For the first time in three weeks, Gary Kloppenburg sensed early something was wrong with the Storm.
Perhaps it was Seattle’s tepid start offensively or its inability to curtail the Indiana Fever’s perimeter shooting that caused his anxiety.
“I just didn’t feel like we had any flow offensively,” the Storm coach said during a Zoom call after Thursday night’s 89-84 defeat at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. “We have a target on our backs and we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. They all want to beat us.
“If we’re not ready to come out with a lot of energy, you can get beat in this league.”
The Storm (11-2) entered the game with nine straight wins, the second-longest streak in team history, the league’s No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense.
But none of that mattered against Indiana.
The Fever hammered Seattle inside with a big front line that outrebounded the Storm 46-30 and a blistering three-point attack that connected on 12 of 24 three-pointers.
It was the most three-pointers for a Seattle opponent since the Washington Mystics tallied 15 during an 89-71 Storm defeat July 30.
Seattle also managed just five three-pointers on 21 attempts, matching a season low from the Washington defeat.
“If we’re not shooting well, we’ve got to find ways to get to the basket and draw fouls, finish layups and get offensive rebounds,” guard Jewell Loyd said. “We’ve got to find ways to win.”
Loyd did everything within her power to keep the Storm in this one.
The two-time All-Star guard converted 12 of 19 shots, including 3 of 6 three-pointers and 8 of 9 free throws for a career-high 35 points in 35 minutes.
“She kept us hanging in there throughout the game,” Kloppenburg said. “She was getting by people, driving in and finishing it around the rim. She was hitting her three. She can really score. Unfortunately, we didn’t give her enough support.”
Breanna Stewart epitomized Seattle’s offensive woes. The MVP candidate scored 18 points while connecting on 5 of 18 field goals and 1 of 8 three-pointers.
Natasha Howard scored all 11 of her points in the first half and attempted just one shot after the break.
Without Sue Bird, who sat out to rest her sore left knee, the Storm needed more from its supporting cast, which combined to score just 20 points.
“I didn’t feel like we were really focused tonight for whatever reason,” Kloppenburg said. “Obviously, there’s some fatigue mixed in there. We’d been playing well with Sue in there and all of a sudden she’s not in and it changes your chemistry.
“It’s a humbling league. Everybody is really good. You can’t just show up. You can’t just mark it down. You can’t mail it in in this league and think it’s going to happen. All of these teams, they’re all very good.”
Indiana (5-7), which had lost three of its previous four games, is the kind of physical team that gives Seattle problems inside with center Teaira McCowan (10 points and 10 rebounds) and backup forward Natalie Achonwa (14 points).
The Storm’s troubles were exacerbated on a night when Kennedy Burke (23 points), Kelsey Mitchell (17) and Julie Allemand (12) combine for 10 three-pointers.
“We know we’re not a physical team and sometimes you run up against a matchup like that that causes problems,” Kloppenburg said. “You have to overcome it in different ways. I didn’t think we did that. We didn’t take care of getting out to three-point shooters.
“I felt like we were not really wired in together defensively and a little bit out of sync offensively.”
The Storm trailed 44-41 at halftime and fell behind by 14 points (64-50) late in the third period.
However, Seattle stayed close thanks to its near-perfect free-throw shooting display (23 of 25) and Loyd, who converted a putback to cut the deficit to 88-84 with 24.8 seconds left.
Indiana, which made 10 of 14 at the line, closed out the game hitting 2 of 4 foul shots.