When asked what’s the one must-have item she brought to the WNBA’s bubble, Jewell Loyd spoke at length about the hyperbaric chamber she had shipped to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“It’s pure oxygen, and it just helps with recovery, not just with your body but with your mind,” the Storm guard said during a Zoom teleconference. “With the amount of games we’re going to be playing, getting through this season as healthy as you can is going to be key.”
Two weeks into the WNBA’s crammed 22-game regular-season schedule, the Storm is sitting at the top of the league standings with a 6-1 record after its fourth consecutive win, a 74-68 victory over the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday.
The Storm’s near-perfect start is a testament to its superior talent and depth that has allowed it to overcome the absence of point guard Sue Bird, who missed her fourth consecutive game because of a bruised knee.
On a day when the league’s flurry of games appeared to sap the energy and will of players on both teams, Loyd zipped effortlessly around the court for an efficient 6-for-14 shooting performance.
The two-time WNBA All-Star guard canned a career-high tying five three-pointers while scoring 20 points in her second consecutive outing.
“I try to just play free as much as possible,” said Loyd, who also had four rebounds and two steals. “Every game I try to get better with my reads and seeing what the defense is giving me. I’m just trying to stay active. When I’m active that’s when I’m at my best.”
The ABC commentators dubbed Loyd “The Phoenix Mercury killer,” which is fitting considering she’s tallied her five highest-scoring outings (33, 32, 30, 29 and 29 points) against the Western Conference rival.
“Maybe it’s matchups,” said Loyd, who acknowledged she gets motivated going against Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer. “Some of that is probably playing against DT. The best way to respect a GOAT like that is to give your full and best effort all the time, so that’s what I try to do.”
“Really, I just try to do whatever my teammates need me to do to secure the win.”
With Breanna Stewart, an early MVP candidate, stifled early by harassing double teams and tallying just four of her 15 points in the first half, the Storm needed scoring from Loyd and Alysha Clark, who scored 10 of her 11 points before the break.
With Loyd and Clark combining for seven three-pointers, the Storm overcame a season-high 19 turnovers while connecting on 12 of 24 shots behind the arc.
“We felt this was a team if we moved them around with a lot of screening we were going to be to loose,” Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “Jewell did a really good job with that and just got into the open areas with her shot.”
The Storm led 42-23 at halftime and had an 18-point lead to start the fourth, but for the second consecutive game the Storm struggled to put away an overmatched opponent.
On Thursday, the Atlanta Dream erased a 17-point deficit before falling 93-92 to the Storm in the final minutes.
This time, the Storm led 62-44 at the start of the fourth and appeared to be cruising to a blowout when Taurasi (14 points, six rebounds and five assists) left early in the period with an apparent back injury.
The Mercury cut its deficit to 70-66 with 26 seconds remaining before the Storm secured the win with four consecutive free throws.
Brittney Griner had 20 points and eight rebounds while Skylar Diggins-Smith finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists for Phoenix, which had its four-game winning streak snapped and fell to 4-3.
“In the second half we tend to have a lull … and allow teams to come back,” said Jordin Canada, who finished with nine points and a season-high 10 assists. “We’re very lackadaisical. We come out a little bit sluggish, and we’ve got to fix that.”
It was the third game of a 10-games-in-19-days stretch in which the Storm plays every other day. Seattle returns to the court Monday to face Chicago (5-2).
“We didn’t set out to be No. 1 at this point, we just wanted to make sure that every game we were getting better and putting ourselves in position to win,” Clark said. “We’ve been able to do that so far. This stretch that we’re in right now … is going to be tough. Finding ways to win is important and we’re hoping we can keep that going.”