Jewell Loyd has had two-game stretches where she’s scored more points, but considering the stakes, the sixth-year veteran has never played better than she has this week.
“I’m just trying to stay present, efficient and poised,” Loyd said during a Zoom call after leading the No. 2 seed Storm to an 89-79 victory against No. 4 Minnesota in Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals on Thursday night in Bradenton, Florida. “I’m taking what the defense gives me.”
“My teammates are running great stuff, setting great screens. And I’m just trying not to do too much. With this team, you don’t have to overthink, overpass or overdribble. The ball will find you if you’re moving. I’ve just got to do the early work and be able to shoot.”
Loyd followed Tuesday’s remarkably efficient display in Game 1 when she drained 8 of 9 shots, including 4 of 5 three-pointers for 25 points with another scintillating performance two days later.
The 5-foot-10 shooting guard led Seattle with 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting while canning 4 of 6 three-pointers.
Loyd’s playoffs statistics look like a misprint. She’s shooting 73.7% from the field (14 of 19) and 72.7% behind the arc (8 of 11) while averaging 22.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks.
“She’s really in a zone right now,” Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “This year she was pretty consistent. I can only think of a couple of games where she’s struggled. She’s really stepping up in the playoffs.
“She’s a big-game type of player. She’s a clutch player. I think she’s really rising to the occasion. We’re trying to do a lot of stuff move her around on screens and we’re trying to work to get her open. … We need her. We need everything we can get from everybody, and she’s really excelled in the playoffs so far.”
In the past eight games, Loyd is shooting 61.2% from the field and 54.4% on three-pointers while averaging 21 points.
“I’ve seen a difference in Jewell,” said Storm forward Natasha Howard, who had 11 points and seven rebounds. “Her mindset is totally different. She’s locked in and ready to go. She’s not overthinking and letting the game come to her.”
Breanna Stewart added: “She’s staying patient. It might not be the first quarter or the second quarter, but eventually she’s going to create a run for herself and for us.”
On Thursday, the Loyd waited until the second quarter before taking over after the Storm fell behind 33-32.
With Napheesa Collier (12 points) on the bench in foul trouble, the Lynx went scoreless for final 5½ minutes before the break. During Minnesota’s drought, Seattle went on a 14-0 run, including 12 points from Loyd, to go ahead 46-33 at halftime.
The Storm stretched its lead to 21 points after Loyd drained a three-pointer to go ahead 62-41 with 5:15 left in the third.
But then, it was Seattle’s turn to go cold and Minnesota finished the quarter with a 21-6 spurt to trim its deficit to 68-62 heading into the fourth.
“We had a good run there early in the third, and we got going pretty good,” Kloppenburg said. “I thought we relaxed a little bit there with that lead and you can’t do that with a team like this that shoots the that well.
“It’s a lesson learned for us moving on. You can’t have lapses when you get a lead you really want to put the hammer down. We kind of lost our focus a little bit, but we regrouped.”
The Storm began the final frame with an 8-2 run to go up 76-64 following Sami Whitcomb’s three-pointer from the wing and Minnesota never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.
The Storm shot 50.8% from the field and outscored the Lynx 21-5 in bench production.
Minnesota made it interesting for awhile thanks to 13 of 28 three-pointers, a game-high 23 points from Damiris Dantas and 18 from Odyssey Sims.
However, defensive stalwart Alysha Clark (13 points) held Crystal Dangerfield in check once again and the Rookie of the Year had 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting.
“Offensively, you’ve got to be really good when you play Seattle,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeves said. “Not only is their defense really good, but their offense is really good. They’ve got a ton of shot-makers. You’ve got to go toe to toe with them offensively, and we didn’t get that done.”
The Storm, which has won eight straight games against Minnesota, pushed the Lynx to the brink of extinction on a night when two of its biggest stars had subpar performances.
Stewart finished with 17 points, but was 0 for 7 on three-pointers while Sue Bird was 1 for 6 from downtown with seven points and four turnovers.
“The bright side of that is we scored 89 when two of our top players really didn’t have that good of an offensive game,” Kloppenburg said noting Stewart and Bird had a 12-day layoff before the playoffs due to nagging injuries. “I thought their wind was better tonight, but they’re still getting back into playing mode.
“To be able to be up 2-0 with the situation that we’ve gone through is tremendous for us.”
Since the WNBA adopted its current playoff format in 2016, 13 teams have taken a 2-0 in a best-of-five series and each has advanced.
“We still feel like we’re not playing at our best,” said Loyd, who lamented her five turnovers. “We got the win, but we still think we can improve on the defensive end. There’s another level of what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Three Storm players received a vote in the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year award balloting. Alysha Clark finished second with 11 votes followed by Breanna Stewart (three) and Natasha Howard (one), who won the award last year.
Los Angeles forward/center Candace Parker claimed this year’s WNBA DPOY honors with 16 votes from a national panel of 47 sportswriters and broadcasters.
“I’m really happy for our players, it’s a testament to their work on the defensive end,” Kloppenburg said. “We were in a lot of categories the No. 1 defensive team because of our entire team, but those three really contributed a great deal to that.”