For the first five seasons of Tina Charles’ WNBA career, the center made just three three-pointers. Sunday afternoon, Charles — who entered Climate Pledge Arena needing 14 points to become just the fourth player in WNBA history to reach 7,000 career points — proved she’s evolved since then when she was presented with a number of wide-open three-point looks.
A younger Tina Charles might not have taken some of the chances she had in Sunday afternoon’s 82-72 win over Atlanta, but the now 11-year league veteran admits she’s continuously improving her game. She cited teammate Breanna Stewart, Connecticut center Jonquel Jones and Aces forward A’ja Wilson as counterparts who she’s always working to “hang around.”
Charles showed that growth Sunday afternoon when she caught a pass on the left side of the three-point arc and recognized that the Dream’s defenders weren’t closing her down. She readied and drained the first of back-to-back-to-back trifectas.
Seconds later, Charles went back to the same spot to eclipse the milestone. She joined Hall of Famers Tina Thompson and Tamika Catchings and future Hall of Famer Diana Taurasi as the only players with 7,000 WNBA points.
“I’m someone who loves being in the gym, loves challenging myself,” Charles said. “I knew I had to develop my game, be consistent from three-point range, the older I got. And I’m very thankful for my trainer and just the work and the effort I put in, in the offseason.”
Charles’ game-high 27 points on Sunday, 20 of which came in the first half, were monumental as Seattle (18-10) wrapped up its series with Atlanta (12-16) with a victory. She earned just her second career start with the Storm after arriving with her new team from Phoenix in late June, and shot an impressive 9 of 13 from the field, in addition to a game-high 15 rebounds and four blocks.
“It’s just, ‘Take it when you’re open because we know that you can do that, that’s why you’re here,’” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said of Charles.
Seattle entered Sunday’s game off back-to-back road losses. The first was a four-point defeat to the first-place Chicago Sky, but the second featured a fourth-quarter meltdown when the Phoenix Mercury outscored Seattle 34-13 on Friday.
Charles and the Storm didn’t have time to mull over the losses, though. Sunday, they hosted the Dream in front of the second-largest home crowd this season (12,654).
The Storm made their first three-pointer of the game when Jewell Loyd drained a long attempt, but then went 0 of 8 from deep to follow that. Charles helped reverse that narrative. She closed out the first quarter by nailing an excellent three-point look and then made the streak of second-quarter trifectas, the second of which was the milestone shot.
“She was hesitating a little bit before she shot those,” Quinn said, referencing just how wide open Charles was. “I was just like, ‘Girl, you better shoot it when you’re open.’”
Charles was successful in the paint on both ends, too. On the offensive end, the center drove and got a bucket a minute into the game, one that Dream coach Tanisha Wright was so frustrated by that she was whistled for a technical foul. Charles equalized the score at 19 apiece when she cut to the rim, caught a great pass from Stephanie Talbot and banked a shot off the glass to end the first quarter.
And even after she heated up from three-point range, Charles didn’t force shots that weren’t there. Late in the second quarter, she showed patience, passing back-and-forth with Stewart before driving inside and drawing a foul herself.
“Not only does that do something for our team, but it does something for a player who is still getting acclimated to our systems,” Quinn said of Charles.
Stewart had the second-most points (23) for Seattle as she continues to lead the league in points per game, in addition to 10 rebounds. Stewart didn’t shoot with her usual efficiency on Sunday, Quinn said, but she found other ways to impact the game by getting to the free-throw line for 12 makes. Quinn made the case for why she thinks Stewart is the league’s Most Valuable Player, too.
“When you take Stewie off the floor, we know that we’re missing a lot,” Quinn said, referencing the forward’s multidimensional abilities.
On the defensive end, Charles had a big-time rejection of a floating jump shot from the Dream’s Cheyenne Parker in the first half, and then did it again in the third quarter. Charles was routine on the boards for a Seattle team that ranks fifth worst in the league in defensive rebounding.
“The 15 rebounds is something that we need consistently from her,” Quinn said. Seattle didn’t win the rebounding battle (45-39 in favor of the Dream), but the Storm did snag a number of crucial ones, Quinn added.
Seattle relied primarily on a zone defense, instead of its typical man defense, because Atlanta runs a lot of isolation offense (Quinn pointed out that the Dream led the league in unassisted field goals). That worked well.
In the third quarter, when Charles had a rare missed field goal, Sue Bird was there instead to drain an ensuing three-pointer. The next possession, she kicked the ball to Stewart in the corner for another three-point make. That gave Seattle a 12-point lead and forced Atlanta to call a timeout.
The Dream hung around down the stretch, but Seattle’s bench helped the Storm pull away when Ezi Magbegor made a fadeaway jump shot and Briann January nailed her second three-pointer.
And with five minutes left, and a 10-point lead to protect, Charles re-emerged on the scene when she snagged a defensive rebound and drove in the other direction.
On her historic night, an hour after she raised her arms to acknowledge the fans’ applause of her 7,000th point, Charles drew a foul in the paint but made the layup anyway, plus the ensuing free throw, to leave her at 7,013 points — and counting.
“It’s a testament to who she is when she’s been in this league,” Quinn said. “And she’s not done yet.”