The Storm’s trademark buzz saw defense didn’t show up in Atlanta.
Seattle entered Sunday’s game ranked second in the WNBA in points allowed (76.0 per game) and buoyed by a dominant defensive performance two days earlier while giving up 57 points — the fifth fewest in the league this season.
But none of that mattered against the Dream, who used their superior size, speed and strength to overpower the Storm in a way in which few teams have done recently.
Atlanta’s offensive efficiency, particularly in the paint, and Seattle’s stubborn overreliance on a perimeter attack that repeatedly misfired told the story in the Storm’s 90-76 defeat in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,138 at Gateway Center Arena.
“Atlanta played extremely well,” coach Noelle Quinn said during a teleconference interview. “They came out guns blazing [and] shooting the ball at a high clip. They punched first, and we were never able to recover.
“We made a couple of runs and cut it close, but at the end of the day their physicality, their aggressiveness and their athleticism bothered us and we could never get into a groove.”
Indeed, Seattle came out flat and trailed by 14 points in the first quarter, recovered briefly to narrow its deficit to 46-41 at halftime before completely falling apart in the second half.
It was an uninspiring start to a three-game road trip for the Storm, who partly attributed fatigue as a reason for the 14-point shellacking and their third-most lopsided defeat of the year.
“They understand what they’re trying to do,” forward Breanna Stewart said. “They play fast. Obviously, transition first, but nonstop moving. It’s hard to guard. It wears you down. It’s obvious we were fatigued today. But it’s tough when you never stop.”
It was Seattle’s first loss against Atlanta since July 15, 2019, which snapped a seven-game winning streak.
The Storm (13-8) also had momentum entering the game considering their 8-2 record in the past 10 games that began with a dominant 72-60 win against Atlanta on June 6 at Climate Pledge Arena.
In their previous matchup, the Dream (10-11) didn’t have prolific scoring guard Tiffany Hayes, who missed the first 19 games of the season and made her season debut Thursday.
Hayes, who led Atlanta to a 92-81 overtime win against the New York Liberty in her last outing, figured prominently in the Storm’s defensive game plan that went terribly awry.
“We didn’t want to give up 90,” Quinn said. “That was one thing. We wanted to defend without fouling. Also wanted to bring pressure on Hayes, but she was in the pitch game a lot. We were unable to trap her as much.”
The Storm held Hayes (10 points) in check, but they had no answer for center Cheyenne Parker (21 points and nine rebounds) and rookie forward Rhyne Howard (16 points, five rebounds and three steals).
Seattle, which never led, narrowed its deficit to 50-46 midway in the third quarter.
However, Atlanta answered with a decisive 20-5 run to go up 70-51 in the final minute of the third, and the Storm never mounted any sort of a comeback the rest of the way.
Stewart bemoaned a missed free throw following a technical foul on Hayes as well as an errant midrange jumper on the same possession that could have pulled Seattle to within a point with six minutes left in the third quarter.
“I had a couple of possessions and a couple of shots that could have gone in,” said Stewart, who finished with a team-high 19 points, five rebounds and two steals. “We had it. We had our moment and we couldn’t capitalize on it and that happens.”
Still, there’s two take-aways from the Storm’s dud.
Seattle was outscored 42-16 in the paint in a game in which eight-time WNBA All-Star center Tina Charles, who joined the team last week, tied her career low with two points on 1-for-6 shooting in 14 minutes off the bench. Atlanta shot 50% inside the arc and had five players in double-digit scoring.
Meanwhile, the Storm converted just nine of 32 three-point attempts (28.1%) and was 2 of 10 from long range in the decisive third quarter. Seattle has shot fewer than 30% from the perimeter in three of the past four games and is 0-3 this season when taking at least 30 three-point shots.
Stewart was the only double-digit scorer for Seattle, which was out-rebounded 44-30.
“It’s not a secret, we struggle with athleticism and physicality and teams are physical with us in a variety of ways offensively and defensively,” Quinn said. “Certain matchups don’t lend well with us.
“We took 32 threes. I felt like we did shoot a lot of free throws [Seattle was 23 of 26 at the line while Atlanta converted 17 of 19], but just having a variety to our offense as well and not settling for those threes, especially when they’re not falling.”
On Tuesday, Seattle heads to Indiana and plays Thursday at Los Angeles before the WNBA All-Star break.
— During a pregame presentation, Atlanta Dream coach Tanisha Wright, who played 10 seasons in Seattle and won a 2010 WNBA championship with Sue Bird, gave the Storm star a gift bag and plaque to commemorate her final season.