Breanna Stewart rebounded from a season-low scoring performance in her last outing for 21 points, Ezi Magbegor tallied a career-high 20 points and the Storm overcame guard Jewell Loyd’s absence to beat Los Angeles 84-74 on Sunday in the first of two straight games against the Sparks.
Epiphanny Prince tallied 18 points while starting for Loyd, who missed her first game of the season due to a sprained left ankle, while Sue Bird added 13 points.
“We battled through some things today,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “We had a lapse. We had some breakdowns. But we were resilient and got through those breakdowns in the fourth quarter.”
Seattle held Los Angeles to 10-for-35 shooting (28.6%) from the field in the first half to take a 39-30 lead into the break.
The Storm briefly lost control of the game midway in the third when Los Angeles used a 12-0 run to take a 56-48 lead with 2:13 left in the period. Seattle answered with a 10-2 run to trail 58-56 at the end of the third.
“We were a little late on our rotation,” Stewart said. “We were a little funky defensively. And we were letting the last play dictate the next play.
“Sue said it best, all in all and everything that went on in the third quarter and how terrible it seemed, we were down two and right in the ballgame going into the fourth.”
The Storm stymied the Sparks in the fourth with a 2-3 zone that held Los Angeles to 5-for-14 shooting from the field.
“The biggest thing was changing things up with our zone,” Quinn said. “Just gave a different look and the game slowed down in a way. Got some good presence on the inside.
“Just coming up with loose balls. Securing the rebounds. A couple of those possessions in the third was just too loose and not coming up with those 50-50 balls. We tightened that up. We communicated well in our zone and we were able to get a lot of stops.”
Seattle put the game away with a 22-6 run to start the fourth quarter. Stewart, who contributed to 12 points during the decisive spurt via two assists and three baskets, buried a corner three-pointer that gave the Storm a 78-64 lead with 3:55 left and effectively sealed the victory.
“Just having the confidence to know that it was time to put the game away to make a run like that,” said Stewart, who scored a mere nine points during Friday’s 91-88 victory over the Atlanta Dream. “We felt like we were right there every time whether it was almost getting a steal or not finishing a play – things that we can control.
“We had a mixed group in between the bench and the starters. We just came in really focused on getting scores and stops.”
Without Loyd, the Storm benefited greatly from the unexpected scoring punch of Magbegor and Prince.
“I wanted to come out and be aggressive and do what my coach and teammates asked of me today,” said Prince, who connected on 6 of 12 field goals, including two three-pointers. “Coming in, we knew that Jewell might be questionable. We wanted to do the next man up and everyone contributed today.”
Stewart added: “Piph came in and did what Piph does. You can ask anyone on our team. We’re always telling her to shoot more and be more aggressive because we know who she is. And if you don’t know who Epiphanny Prince is, you need to look her up.”
Meanwhile, Magbegor’s career night off the bench couldn’t have come at a better time for the Storm. Seattle’s reserves outscored L.A.’s bench 28-11.
“I felt like this game was coming for Ezi,” Stewart said. “She’s been practicing really well leading up to these past few games. Being more aggressive and more assertive and more vocal. She just came out and did what she can do. It’s something that we need from her every night.”
Brittney Sykes and Erica Wheeler each scored a team-high 19 points for Los Angeles, which has lost four straight games and fell to 6-11.
Sunday’s game at Los Angeles Convention Center was a homecoming of sorts for Quinn, who starred at Bishop Montgomery High in Torrance and UCLA.
Jordin Canada and Kennedy Burke, a pair of Storm backups who starred for the Bruins, also played in front of a contingent of family and friends.
Meanwhile, Storm forward Katie Lou Samuelson, who grew up in Southern California, played against her older sister Karlie for the first time in the pros.
Seattle’s second straight victory allowed it to keep pace with Las Vegas for the best record in the WNBA at 14-4.
The Storm also increased its lead atop the Western Conference in the Commissioner’s Cup race at 6-1 over the Aces (5-2). Both teams have three Cup games remaining.
Seattle faces Los Angeles at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett before two games against the Phoenix Mercury.
“We want to win every game,” Stewart said. “We’re aware of the situation as far as the Commissioner’s Cup. We’re aware of what’s on the line. At the same time playing these two teams twice, it’s also the series. So we’re coming out making sure that we can handle business. We’ll see L.A. again in Seattle and I’m sure it’s going to be another tough one.”
— Bird scored the first points Sunday – on a three-pointer – that moved her past Katie Smith into sixth place on the WNBA’s all-time scoring list. Bird has 6,464 career points.