If there was a time when the Storm would truly miss its three injured All-Stars, then it would be in the final moments of a closely contested game.
Sure enough, Seattle found itself in a tight affair Friday night in its first game without Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd.
Normally Seattle would turn to one of its proven go-to scorers, but Stewart is out for the season due to an Achilles injury, Bird is recovering from knee surgery and Loyd sat on the sideline in street clothes with a protective boot around her sprained right ankle.
This time the Storm relied on clutch shot-making from Jordin Canada and Alysha Clark at the end to prevail 79-76 in front of 7,915 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“It just speaks to the character of each and every person on this team,” said Clark, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. “We understand that injuries happen. We wish they would stop. We hope that was the last one, but we’re not just going to roll over and quit. That’s just not who we are as people.
“When you have a collective group of people that fight like that and have the fight within them, then anything is possible.”
Despite the absence of its trio of stars, who combined to average 47.4 points and account for 54.4 percent of the scoring last season, the defending WNBA champions are third in the league standings at 8-5.
“They’ve just got big hearts,” coach Dan Hughes said. “God bless them. They’ve just built a trust in me that they’re going to answer the call.
“All we need to do is have some time together with them so that they understand who we are at that moment. No matter how we’ve been hit, they’ve responded and as a coach you want to bottle that and keep it forever.”
Seattle came out swinging and raced out to a 33-21 lead after the first quarter behind eight points from center Mercedes Russell, who finished with 12.
However, the Storm scored just 18 points in the second period and 15 in the third while the Sky tallied 22 in both quarters.
In the fourth, neither team led by more than four points while the lead changed three times and the score was knotted twice.
Seattle converted just 5 of 19 field goals (26.3 percent) in the final frame while Chicago was 5 of 17. Both teams were 0 for 3 on three-pointers.
The Storm outscored the Sky 13-11 in the fourth and free throws proved to be the difference. Seattle converted 3 of 4 at the line and Chicago was 1 of 2.
Canada, who scored seven of her team-high 17 points in the fourth, carried the Storm down the stretch.
The dynamic point guard beat Courtney Vandersloot and the shot clock with a short jumper to tie the score at 72-72.
Minutes later, Canada got into the lane for a driving layup that put Seattle up 77-74 with 1:12 left.
After Chicago cut its deficit to 77-76, Clark converted the shot of the game – a contested 15-foot turnaround jumper that banked off the glass with 10.1 seconds remaining.
“We were kind of in a funk where we couldn’t get execution going,” Canada said. “Down the stretch shots like that just kill other teams. Today it was AC — she came through with the bank shot.”
The Sky had time for one last rebuttal, but Diamond DeShields’ three-pointer fell short.
Natasha Howard scored 14 points while Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 11 off the bench for Seattle, which is 5-0 in home games.
DeShields led Chicago (6-5) with 19 points. Allie Quigley finished with 11 points and Vandersloot, the former Kentwood High star, tallied six assists, six rebounds and two points.
“It came down to execution,” said Sky forward Jantel Lavender, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds. “Alysha Clark hit a really, really tough, one-handed, off-the-glass shot. It was kind of like their night so it was tough.
“Just execution on those last plays. We didn’t get what we wanted down the stretch.”
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