Breanna Stewart scored 20 points and Sue Bird posted a double-double as the league leaders defeated the defending WNBA champions 85-75.
After seasons of mediocrity, early exits from the postseason, or ones where it didn’t make the playoffs at all, the Storm took an important first step on Friday in its quest to win the franchise’s first WNBA title since 2010.
Based on the way the season was going, it was only a matter of time before Seattle clinched a playoff spot in what has been its first 20-win season since 2011. But being able to clinch the berth with a victory against the defending WNBA champions, and in a game sandwiched between two long trips, was all the more meaningful.
In front of a season-high, sellout crowd of a 12,064 at KeyArena, the Storm became the first team in the WNBA to clinch a playoff spot with its 85-75 win over the Minnesota Lynx.
But for the first half or so of the game, the end result was all but clear. With a one-point lead at halftime, Minnesota (15-12) had all of the momentum at the beginning of the third quarter, going on a 10-2 run to build its lead to nine. Storm coach Dan Hughes called a timeout to regroup, after which Seattle (21-7) scored eight unanswered points in 66 seconds. The team went on a 22-9 run to end the quarter and go into the final frame with a 61-57 lead.
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“I think it was our defense,” guard Sue Bird said about how the team clawed back. “We knew if we could get some stops and run, that was going to be extremely advantageous to us.”
“We were a little passive on the defensive end and we said that in the timeout. We were trying too hard on offense and not hard enough on defense — it needed to be reversed.”
Each of the Storm’s baskets during that 8-0 run came off a Lynx turnover. Minnesota ended the night with 18 turnovers overall — off which the Storm, taking advantage of its speed, was able to score 18 points.
Jewell Loyd scored five unanswered points at the beginning of the fourth to put the Storm ahead 66-57, and the Lynx wouldn’t get closer than six points for the rest of the game.
Though there were four Storm players with double-digit points, the team’s success felt primarily fueled by a 20-point performance from Breanna Stewart.
Stewart, who was the subject of multiple “M-V-P” chants, was the spark that helped Seattle overcome that nine-point deficit early in the second half.
As much as Stewart might be the team’s MVP, she was also well supported by her starting lineup.
Bird went 4 for 5 from beyond the arc, including a three-pointer with 2:27 left in the third that put the Storm up by four, adding to the Storm’s recently retaken lead. Bird ended the game with a double-double (14 points and 11 assists).
Hughes noted Natasha Howard (15 points) was “very timely” and that Loyd made key plays, while also emphasizing the role Alysha Clark played in the victory.
“She is such a factor for us defensively,” Hughes said. “We need to celebrate what she does. I thought defensively, our ability to turn them over really gave us a chance for the offense to get to the next level coming out of it.”
And while the team is celebrating its now-guaranteed bid, Hughes is already focusing on how it can make the most of the next few weeks of games in preparation for the postseason.
After all, the team has made the playoffs before. It is just more recently it has the potential, and the expectation, it can go further than it has in several years.
“It’s a stage that you want to get to,” Hughes said of clinching the playoffs. “(But) you want to continue to get better — that’s maybe the most important to me… We want to keep learning about our team, we want to learn about other teams, we want to learn in big games what does it take.”