EVERETT – Sue who?
Making her first playoff start, Jordin Canada carried the defending WNBA- champion Storm to the second round, as No. 6 seed Seattle beat No. 7 Minnesota 84-74 in its single-elimination postseason opener.
Canada darted and dashed around defenders Wednesday night for a career-high 26 points, four assists and two steals in arguably the biggest game of her life.
If Sue Bird wasn’t cheering in street clothes on the bench, then the 5,011 Storm fans inside Angel of the Winds Arena might have forgotten all about the 11-time All-Star who has sat out the season while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery because Canada was so sensational.
“I wasn’t nervous, I was more anxious to get out there and play,” Canada said. “To me it’s another basketball game. Just going out there being composed and having the poise to lead my team. I think that’s what I did. Not trying to overthink too much. Just trying to play my game.
“I know who I am as a player and I have that confidence in myself. So it was just trying to stick to what I know and do my best.”
This season, Canada garnered a reputation as a defensive savant who led the league with 2.3 steals per game and was voted by the WNBA coaches to the All-Defensive first team.
“She’s disruptive,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “She had my vote. I told her that when I saw her earlier today. What she did enabled them to get through their difficult situation in losing a great player like Sue Bird.
“For Jordin to be able to take over the team and play both ends as well as she has, she’s just grown throughout the season. Her trajectory is upwards. We knew she would impact (the game). We prepared for it, but sometimes it’s easier said than done.”
Minnesota had a sound defensive strategy and made it a priority to shut down WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard on the offensive end.
The Lynx double-teamed the Storm’s leading scorer every time she touched the ball in the post and held her to just two points – 16 shy of her scoring average.
But Minnesota didn’t account for Canada, who converted 10 of 21 shots from the floor and sank 5 of 6 free throws.
“We gave (Howard) some attention, but it really wasn’t overall troublesome to their overall offense,” Reeve said. “It was troublesome to Natasha, but not the overall offense.
“If you take away something, you give up something else. And we were hoping Seattle wasn’t going to find something else, but they did.”
The Storm might have found a budding star in Canada and simultaneously rediscovered Jewell Loyd, who scored 22 points with three three-pointers.
“We need her (Loyd) to be this,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said. “It’s her time of the year. She looks ready to me. She’s had to go through an injury and come back from it and there’s lots of examples in the league where that’s hard. It’s her time of the year and she’s really pivotal for us. And she showed you today what that meant especially coming out of the gate.”
Canada and Loyd combined to outscore the Lynx backcourt of All-Star Odyssey Sims and Danielle Robinson 48-1.
“It’s really unfortunate timing because you need your top players to show up and it didn’t happen for us,” Reeve said.
Hughes added: “I coached a lot of games … that separation is pretty unique.”
Mercedes Russell, who also started her first playoff game, had 13 points and nine rebounds for Seattle.
The Storm generally dominates with a swarming defense that allowed the fewest points in the league and forced the most turnovers.
This time Seattle dictated the pace with a blistering offensive attack that shot 47 percent from the field and converted 7 of 17 three-pointers.
The Storm led 29-21 after the first quarter and was ahead 47-41 at halftime.
Minnesota pulled to 64-61 early in the fourth quarter, which caused a moment of panic and uncertainty inside Angel of the Winds Arena.
The Storm answered with a pair of pull-up midrange jumpers from backup guard Shavonte Zellous. Then reserve guard Sami Whitcomb drained a three-pointer to put Seattle up by 10 (71-61) and the crisis was averted.
Damiris Dantas scored 20 points for Minnesota. Rookie forward Napheesa Collier finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds while All-Star center Sylvia Fowles had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Seattle heads into Sunday’s noon second-round single-elimination game at No. 3 Los Angeles knowing its future is bright with Canada at the helm.
“You’re lacking one of the best if not the best shot-makers in our game with Sue, but what you get on the other side is Jordin’s activity defensively creates play,” Hughes said. “She creates pressure and deflections and all of those types of things. Sue is a good defender, but its more position wise. Jordin, it’s creating. It’s speeding them up or the ball gets deflected and all of a sudden we’re off.
“Sue has an incredible totality of understanding that. Jordin is moving along the way, but that’s still part of her learning journey.”