It looked like the Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne was going to make Seattle pay. 

Delle Donne, who made her first playoff appearance since her monumental role in Washington’s 2019 WNBA Championship, tied her season-high with 26 points on Thursday. Eleven of those came in the fourth quarter. Throughout Thursday night’s first round playoff game, it didn’t look like Seattle had many answers for her. 

That is, until the final moments, the ones that counted the most, when the Storm delivered a sequence of stops that helped them sneak away with an 86-83 win.

Jewell Loyd lets out a roar as the Storm get a big defensive stop to essentially take away a chance for the Mystics to win the game in the final minute of play of Game 1 of the WNBA Playoffs first round, Thursday, August 18, 2022 in Seattle. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Jewell Loyd hits big shot as Storm finally beat Mystics for Game 1 win

Delle Donne gave her team a three-point lead with a fadeaway jump shot inside the final two minutes, but then could only watch as the Storm got two crucial buckets and then got the two final two stops that counted.

“Very happy,” head coach Noelle Quinn said of the final defensive sequence. “[Natasha] Cloud got a little bit more aggressive on her jams with Delle Donne going downhill, and we needed to adjust to that. I thought that our team was very locked in and onto that adjustment.”


Jewell Loyd put Seattle in control in the final minutes after being virtually absent for most of the game, but it was Cloud’s turnover and Gabby Williams’ defense against Delle Donne afterward which allowed Seattle to squeak out the Game 1 victory.

“I thought that was really gritty and gutsy on our part,” head coach Noelle Quinn said. “We were just poised and focused.”

Cloud’s turnover didn’t decide the game, she told the media after the game. Neither did the ensuing 3-point look that Delle Donne was forced to heave over Williams. But despite the loss for the Mystics, Cloud still smiled and joked with Delle Donne throughout their postgame press conference, perhaps a sign of their confidence and the way they handled Seattle’s defense for most of Thursday’s game.

“For a majority of the game, we showed that we can win, it’s the little things down the stretch,” Cloud said.

Earlier in the game, Seattle’s defense was up-and-down. Williams posted three steals, and the Storm added four blocks, but the Storm had a number of blown defensive plays where Washington earned easy buckets. 

Cloud turned to her speed on multiple occasions, slicing right through the Storm’s defense for straightforward layups. Delle Donne elevated against Ezi Magbegor for a smooth, long 2-pointer late in the fourth quarter. The Mystics dealt with double-teams on Delle Donne by shifting her to the elbow and perimeter, head coach Mike Thibault said. At times, there was little the Storm could do. 


“You pray, you ask the lord ‘blow a wind and make that thing change directions,’” Quinn joked about how to stop Delle Donne.

Delle Donne missed the 2020 season due to a medical opt-out (chronic lyme disease) and almost the entire 2021 season with a back injury. But her return to the playoffs was reminiscent of her last playoff game against Seattle in 2018, a 23-point outing despite a series-ending loss.

“Sometimes you do, you think about living with Delle Donne going off and making sure you stay attached to the shooters and the other playmakers on the floor,” Quinn said. “It’s not about how you can stop her, it’s more so how can you continue to contain her and pick spots to be aggressive on her?”

Quinn praised Williams’ all-around performance, particularly as one of the younger Storm players with less playoff experience than the likes of many of her teammates or the WNBA veteran she matched up against, Delle Donne.

“What she does, her activity… the rebounds, the aggressiveness, guarding Delle Donne on those possessions, she’s done amazing for us all season,” Quinn said. 

Moving forward, with Game 2 on Sunday, Quinn said the Storm need to work on closing down tighter. They needed to close out on Ariel Atkins, who scored 16 points and would’ve been wide-open for a 3-pointer on the play where Cloud threw the ball out of bounds. And they need to close down other players who aren’t “snipers from 3.”


Players say WNBA’s new playoff format is step in right direction, but tweaking needed

Only one active WNBA player has been in more playoff games than the Storm’s Briann January, whose 62 playoff appearances exceed even Sue Bird (54).

Before the Storm’s first playoff game on Thursday night, January was asked about the WNBA’s new playoff format, which features back-to-back home games for the higher seed, followed by the lower seed hosting the decisive Game 3 (also referred to as a 2-1 format). 

January said she’s glad the league got rid of its previous single-game elimination format because “it gives an opportunity for the best team to come out of it.” But, she also cited the difficulty of winning a decisive Game 3 game on the road. 

“I’d have to argue, if you’re going to make it deep in this playoff and win a championship, you’re going to have to win on somebody else’s court,” January said. “It’s tough. I don’t know if we’ve quite found what it should be.”

“I don’t think we got it right yet, but it’s much better than what we had, in my opinion,” January added.


The old WNBA format featured two rounds of single-elimination games. Teams that received the No. 3 and No. 4 seed could be dumped out of the playoffs after one bad game in the second round, as a result. 

The new format resolves that issue, but presents a new one with the home-home-away structure. Part of the reasoning is to minimize travel costs, Bird and January said. Their No. 4-seed Storm begin a playoff push on Thursday night when they face the No. 5-seed Washington Mystics.

“It’s tough, it’s a tough set-up, it’s not favorable,” January said of the Game 3 road game.

Bird shared a similar sentiment when she spoke to the media on Tuesday. She said the new format was a step in the right direction but hoped that this wouldn’t be the league’s long-term solution. There are advantages to both a home-away-home series, compared to a home-home-away series, she said, depending on the perspective you look at it from. 

Around the WNBA, the Chicago Sky earned the No. 2 seed but lost their first game to the No. 7 seed New York Liberty. “We worked all year to have home-court advantage,” Sky coach James Wade told reporters Tuesday, per ESPN’s Jamal Collier. “If you have a bad game, then home-court advantage goes to the lower seed.”

Thibault said before his team’s matchup with the Storm that it was a near-unanimous decision to get rid of the single-game elimination format. 

“I think (they) wanted to have a situation where you didn’t have a fluke game, necessarily, that you had to prove yourself over a couple games. The longer the series, to me, the better,” Thibault said.