Breanna Stewart had a big night with 22 points and 15 rebounds, but Seattle loses its season opener at Key Arena 87-82.
Dan Hughes stood motionless with his arms crossed on the sideline.
Trailing by three points with 9.8 seconds left, the first-year Storm coach drew up a play that began with Seattle’s best player Breanna Stewart.
Rookie guard Jordin Canada skipped a pass to Stewart in the corner who was smothered by Diana Taurasi.
Storm @ Phoenix, 7 p.m.
Stewart stepped out of bounds after retrieving the ball, which ended the Storm’s chance at an upset and sealed Sunday’s 87-82 defeat in front of a raucous 8,602 season-opening crowd at KeyArena.
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“The ball was low,” Stewart said. “It was an awkward angle. Obviously they were going to switch the screen. Big feet. That’s what I got.”
Hughes quipped: “I’d like to think she was pushed out of bounds.”
Stewart committed a critical turnover that spoiled what might have been a thrilling comeback, but it’s inaccurate to suggest Seattle lost its opener on its final possession.
The Storm fell behind by 14 points early and trailed 26-17 after the first quarter. Seattle made runs in the second and third but was down 61-54 heading into the fourth period.
“I didn’t feel like we got out of the gate well,” Hughes said. “That’s my responsibility. … As the game progressed we got closer and closer to what we are and certainly in the second half, I recognized some of the things this team can be about.”
The Storm converted 10 of 27 three-pointers and shot 88 percent on free throws (22 of 25), but it struggled to score consistently near the arc against Phoenix center Brittney Griner, who finished with three blocks.
“I didn’t think we did a great job from an offensive standpoint of complementing those two things,” Hughes said. “We had all kinds of things of what I envision with the team, but I felt like we had to evolve into it. I didn’t feel like we started with it.”
Stewart finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds, but the 6-foot-4 All-Star forward was overshadowed by Griner, a 6-9 center and perennial MVP candidate, who had 29 points and 10 rebounds.
“If you’re looking at a difference maker in the game from their standpoint, it was that,” Hughes said. “Some of the other points we were wanting to defend we were in the game with, but Griner created some separation and had a big impact on the game.”
Seattle (0-1) received 14 points off the bench from newcomer Natasha Howard while Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and Alysha Clark each tallied 10. Canada added nine points and four steals.
“We were down 10 (46-36) at halftime, but I don’t think anyone of us felt like we were out of the game,” Stewart said. “We knew that we could come back.”
Loyd drained a three-pointer that cut Seattle’s deficit to 70-68 with 4:48 left, but Taurasi answered with a triple on the ensuing possession.
At the other end Stewart converted a layup and a free throw to pull Seattle to 73-71.
On the Storm’s next offensive trip, Stewart drew a foul and had a chance to tie, but connected on 1 of 2 free throws as Seattle trailed 73-72 with 3:43 left.
As the crowd rose to its feet, Phoenix regained the momentum with a 7-0 run capped by DeWanna Bonner’s layup that gave the Mercury an 80-73 lead.
The Storm made one last push with a 6-2 spurt that included a steal and layup by Canada, which pulled Seattle to within four points (82-78) with 1:00 left.
After a defensive stop, Howard followed with a midrange jumper and Stewart scored on a layup to narrow Seattle’s deficit to 83-82.
Taurasi made two free throws with 9.8 seconds remaining setting up one last chance for the Storm, but Seattle never got off a shot.
Briann January of Lewis and Clark High in Spokane had 15 points and six assists for Phoenix (2-0), which also received 12 points from Taurasi and Bonner.
“For us, we’re still getting comfortable and developing our identity as a team,” said Bird, who had five assists. “The thing that we’re going to hang our hat on as a team is still in the works. So for us to battle back and to make it a game where we had a chance that says a lot about our resilience.
“We’re going to be in a lot of tough games. … To win these games, it’s understanding what we want to do, when we want to do it and why we’re doing it. When you have a new system and new players, it can take some time. There’s nothing wrong with that. Obviously, we want to speed that up as quickly as possible.”
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