Mission accomplished for the Seattle Storm: split the first two games of their WNBA semifinal in the desert.
Still, the Storm are coming off a defeat for the first time in the 2022 postseason, and it can all go south in a hurry. It’s about small, tailored adjustments as the series shifts from Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas to Climate Pledge Arena for Sunday’s Game 3 and Tuesday’s Game 4 of the series with the Aces.
A’ja Wilson and the Aces looked a bit more like their usual selves during Wednesday’s 10-4 run to end the third quarter and an eventual 78-73 Las Vegas win that tied the series at 1.
“They didn’t come out any way that they didn’t come out for Game 1, other than they gave A’ja the ball more,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said, adding Wilson’s teammates were more intentional about it as well. “Their intensity level never changes. They’re a top team for a reason.”
And so the Storm got back to studying and anticipating the movements of their high-powered opponent. They noted tendencies and discussed how to snuff out easy looks, plus maybe even out the call discrepancy. The Storm had 11 free-throw attempts compared to Las Vegas’ 23 in Game 2.
Wilson had a playoff career-high 33 points and 13 rebounds to Breanna Stewart’s 32 and seven. It was the third time in WNBA playoff history that a player on each side had a 30-point performance.
She met her match Wednesday, but the consistency from Stewart is worth another look. Per the team, the Storm’s 13-game playoff win streak with Stewart in the lineup came to an end. They still have never lost a home game or a playoff series with her around. She was injured for the team’s quick exit in 2021.
Wednesday marked her eighth consecutive playoff game with at least 20 points scored.
“It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to be a part of it,” teammate Jewell Loyd said. “I know she’s been through a lot, so to see where she’s been and where she’s going in real time is something really special.”
Seattle’s Jantel Lavender was listed as out with a non-COVID illness. Gabby Williams missed Games 1 and 2 after suffering a concussion. She wasn’t on the Storm’s injury report ahead of Game 3 and continued to practice with the team Friday and Saturday, which points to an imminent return. The WNBA All-Defensive Second Team selection will be welcomed back.
“Our defense overall has been really good, but there’s been a little bit of slippage from Game 1 to Game 2,” said Stewart, who finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. Wilson took top honors.
Still, the Storm are pleased to have held the Aces — who averaged a league-high 90.4 points per game in the regular season — under 80 points in both games. While the superstars combined for a rare statistical event, Las Vegas’ Chelsea Gray (19 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and Kelsey Plum (18 points, three rebounds) caused problems for the Storm as well.
The Storm’s plan worked once. On Sunday, they’ll see if their tweaks can get them within a game of the WNBA Finals.
“Being back home in our own beds, getting a little change of scenery out of the casino, always feels good,” Loyd said. “Our job now is to execute at home.”
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