t.”
Parker added: “They hit a contested falling out-out-bounds shot. That’s all you can ask for.”
Friday’s rematch – Seattle won the first meeting against Los Angeles 81-75 on Aug. 1 – gives the Storm a 3-1 record against the WNBA’s next top three teams.
“Looking at the rest of our schedule, they’re all playoff-type games,” Stewart said noting Seattle plays Minnesota on Sunday. “All of these teams are vying for spots in the playoffs and figuring out where they’re going to finish standing wise.
“We’re focused on one game at a time knowing each one is going to be a battle that’s going to get us ready for when we do start the playoffs.”
— Backup point guard Jordin Canada missed her first game of the season due to a right knee injury.