Maybe Sue Bird has an eye for talent after all.
Before the season, the Storm guard was asked which WNBA rookie would finish with the best career in the league. Seemingly, the obvious answer might have been No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu.
However, Bird went off script and chose Chennedy Carter, the Texas A&M point guard who left school a year early and was taken No. 4 in the WNBA draft. In her first meeting against the Storm, the Atlanta Dream rookie poured in a career-high 35 points and put everyone in the WNBA on notice with a dazzling performance.
Seattle, which nearly squandered a 17-point lead, was fortunate to escape the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, with its third straight win, a thrilling 93-92 victory Thursday night that nearly got away in the final seconds.
“It was wild and crazy,” said Storm star Breanna Stewart during a postgame Zoom teleconference. “We started really strong and it seemed like in the second and third ird quarters we were struggling to make shots a little bit.
“Obviously, we picked it up in the end and closed the game really well, but it didn’t even need to be a game.”
And it wouldn’t have been close, if Seattle (5-1) could have corraled Carter, whose 35 points tied for fourth-most all time by a Storm opponent. The 21-year-old rookie joins a short list that also includes future Hall of Famers Diana Taurasi and Elena Delle Donne.
Afterwards, the Storm heaped generous praise on the 5-foot-9 dynamo who torched the WNBA’s top scoring defense that had allowed an average of 75 points per game before Thursday.
“We couldn’t stop Carter,” said Jewell Loyd. “She reminds me of Allen Iverson. A strong guard that’s crafty with the ball. She’s going to be good for this league, and she’s going to be a problem as she continues with her career.”
Carter put constant pressure on the Storm with dribble-drives while converting 11 of 17 field goals, including three three-pointers. She also had seven assists and was 10 for 10 on free throws.
“She’s just a scoring machine,” Seattle coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “She’s one of those gifted players that comes along every so often that just can score in a variety of ways. She’s tough.
“We were going to come and trap her, and she split the traps. We tried to get it out of her hands and do some different things to keep her on the sideline. But she’s really good at finding ways to get to where she needs to get to.”
At the start, the Storm kept Carter relatively quiet while Stewart scored 12 of the first 18 points for Seattle.
The Storm, which led 31-16 in the first period, built a 17-point lead early in the second and was up 54-39 at halftime when everything changed.
“The momentum shifted,” said Jordin Canada, who finished with 14 points, six assists and three steals while subbing for Bird (bruised knee). “We were lackadaisical on the offensive end, and even on the defensive end our schemes weren’t tight.
“We were allowing them to get offensive rebounds, second-chance opportunities, drives to the basket and open threes. We weren’t really locked in on the defensive end, and it allowed them to come back and give them hope.”
Canada, who had a few dazzling plays including a halfcourt bounce-pass to Loyd for a layup, forced Carter into six turnovers.
However, the young Dream star also finished with several highlights, including a block against Canada.
“She’s just crafty,” Canada said. “Her handles are one of the best in the league the way she’s able to create her own shot.”
Atlanta outscored Seattle 22-13 in the third period and continued surging early in the fourth to go ahead 71-70 with 6:21 left for its first lead since the first period.
Led by Stewart and Loyd, who combined to score 20 of the Storm’s 26 points in the fourth quarter, Seattle answered with an 8-0 run to regain control.
“When we needed big plays, Jewell and I made them,” said Stewart, who finished with a season-high 27 points on 8-for-16 shooting, eight rebounds and two blocks. “That just shows our growth. As a team we had composure down the stretch.”
However, Carter kept scoring and the Dream (2-3) benefited from several improbable three-pointers in the final minutes to pull within two points.
Seattle, which converted 25 of 27 free throws, went 8 for 8 at the line on its final four possessions. Atlanta was perfect on all 20 foul shots.
The Storm needed every point, considering Carter drained a long three-pointer as time expired.
“We’re happy to get out of here with a win whether it’s one point or 20,” Kloppenburg said. “That’s the way our league is. There’s not much separation talent-wise, so you’ve got to play well.
“Our experience helped us down the stretch, especially Jewell and Stewie. They’ve been there before and made some plays to get us over the hump.”