During its five-game winning streak, the Storm has been checking the boxes on a lengthy to-do list before the start of the postseason.
Re-acclimate Sue Bird into the lineup. Check.
Bolster scoring contributions off the bench. Check.
Win close games against playoff-bound teams. Check.
On Sunday afternoon, the Storm crossed another item off its laundry list and rediscovered its once-lethal perimeter attack that’s been recently dormant.
The Storm drained 11 three-pointers, including several timely shots behind the arc, during a 103-88 victory over Minnesota to secure a top-four finish in the standings and a first-round bye in the WNBA playoffs.
“We fed off each other’s energy,” guard Jewell Loyd said during a postgame Zoom call. “We were taking great shots, wide-open looks. A lot of it was being able to attack, drive and kick.”
Two weeks ago, Seattle led the league with a 42.9 shooting percentage behind the arc.
However, the Storm shot a paltry 23.4% (26 of 111) on three-pointers in the previous six games before Sunday.
“It happens,” Bird said last week. “The thing you can’t do is overthink it. The other thing you can’t do is not shoot it and not shoot it with confidence.
“We get really good shots and normally we knock them down. If we haven’t in the last couple of games, so be it. Hopefully that just means (due to) law of averages, we’ll have a great week after this.”
Despite connecting on just 3 of 12 three-pointers in the first half, Seattle led 45-38 at halftime due to its ball-hawking defense that turned 16 turnovers into 14 points.
Minnesota closed to within four points (47-43) early in the third when Seattle ripped off an 18-5 run highlighted by back-to-back three-pointers from Alysha Clark and consecutive three-pointers from Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart for a 65-48 lead.
Early in the fourth period, Sami Whitcomb drained a three-pointer that put Seattle up by 21 points (79-58).
After a 14-4 Minnesota run that cut the Storm’s lead to 87-76, Loyd and Stewart hit consecutive three-pointers with 3:50 remaining and the Lynx never seriously threatened again.
It was the second-highest scoring game of the season for Seattle, which had five players with double-digit points.
Natasha Howard led the way with 19 points followed by Stewart (18 points and five assists), Loyd (16 points and seven assists), Clark (15 points) and backup rookie center Ezi Magbegor (12 points).
Bird also had eight points and seven assists in her 10th game of the season and third game back after sitting out four games.
And despite the absence of backup guard Jordin Canada, who missed her second straight game due to a right-knee injury, the Storm enjoyed a 27-22 advantage in bench points.
On the defensive end, Seattle forced a season-high 26 turnovers that led to 28 points.
Howard again led the way with four steals while Stewart and Clark each had three in the second blowout win over the Lynx. The Storm won 90-66 on July 28.
“We wanted to come out and try to disrupt what they were doing,” coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “Disrupt their guards and put them in traffic and put them in some traps. I thought we were really active defensively all night.”
Damiris Dantas led Minnesota (13-6) with a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds.
With three games remaining, the Storm (16-3) needs a win or a loss by Los Angeles (14-5) or two losses by Las Vegas (14-4) to wrap up one of the top two seeds, which guarantees a double bye and a spot in the semifinals.
“Our major focus is getting ourselves playing the best basketball that we can at the end,” Kloppenburg said. “I think there’s some areas that we want to keep getting better at as we go into this next week. We’ll keep working to improve.
“If we do that, then we’ll be in good shape. If we do that and somebody can beat us, then they’re pretty darn good.”
— Bird had a steal Sunday and moved into fourth place on the WNBA all-time list with 658.