After Tuesday's 77-75 overtime loss to the Sparks, no one said whether a white board was punched in the locker room, but you shouldn't rule it out. "They were very disappointed today," coach Dan Hughes said of his players.
Maybe a double-overtime victory would have deprived fans of what they needed to know about this team. Maybe extending the WNBA’s longest winning streak would have masked the Storm’s true emotions.
This wasn’t a team grateful to be on top of the standings after six non-winning seasons. This was a team that was ticked the heck off.
For two months, Seattle has been crossing over, drop-stepping and posterizing the rest of the WNBA. It entered Tuesday’s game vs. the Los Angeles Sparks with a 15-5 record and a five-game winning streak, both of which were tops in the league.
What followed was a 77-75 loss in a game marked by a blown 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and a missed layup by Breanna Stewart in the final second of overtime. No one said whether a white board was punched in the locker room, but you shouldn’t rule it out.
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“They were very disappointed today. They felt like if they control things, they’re successful,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “This is a team that measures itself not by the moment, but by trying to get to the next-level category.”
This is what you want right now if you’re a Storm fan. You want a team lamenting its mistakes more so than celebrating its achievements. You want a team that looks at its 21 turnovers Tuesday and winces — a team that looks at its 5-for-24 clip from beyond the three-point line and cringes.
The more upset those types of days make you, the more of a rarity they become. And 21 games into this season, well, they’re getting pretty rare.
Seattle’s 87 points per game this year are tops in the WNBA, as is its 47 percent field-goal percentage. Perhaps as significant — or at least as surprising — it has the fourth-best defensive-field-goal percentage (42.8) and has allowed the fifth-fewest points per game (79.8).
The offensive rebounds the Storm allow are also down from last season, and the overall rebounding is up. And with the All-Star Game less than three weeks away, it has four players (Stewart, Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and Natasha Howard) on pace to make the team vote-wise.
Perhaps that’s why the crowd — listed as a sellout — was particularly boisterous Tuesday. The fans —which included Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, a friend of Bird’s — were watching a team that appears to have the pieces to raise a third banner in KeyArena.
But the players aren’t thinking about how they can get away from the rest of the pack right now. They know that looking too far ahead can cause the season to get away from them.
“We’re not the ones talking about the five-game winning streak or being in first place or anything like that,” said Stewart, who finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds and shot 6 of 17 from the field. “We’re taking things one game at a time because we know things can go that way quick.”
Yes, the Storm did start 5-2 last season before dropping six of its next seven, so you can understand Stewart’s concern. But this isn’t the same team. You have Howard for starters (literally, she’s been a reserve her whole pro career), a fifth-year veteran who is averaging 13.4 points and 6.6 rebounds despite never averaging more than 7.0 and 3.4 in previous seasons. You have Bird, the WNBA’s career assist leader who is averaging what would be a career-high 7.3 per game. You have the typical production from Loyd, who is providing 15.6 points per game and shooting above 88 percent from the line. And you have Stewart, whose 22.0 points, eight rebounds and .538 field-goal percentage make her the front-runner for WNBA MVP.
The Storm hasn’t finished over .500 since it went 21-13 in 2011. Instead of merely returning to relevance, though, it seems hell-bent on skipping to prominence.
So far, it’s happening. Players should be happy.
Fortunately for their fans, they aren’t.