By decree from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, it was Sylvia Fowles Day, but Friday night belonged to Tina Charles and the Storm.
The sold-out crowd of 12,134 gathered at the Target Center to see Fowles perhaps for one last time and pay their respect to the Minnesota Lynx star who is retiring after the season.
However, Charles, who spent the bulk of her career battling Fowles for WNBA supremacy among post players, had a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds to lead Seattle to a 96-69 victory and upstage her longtime rival and friend in Minnesota’s final regular-season home game.
“Syl has meant a lot to my game,” Charles said. “She’s someone that I was always chasing as far as her dominance and as far as what she was able to do for every team that she’s been on. For me, that’s what I wanted to reflect.”
Five days earlier, the Storm participated in a similar emotional home send off for Sue Bird, which also ended with a bittersweet loss.
“As a fan of Syl and knowing how amazing she is, you don’t want to ruin her night, but it wasn’t ruined at all,” said coach Noelle Quinn, who returned from a two-game absence due to COVID-19. “There was so much love in the stadium for her. Win or lose, it was going to be her night and a great night.”
Seattle players wore T-shirts honoring Fowles during pregame warmups and watched a postgame celebration paying tribute to the WNBA’s all-time rebounds leader, eight-time WNBA All-Star, two-time WNBA Finals MVP and the league’s 2017 MVP who led the Lynx to two WNBA titles (2015 and 2017).
However, the Storm were intent on playing the role of spoiler.
“Even though we won, it was very special for her, for the organization and for the city and for us who love her as a competitor and friend and teammate,” said Quinn, who teamed with Fowles in Russia. “I’m glad that we won, but I’m also glad that we honored Syl in an amazing way.”
With the win, Seattle secured the No. 4 seed in the first round of the playoffs and will host the No. 5 seed Washington Mystics. Game 1 in the best-of-three series is Thursday and Game 2 is Aug. 21, both at Climate Pledge Arena.
If necessary, the Mystics will host Game 3 on Aug. 24.
“It’s huge because you play all season to work to a spot where you can have a couple of games at home,” Quinn said. “To be at home in front of our home crowd to utilize that extra sixth person, it’s important.
“You think about we’re ending the season on the road and to be able to begin the playoffs at home, to get comfortable and get prepared and not have to be on the road again, those little things matter. Seattle shows up and shows out throughout the entire season, but postseason is very special and I’m looking forward to it.”
In their previous outing Tuesday, the Storm outran the Chicago Sky for a 111-100 win while setting a WNBA record 37 assists and tying the most points in franchise history.
Against the Lynx, Seattle continued its offensive dominance (29 assists and 52.8% shooting from the field) while holding Minnesota to 36.5% shooting to sweep the season series 4-0.
The Storm set a league record with 66 assists in the past two games.
“This is the way I love to play,” Quinn said. “It’s hard to guard. First and foremost, it’s fun. When the ball is moving and finding that open person, that’s what our offense is created and set up to do.
“Twenty-nine assists is amazing. It’s a testament to our group being selfless and understanding that when the ball is moving we’re better. We’re difficult to defend because of the presence of people we have on the floor with each other. Using one another to create offense is the way to continue to be successful.”
During an 89-77 win against the Lynx last week, the Storm led 30-18 after the first quarter and Minnesota never recovered.
Seattle followed a similar punch-first script this time as Charles scored 12 points and Loyd had 11 of her 21 points to outscore Minnesota and give Seattle a 30-10 advantage in the first quarter.
The Lynx pulled to within 38-26 late in the second quarter and the Storm closed out the first half with a 7-2 run for a 45-28 lead at the break.
Minnesota never got closer than 15 points in the second half while Seattle built a 32-point lead (89-57) late in the fourth quarter.
Breanna Stewart tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds and Briann January had 10 points, including three three-pointers off the bench.
Fowles finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota (14-21), which is still in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“It’s very overwhelming, but I’m so appreciative,” Fowles said in an postgame interview with ESPN reporter Holly Rowe. “I didn’t want none of this attention, but I didn’t realize how much love and how much appreciation these fans have for me across this league and I never want to take that for granted.”
Seattle finishes the regular season Sunday at Las Vegas in a relatively meaningless game for the Storm. The Aces need a win or a Chicago loss to secure the No. 1 playoff seed.
“Right now, I think we’re locked in as a unit to this game,” said Quinn, who was noncommittal when asked if she would rest her starters. “It’s important because this is our only tuneup before our next opponent. … I know we have a competitive group who wants to get after this game.”
— During a pregame celebration, Minnesota honored Lynx star Sylvia Fowles as well as Storm players Sue Bird and Briann January, who are retiring after the season.
— Jewell Loyd set a Storm single-season record with 76 three-pointers, eclipsing the old record of 72 set by Sue Bird in 2016.
— The WNBA released dates for the first round of the playoffs. The best-of-five semifinals will be played Aug. 28, 31, Sept. 4, 6 and 8 while the WNBA Finals will be held Sept. 11, 13, 15, 18 and 20. The last two rounds of the playoffs adhere to a 2-2-1 format with the higher seed hosting the first two games and the fifth, if needed.