Gabby Williams had a chance to win the game for the Storm and needed to hit one of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left.
Her first attempt ricocheted off the glass and hung on the rim for what seemed like an eternity before falling off as the 10,001 at Climate Pledge Arena collectively groaned.
Williams rushed a second attempt that rattled off and time expired in regulation during the scramble for the rebound.
In the extra period, Breanna Stewart and Briann January hit three-pointers, Jewell Loyd collected a couple of clutch offensive rebounds, and the short-handed Storm hung on for its third consecutive win, a 79-71 overtime victory against the New York Liberty on Friday night.
“I go in the locker room before the game and everyone is ready to go,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “We’re not making any excuses. We have a lot of experience in the locker room and a lot of players who have been through a lot in this league. This was just an adversity that hit us.
“Your character is revealed when you go through things like this. It shows that we’re a tight group and a united group and a group that is willing to go and battle together.”
It was an impressive outing for the Storm considering the off-court obstacles the team faced the previous 48 hours.
No WNBA team has been hit as hard by COVID-19 as the Storm, which was without Sue Bird, Ezi Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot because they entered the league’s health and safety protocols.
Two weeks ago, Breanna Stewart and Epiphanny Prince tested positive for COVID-19 and missed two games.
The Storm have five of the league’s eight players who have entered health and safety protocols during the first three weeks of the season.
“I know our players are doing the best that they can in the situation that we’re at,” Quinn said. “The bug is going around in that capacity. You understand as pros and adults you give them advice and mask up when we can. Just be mindful and being vigilant in everything.
“Our team is super professional. I’m not worried about them in that way. It’s just the time that we’re in and just having not a great look at the moment.”
Quinn had some time to prepare a game plan without Talbot, who entered protocols Thursday. But the Storm discovered Bird and Magbegor would be unavailable Friday morning.
The Storm had just enough time to sign second-year guard Kiana Williams to a hardship contract and fly her to town from San Antonio. Williams, who was taken by the Storm in the second round of the WNBA draft last year and played 10 games, completed league testing hours before Friday’s game.
“Shoutout to the players who drop what they’re doing and come and help us in these situations,” said Quinn, who also noted rookie Raina Perez spent two games with the Storm on a hardship contract. “It’s not easy. Kiana did that. Raina did that.
“Kiana has been through a training camp before and even though it has been a year, she’s a smart player. She can help us offensively; she’s solid defensively. … The familiarity helped in that aspect. Just lucked out that she’s here.”
The short-handed Storm had just eight players Friday because center Mercedes Russell hasn’t played this season because of an undisclosed non-basketball injury.
“I don’t think during the game we really noticed we had seven (players) and eight if we count Kiana,” Stewart said. “We knew what type of game it was going to be starting from this morning and that was just next person up mentality. And trying to get a win for Sue, Steph and Ezi and even Cedes.
“Just resilience. I don’t think you can make this up what we’re going through right now. It is wild, but here we are.”
Despite missing two starters, the Storm still had two WNBA All-Stars in Stewart and Loyd, who combined for 52 points.
Stewart finished with a season-high 31 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals in a matchup against former Storm standout Natasha Howard.
Loyd also faced a familiar foe and tallied 21 points against former teammate Sami Whitcomb.
The Storm had a 14-point lead late in the second quarter and went into halftime ahead 34-24.
The Storm were up 16 points (43-27) early in the third when New York finished the quarter on a 24-9 run to trim its deficit to 52-51 heading to the fourth.
Neither team led by more than four points in the final quarter.
Down 60-59, the Storm converted eight of its final nine free throws in the fourth. But they needed one more foul shot to avoid overtime.
Williams went to the line with the score tied 67-67 with 2.3 seconds remaining before missing both.
The Storm got a couple of three-pointers from Stewart and Briann January (11 points), who replaced Bird in the lineup, to go up 73-69 and New York never seriously threatened the rest of the way.
The Storm (4-3) converted 22 of 27 free throws, including 15 from Stewart, who tied a team record.
“It’s better to go through this adversity early on,” Loyd said. “At the same time, we haven’t had a full roster this season. It’s hard to win when you don’t have everyone playing and you don’t have a certain game plan every night. It just shows you how tough this team is. On the fly we can adapt and get things done. We think this is going to help us later on because geez, we’ve been through a lot.”
Howard finished with 19 points for the Liberty (1-6), which lost its sixth straight game.
Both teams meet again 3 p.m. Sunday.
- Before Friday’s game, Storm players wore T-shirts and sweatshirts honoring Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner who has been held in Russia for 99 days. Griner was originally taken into custody on Feb. 17 on drug charges after customs officials at a Moscow airport claimed she had vape cartridges that contained oil derived from cannabis in her luggage. The U.S. government has classified Griner’s arrest as “wrongful detainment.”
- Former Sonics coach George Karl, former Sonics stars Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp and former Storm play-by-play announcer Kevin Calabro attended Friday night’s game.