Before the start of the WNBA postseason, Jewell Loyd spent considerable time reflecting on her previous playoff performance, which was a bittersweet moment.
On the biggest stage of her professional career, the Storm star couldn’t shake free from a shooting slump that dogged her in playoff battles against the Phoenix Mercury and Washington Mystics.
Personally, she wrestled with self-doubt and insecurities while simultaneously enjoying Seattle’s run to a 2018 WNBA championship.
“I was just so nervous to where I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t want to screw this up,’ ” Loyd said. “Winning a (WNBA) title has always been my biggest goal, and it got real to me.
“I never got comfortable. I think I played two good games the entire playoffs. … You try not to be nervous and you try to be solid when you get there, but then you realize what’s at stake, and different emotions take over. That’s the first time I’ve ever felt that way.”
Fast-forward one year to Wednesday’s first-round playoff game between No. 6 seed Seattle and No. 7 Minnesota. In a win-or-go-home scenario, Loyd leaned on her past postseason foibles and didn’t leave anything to chance.
The two-time All-Star guard came out firing and connected on her first four shots, including three three-pointers, to give Seattle an 18-9 lead midway in the first quarter. Loyd never cooled down and finished with 22 points in an 84-74 victory that sends the Storm to No. 3 Los Angeles for a single-elimination quarterfinal matchup at noon Sunday.
“When she gets going, we know we’re going to have a great night,” said Jordin Canada, who scored a game- and career-high 26 points. “Jewell is an amazing player, and to see her play loose and effortlessly and everything just comes to her, that’s when she’s at her best.”
It’s been a tumultuous season for Loyd, who began with 11 straight double-digit scoring games before suffering a right-ankle sprain and bone bruise that forced her to miss seven contests and sidelined her for nearly a month. Loyd’s comeback was anything but smooth while starting just two of the first six games since her return on July 19.
“I’ve been feeling really good lately,” said Loyd, who started the final seven games of the regular season while averaging 12.3 points and shooting 50 percent from field and 56 percent on three-pointers. “Even before the playoffs. It’s kind of like a calmness.”
The secret to Loyd’s serenity just might be an old television musical-comedy drama.
“She’s going to kill me for saying this, but Jewell is obsessed with the show ‘Glee,’ and she’s been watching it lately,” forward Alysha Clark said. “It might sound crazy, but that show has done wonders for her.”
Loyd doesn’t deny it.
“I’ve been watching ‘Glee’ and for whatever reason I’ve been feeling really good before games,” she said. “My mind has been off. … Maybe that’s keeping my mind off basketball and keeping me in a very chill mood. It feels good.”
Storm coach Dan Hughes called Loyd a perfectionist and has counseled the fifth-year veteran to be less critical of herself.
“I don’t think people realize how hard she is on herself,” Hughes said. “As I learn her personality, I appreciate the pursuit of perfection, but don’t let yourself get in the way of yourself.
“Between games, she’s usually good, but in games is when she can get down on herself. I tried a couple of strategies to get her back in the moment and be a little more graceful with herself because she expects a lot and she wants to give the team that. I like that, but along the way life is never perfect and you’ve got to go through some stuff.”
To win at Los Angeles, where Seattle is 0-2 this season (including an 102-68 defeat last week), the Storm will likely need another big performance from Loyd.
“We got to another level when Jewell is Jewell,” Hughes said. “There’s just a comfort factor when she’s leading us and she’s in rhythm. I just know good things are going to follow that. We had several of those pieces a year ago; now we have less of those pieces who offensively is going to give you something that everybody can rally around.”
Natasha Howard led the Storm with an 18.1 scoring average during the regular season, but Loyd is the team’s best one-on-one player who can score at the rim, in the midrange area and on the perimeter.
“In many ways, she’s like (Breanna Stewart) in that she can put stress on the defense in many ways,” Hughes said. “It’s her time of the year, and we’re going to look for her.
“She’s gone through a journey of really playing well, getting hurt and building back up. We just want to feature her in the playoffs here and see where that takes us.”
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