Dan Hughes will look back on Thursday’s game at the Target Center and fondly remember the Storm’s 90-78 improbable win over the Minnesota Lynx after trailing by 19 points in the first half.
“The games when the ball goes though the basket and you’re efficient, everybody likes those games,” Hughes said during a Zoom interview. “But a coach like myself loves a game like this one where we had to really battle. We had to really battle to find a rhythm to play to. And when you do that, it’s an example that we can point to for the rest of the season.”
On a night when the WNBA’s leading scorer Breanna Stewart struggled shooting, Seattle found a plethora of alternative offensive options and made enough defensive stops when it mattered at the end for its first road victory and largest comeback win in 13 years.
And if anyone needed convincing that the Storm is much more than the Stewie Show, then look no further than a fabulous fourth quarter in which Seattle chased down Minnesota and left the Lynx gasping at the end.
“We didn’t have answers for a while,” Hughes said. “But then the team had the focus and the heart to hang in there, hang in there and hang in there. Going into the fourth, they had at least brought us to within eyeshot of the destination that we wanted to go to.”
The contributions came from nearly every spot on an ever-changing roster a day after the Storm activated backup center Mercedes Russell and temporarily suspended starting forward Katie Lou Samuelson, who will miss the next two weeks while playing for Team USA in a FIBA 3×3 Olympic qualifying tournament.
“This was a grit game,” said Jewell Loyd who is making an early case for all-WNBA honors. “We had to figure it out. We had to trust each other. We had to find another level. For us it’s understanding that we can play at that level. Not just when we’re down but trusting each other. These games are going to be like that. We’re a new team. The league is better and every game you got to bring it. So for us we got to understand that we have to bring it every single night.
“We’re still trying to figure it out. We’re still integrating players in. We’re figuring out strengths and still trying to figure out our team chemistry. … We have players that are ready to step up and capable of doing much more. We always have each other’s back.”
Loyd led the way with a game-high 23 points, five three-pointers, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
The Storm also received a redemptive performance from Sue Bird who bounced back brilliantly from a scoreless outing on Tuesday and finished with 21 points, five three-pointers, eight assists, five rebounds and a +20 plus-minus rating.
And Jordin Canada scored a season-high 16 points off the bench, including 12 at the free-throw line, while newcomer Candice Dupree added 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting off the bench.
“Everyone stays ready at any given point and any given moment,” Canada said. “We’re just relentless, and we continue on no matter who’s having a bad game or a good game. We keep pushing, and we all play our role.”
The Storm (2-1) notched its 10th straight win over Minnesota (0-3), which ties a franchise record for the most consecutive victories against an opponent.
Before the game, Hughes noted Seattle’s difficult task in slowing down Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, who entered Thursday’s game shooting over 55% from the floor and averaging 18.5 points.
“She looks extremely healthy and in rhythm and has been a real force in their first two games,” Hughes said alluding to Fowles’ calf injury, which forced her to miss 18 games last season including Seattle’s 3-0 sweep over Minnesota in the 2020 WNBA semifinals.
The Storm threw a brigade big bodies at Fowles in the first half, including center Ezi Magbegor who made her second straight start in place of Dupree.
However, the one-time WNBA MVP connected on her first five shots and tallied 11 points to lead Minnesota to a 26-16 lead in the first quarter.
And when the Lynx built a 43-24 lead late in the second half and went into halftime ahead 48-33, Seattle smothered Fowles with harassing double teams in the second half, which triggered its comeback.
At that point, the Lynx were shooting 52.9% on field goals and enjoyed a 13-2 free throw attempt disparity.
“We didn’t let the score dictate how we played,” Bird said. “We did not have a great first half. Everybody knows that. There was a moment where we kind of realized the only way to get through a crappy game is to keep playing hard, to play through it and basically swing for the fences. That’s really the only way.
“We were able to take pressure off of ourselves by not worrying about the win or the loss and just worrying about playing through it. With that, we started to have a little bit of success. We started to get some stops. We started to cut down the lead and then going into the fourth quarter, we talked about we just want to be down five at the five-minute mark.”
The Storm trailed by 14 points (67-53) with 9:13 left and was down 13 (71-58) at the 7:17 mark before finishing the game with a breathtaking 32-7 run.
A 9-0 spurt brought Seattle to within four points (71-67) with 5:32 remaining.
At the urging of assistant Noelle Quinn, Hughes turned to Russell in the final 4½ minutes and relied on a familiar lineup that included Bird, Canada, Loyd and Stewart — five Storm holdovers from the 2018 and 2020 WNBA championship teams.
At that point, Seattle finished the game with a 23-3 run.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise that we had five returners on the floor in those final minutes,” Bird said. “There’s a comfort level there. That was a big help. It’s not to throw shade on those other players at all. It’s just that (chemistry) has existed for a couple of years now and it just feels a little more comfortable.”
Stewart, who had 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting, tied the score at 75-75 with a pair of free throws.
On the next offensive possession, Bird connected with Loyd who buried a three-pointer with 3:01 left for a 78-75 lead that put the Storm up for good.
Reserve point guard Crystal Dangerfield finished with 22 points and Fowles had 20 for the shorthanded Lynx, which is waiting for Napheesa Collier to complete COVID-19 protocols and make her season debut after she arrived late due to playing overseas.
The Storm, which has trailed by at least nine points in its three games, cut a 21-point deficit to four in the fourth quarter in its last outing – a 96-78 loss to Las Vegas on Tuesday.
This time, Seattle overcame another slow start and recorded its third largest comeback victory in franchise history. It was also the team’s second-largest road comeback behind a 21-point rally at Phoenix on May 22, 2008.
“We keep pushing,” said Canada, who scored 11 points in the fourth quarter. “We’re the type of team that loves pushing the pace. At some point teams get tired and that’s when we take off.”
- The Storm remains on top of the Western Conference in the Commissioner’s Cup race at 2-0.