Any confidence and momentum the Storm generated from its previous outing – a 34-point win over Washington on Tuesday and the 10th-largest margin of victory in franchise history – quickly dissipated in the first quarter Sunday night.
Without WNBA MVP candidate Breanna Stewart, who sat out because of a left-foot injury, Seattle fell behind early and looked out of sync, especially on the offensive end, while producing one of its worst losses of the season – a 81-53 defeat against the Los Angeles Sparks.
It’s no secret the Storm relies heavily on Stewart, who ranks third in the WNBA in scoring (20.3 points per game), fourth in rebounds (9.5), third in blocks (1.8) and fourth in minutes (33.3).
The absence of the 6-foot-4 star forward exposed all the deficiencies in a Seattle team that didn’t come close to its 84.5 points per game average.
“You put Stewie on the floor, obviously defenses do things differently,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “You put her on the floor defensively and she’s able to block shots and do things, rebounding. In general, her presence creates the offense, creates the possessions, creates the feel and the swag and the everything.
“We can talk X’s and O’s and we can talk 20 and 10, but when you have Stewie on the floor, there’s just a level of confidence that our team plays with and other teams respect that.”
Since selecting Stewart No. 1 overall in the 2016 draft, Seattle has posted a 94-55 (63.1%) record, including 63-19 (76.7%) in the past three years with her in the lineup.
Before Sunday, the Storm had a 19-20 record without Stewart, but was 0-2 this season when she sat out a pair of games last month to rest.
“In both of those games, we got off to a good start,” Quinn said. “I thought that we were playing hard. I thought that we were competitive. I thought our energy level was there. I don’t think we had that same sense of urgency with our game today.”
Against Los Angeles, the Storm didn’t put up much of a fight.
In the first quarter, Seattle shot 4 of 16 from the field, including 2 of 7 on three-pointers and trailed 24-13. It was the lowest-scoring period of the season for the Storm.
The Sparks outscored Seattle 21-14 in the second quarter to take a 45-27 lead into halftime. At the break, the Storm shot 29% on field goals and 21.4% on 3s (3 of 14) in its lowest scoring first half of the season.
Quinn employed a 3-2 zone defense and used the guards to trap the Sparks on the perimeter in an attempt to ignite a stagnant offense and slow down the red-hot shooting Sparks, who converted 55.9% of their field goals in the first half.
But nothing worked.
Los Angeles overwhelmed Seattle with an aggressive defensive attack that pressured ballhandlers and forced 17 turnovers, which resulted in 25 points.
“All year, L.A. has been a great defensive team with their physicality,” Quinn said. “That’s how you get to us, I think. We like to play freely. We like to move the ball. We like to play with some pace and some flow. To muck things up, you have to be physical with us and I just don’t think we turned the corner in the game against their physicality.”
Quinn tweaked the lineup to start the second half and replaced forward Stephanie Talbot with center Ezi Magbegor to comprise a big front line alongside center Mercedes Russell.
Again, nothing worked.
Russell picked up her fourth foul early in the third quarter and was ineffective against a smaller and seemingly vulnerable L.A. front line while finishing with six points and five rebounds.
But Russell wasn’t alone in the futility department.
Since their pairing in 2016, Sue Bird played her first game without Stewart and struggled offensively. Bird scored just three points on 1-for-7 shooting. The WNBA’s all-time assists leader was held without an assist for the first time since 2012, which snaps a 199-game streak with an assist that’s the third longest in league history.
Seattle’s other All-Star, Jewell Loyd, also struggled offensively and tallied five points on 2-for-9 shooting, including 0 for 4 on three-pointers.
Backup point guard Epiphanny Prince (12 points) was the only Storm player with more than seven points on an dreadful performance in which Seattle shot 32.1% from the floor and 6 of 27 on threes.
Te’a Cooper scored 19 points off the bench for Los Angeles (11-19). Nneka Ogwumike and Erica Wheeler each had 17 while Brittney Sykes added 15 for the Sparks, who snapped a six-game losing streak and kept their hope of securing the final spot in the playoffs alive.
Meanwhile, the defeat proved to be costly for the Storm (20-11), which fell to fourth in the standings and can finish no higher than third place.
Seattle is a half-game behind the Minnesota Lynx (20-10) and leads the Phoenix Mercury (19-11) by a half-game.
With a win at home on Friday over Phoenix in its regular-season finale, the Storm can secure a top-four finish and a first-round playoff bye.
But Seattle will face the Mercury without Stewart, who is ruled out for the game. During a pregame interview, Quinn said Stewart’s foot did not sustain structural damage and will be re-evaluated next week to determine her status for the playoffs.
“At the end of the day we have a great group of women and they understand where we are,” Quinn said. “They understand what it’s going to take to continue to have some success, especially in the postseason.”
- Backup point guard Jordin Canada missed her third straight game due to a right-knee injury.