With 5.9 seconds on the clock in overtime and the Seattle Storm down two points with no timeouts, Jewell Loyd received the ball near the halfcourt line.
She drove right, hesitating near the three-point line, before lowering her shoulder and turning the corner against the Chicago Sky’s Diamond DeShields. It looked like she had a free layup, a chance to re-tie the game and send it to double overtime.
“I had the three, probably should have took it,” she said. “I think I’m better at game winners instead of tying games, so that’s on me.”
Loyd’s layup was too strong, and rimmed out, giving Chicago the 87-85 win against a depleted Storm squad missing both Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, who were given a rest following their return from the Tokyo Olympics. It’s just Seattle’s sixth loss of the season, as Loyd, who also won a gold medal with Team USA, led the Storm to overtime against the second best team in the Eastern conference.
“There were a lot of positives,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “We outrebounded them, we kept our turnovers low, we were at the free-throw line and had the ability to win the game, or were in the position to win the game, and we’ll take that on the road, without two of our best players.”
Playing in her home state of Illinois, with friends and family at the arena, Loyd stepped up early as the team’s main outlet on offense, hitting three of her first five shots. Loyd’s defense also showed up early, as she snatched three steals in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Loyd and the Storm’s hot hand didn’t carry over to the second quarter though. They struggled to score, and a 12-4 Sky run to start the period gave Chicago a 35-32 lead entering the break. Loyd also lost her shooting touch, going 0 of 8 from the field after her hot start, and picked up two quick fouls just before the half ended.
She wasn’t the only Storm player having a hard time on offense. Seattle’s second unit scored five points in the first half, while guard Allie Quigley and center Stefanie Dolson combined for 16 points off the Sky bench. Seattle’s eight-point second quarter is its lowest scoring total for a period all season, at one point missing 10 consecutive shots.
Even with the Storm’s less than stellar offense, the team did just enough to hang around for most of the third. Loyd finally hit a shot from the floor, began generating points by driving to the rim and taking trips to the free-throw line, where she was 10 of 11. A 7-0 run with two minutes left in the third quarter, started by an Epiphanny Prince three and capped with a turnaround jumper from Ezi Magbegor, put Seattle up 51-48, a lead it would take into the end of the third quarter.
Magbegor finding her stroke was a big part of the team’s push in the third quarter, and the Australian forward finished the game as Seattle’s second-leading scorer with 21 points, a new career best, and adding nine rebounds. Quinn praised her energy, effort on defense and ability to run the floor among other things.
“She’s a quiet spirit but in games like this her voice is big because she has important things to say,” Quinn said. “I think her game was big today, she was just solid for us in all areas, she was locked into the scheme. … We’re seeing Ezi’s evolution, and there’s so much more in store for her.”
Prince also contributed, dropping 13 points, seven rebounds, and four assists after getting the start in Stewart’s absence. Point guard Jordin Canada also put up nine points, and center Mercedes Russell had an expanded role, scoring 10 points, hitting clutch free throws and a floater in the final two minutes of regulation, grabbing 11 rebounds and setting a new career high in assists with seven.
But the Storm was always going to go as Loyd did. The star shooting guard finished the night with a season-high 26 points on 7-of-30 shooting, with five rebounds, an assist and five steals. Magbegor said even when Loyd isn’t hitting shots at her optimal efficiency, there’s no one else the team wants to give the ball in crunch time.
“We have a lot of confidence in her,” Magbegor said. “She’s a big shot maker, she creates a lot of shots for us as well. So when the ball is in her hands, we trust her 100%.”
The Storm maintained its lead late into the fourth quarter, but more clutch shooting from Quigley and some late points in the paint from Candace Parker helped the Sky rally with just under two minutes left in regulation. Two missed free throws from Canada might have won the game, but she redeemed herself with good defense on Quigley to prevent the game winner, sending it to overtime, and eventually Loyd’s missed layup.
“This isn’t the playoffs yet,” Loyd said. “We have time to build and get better. This is all helping us get better to be ready for the playoffs. We want these games early on so we can understand how we can get better and how we can grow.”
The Storm’s road trip continues Wednesday, when it heads east to take on the New York Liberty at the Barclays Center for a 4 p.m. tipoff.