After going into overtime in its two previous outings, the Storm delivered an early knockout Friday night and despite an ugly finish managed to cruise to a comfortable 82-72 victory over Minnesota.
“We had good focus today,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “It was probably our best defensive game.”
So much has gone right for the Storm (5-1) during its four-game winning streak, but Hughes has been a little concerned about the team’s inability to stop opponents from scoring.
Heading into Friday’s game, Seattle allowed 88.2 points per game, which ranked next to last in the WNBA.
Admittedly, the frequent roster disruptions and the addition of five newcomers altered a dominant defensive unit that led the league in fewest points allowed and steals last year.
“I don’t think we have that sophistication yet,” Hughes said this week. “Probably the lane we’re on is trying to do the beginning things better and hopefully we can get to that sophistication of what we’re doing.
“We don’t turn people over quite as readily yet. Now I do think there could be some lineups if we can get to the point that evolve a little bit that could be a little more disruptive. … Our sophistication is going to come as the year goes on. I think we’re going to have to get better defensively.”
In their previous meeting, Seattle needed a second-half rally to erase a 19-point deficit for a 90-78 victory at Minnesota.
But in the rematch in front of 1,332 at Angel of the Winds Arena, the Storm turned a close game into a rout with an oppressive 31-13 onslaught in the second period while holding the Lynx to 6-of-16 shooting and five turnovers.
“Our defense really dictated what we did offensively,” said Breanna Stewart, who finished with a team-high 15 points and eight rebounds. “We were able to turn them over a lot. We were able to get defensive rebounds and really just push to the point where it’s difficult for them to match up if we’re running in transition every time and not really calling plays.”
Minnesota overcame a 13-point deficit (19-6) in the first quarter and tied the score at 29-29 early in the second.
From there, it was all Seattle, which claimed its 11th straight win against Minnesota.
Backup point guard Epiphanny Prince, who scored 10 points, got the Storm going with a midrange jumper and a couple of free throws.
Then Candice Dupree scored six straight points of her 12 points off the bench. After Prince made a short jumper, Stewart and Sue Bird (11 points and five assists) buried three-pointers for a 48-34 lead.
The Storm finished the quarter on a 29-7 run to take a 58-36 lead into halftime.
“When we do play out of our defense, we go to another level offensively,” Hughes said.
Normally, Seattle bludgeons opponents with a flurry of three-pointers, but the Storm was just 4 of 17 from long range.
Seattle outscored Minnesota 56-28 in the paint, tallied 19 points off of 12 turnovers and enjoyed a 29-18 disparity in bench points.
“I’m glad we were able to put them away early,” Dupree said. “We talk about it all the time. Would you rather go into halftime up 20 or down 20 because it’s hard? You kind of relax a little bit, but I thought we did a good job in the third quarter.”
Leading 77-50 at the end of the third period, the Storm starters sat on the bench the rest of the way and relished a relatively easy night.
Still, Hughes lamented a sloppy finish in which Seattle was outscored 22-5 in the fourth quarter and Minnesota trimmed a 30-point deficit to 10.
“We didn’t play a complete game,” Hughes said. “I thought we missed some shots that we should have made. … They were coming at us and we didn’t handle it quite as well as I’d like to have seen it. But I did like the fact that they were on the court. I did like the fact that they got minutes. I did like the fact I didn’t have to overplay some of the players.
“We’ll learn from it and move on.”
Sylvia Fowles led Minnesota (0-4) with 15 points while Napheesa Collier added 14 in her season debut.
With the victory, the Storm moved into a second-place tie in the standings and just one-half game behind Connecticut.
“I can see steps of growth in who we are,” Hughes said. “That’s as good of play as we’ve had this season. We still have a lot of things to bring to the team and we’re still kind of waiting to put the team totally together. But you can see growth. The 2021 team needs its own identity. It’s not going to be like 2020.
“It’s going to have some things that I think we can feature, but it’s going to have its own identity and we’re starting to get a little closer to that identity.”
- The Storm improved to 4-0 in Commissioner’s Cup games.