Sue Bird sits out with sore knee, but Seattle improves to 12-16.
The first-place Minnesota Lynx couldn’t have anticipated the level of intensity the Storm displayed Wednesday night.
Minnesota had enjoyed a six-game winning streak against Seattle in games mostly devoid of defense, allowing star center Sylvia Fowles to dominate on both ends.
But in front of 7,866 at KeyArena, the Storm dialed up the defensive aggressiveness, held the Lynx to a season low in points and delivered interim coach Gary Kloppenburg a gritty 62-61 win in his first home game.
“I’m really happy for our team because we’ve been on the losing end of a lot of close games this year,” Kloppenburg said. “It’s just nice to be on the other side of it for once.”
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Since replacing Jenny Boucek, who was fired last week, Kloppenburg implanted a pressure defense that harassed Minnesota guards in the backcourt and held the Lynx to 33 percent shooting from the field.
“We couldn’t score, but they couldn’t score either,” Kloppenburg said. “That’s what we’re trying to instill in them. Just coming out and playing tough defense.”
The Storm built a fortress around Fowles, the MVP frontrunner who scored 29 and 26 points against Seattle this season. This time, the 6-foot-6 center finished with just 13 points, on 6-for-15 shooting, and 13 rebounds.
“We made it really tough on her,” said forward Breanna Stewart, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds. “And when we’re trapping from all over the place, she’s not sure of where it’s coming from. … Whatever shot she took, they were tough shots and contested.”
Neither team led by more than five points in a game that became increasingly physical.
Midway in the fourth, Minnesota center Plenette Pierson knocked Noelle Quinn to the floor with a screen. After the play, Lynx forward Seimone Augustus stood over Quinn and verbally sparred with the fallen Storm player.
Quinn responded during a postgame interview on the court: “Scoreboard.”
Trailing by a point on the Seattle’s last possession, Jewell Loyd drove baseline and ran into Fowles, who blocked her shot. The ball popped up and Crystal Langhorne recovered it before draining a layup with 11.1 seconds remaining to put the Storm ahead.
“Right place at the right time,” said Langhorne, who sank 7 of 9 shots for 14 points. “It just came in my hands, and I was like, ‘Make this layup.’ ”
On the ensuing possession, Langhorne harassed Maya Moore into an errant long jumper that fell short. Fowles collected the miss but missed the putback.
Loyd finished with a game-high 16 points for the Storm, which improved to 12-16 and claimed sole possession of eighth place in the WNBA standings — the final playoff spot.
Langhorne added 14 for Seattle, which played without Sue Bird, who sat out due to left knee soreness.
Moore finished with 15 points for Minnesota, which fell to 21-5.