Two sequences — both involving Breanna Stewart — told the story of the Storm’s 87-74 victory over Indiana on Tuesday night in Bradenton, Florida.
The Storm star, who ranks among the WNBA’s three-point leaders, doesn’t turn down many open looks behind the arc.
But midway in the second period, Stewart was alone at the top of the key before choosing to drive into the paint and convert a contorting short jumper over a pair of defenders.
“Those threes are going to be there,” Stewart said during a postgame Zoom call. “Early in the game, late in the game and in the middle of the game, we wanted to get paint touches to really find the other openings and break down the defense a little bit.”
Admittedly, the Storm struggled shooting three-pointers while connecting on 25.5% in the past two games, including a 90-84 loss to the Fever last Thursday.
In the rematch at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Seattle converted just 3 of 10 shots behind the arc — both season lows — and opted for a different route to claim a much-needed victory that snapped a two-game skid.
Behind a game-high 27 points from Stewart, the Storm went inside for 52 points in the paint.
Natasha Howard added 13 points and nine rebounds, Alysha Clark had 11 points and eight rebounds and Sami Whitcomb scored 11 points for Seattle (12-3), which retained its half-game lead for first place in the league standings with seven games left.
“We felt like we were settling for jumpers in our last couple of games and we really wanted to put some pressure on these guys with some post-ups or driving and getting into the lane,” Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “Every game is going to be different. We know we can shoot the three, but we felt like we wanted to be a little more aggressive trying to get into the paint tonight.”
The second sequence, which exemplified the Storm’s dominant performance, occurred on the defensive end midway in the second period.
Down 28-26, two Seattle players smothered Kelsey Mitchell at the top of the key, forcing a turnover Stewart recovered. She collected the ball and zipped a pass to a streaking Clark for a layup.
On the ensuing possession, Stewart extended her 7-foot-4 wingspan high in the air and intercepted a Candice Dupree pass. Clark went streaking down the right side and Stewart found her for an easy layup once again.
Seattle forced 20 turnovers that led to 26 points.
“We didn’t care if the score was 10-9,” Stewart said. “We wanted to make sure we got defensive stops because when we played them last week, we didn’t.”
Clark’s layups sparked a 17-2 run that gave the Storm a 43-30 lead and proved to be just enough separation in what was otherwise a closely contested game.
Stewart tallied 10 points in the second as Seattle outscored Indiana 24-12 in the period. She capped the first half with a three-pointer at the top of the key in the final seconds to give the Storm a 46-35 lead at the break.
“We want to be a tough defensive team and hang our hat on that because we know that we can score,” Kloppenburg said. “There are going to be some games where we really have to rely on that defense to get a W.”
Seattle allowed Indiana to connect on 4 of 7 three-pointers in the first period while falling behind 23-22. But the Fever connected on just 4 of the next 19 tries.
Last week, Indiana sank 12 of 24 three-pointers against the Storm.
“In the first game we weren’t on the same page, especially defensively,” said Stewart.
Kennedy Burke had 17 points for the Fever (5-9).
Sue Bird missed her third straight game due to a bone bruise in her left knee. Kloppenburg hinted the 11-time WNBA All-Star could miss a few more games before returning.