The Storm finished the WNBA’s shortened regular season tied for the best record in the league after Sunday’s 86-84 defeat against Las Vegas in Bradenton, Florida.
Seattle (18-4) is the No. 2 seed heading into the playoffs, which begin Tuesday with a pair of single-elimination first-round games followed by two single-elimination second-round games Thursday.
The Storm starts postseason play Sept. 20 in the WNBA semifinals.
Las Vegas ends with an identical 18-4 record, but the Aces swept the two-game regular-season series – Seattle lost 82-74 on Aug. 22 – to secure the No. 1 seed.
“We’re going to be able to get prepared for them and beat them if we ever get to a situation where we play them again,” Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “I’m proud of this group. They battled and were one to two plays away from beating them tonight.
“We’ll be back to full strength coming into the playoffs.”
It would be a misnomer to call Sunday’s game between Seattle and Las Vegas a WNBA Finals preview considering the Storm played without Breanna Stewart (left foot tendinitis) and Sue Bird (bruised left knee).
Meanwhile, the Aces were playing their third game in four days and rested All-Star forward Angel McCoughtry, who logged a season-low five minutes.
With two of Seattle’s biggest stars on the sideline for the second straight game, Jewell Loyd exploded for 26 of her game-high 30 points in the second half and nearly stole the game with some last-second heroics.
“Going into this game, we knew it was going to be a close one,” Loyd said. “We’ll look back on film and find ways we can better not just for if we see them again, but heading into the playoffs.”
Before Loyd’s outburst, Alysha Clark shouldered the scoring load early while draining a career-high-tying four three-pointers and scored all 16 of her points in the first half.
“In the second half I was still getting good looks, but they just weren’t falling,” said Clark, who was 0 for 3 shooting in the second half. “That’s part of basketball. I didn’t think too much of it.”
The Storm trailed 46-44 at the break and would have completely fallen apart if not for Loyd.
The two-time All-Star guard put on a show while connecting on 4 of 7 field goals and 10 of 11 free throws to score 19 of Seattle’s 22 points in the third. It was the most points in a quarter this season by a WNBA player.
And it was a mesmerizing offensive display considering Loyd started slowly and missed 6 of 8 shots while tallying four points in the first half.
“I was taking the same shots that I took in the first half, but they just weren’t falling,” Loyd said. “Staying ready. Not trying to overthink anything. Just looking for my shot and staying aggressive.
“We wanted to win this game so I wasn’t going to quit and stop just because I was missing shots in the first half.”
Loyd drained a three-pointer to tie the score at 48-48 and start a stretch where she scored 12 straight points for the Storm. She capped the run with a pair of free throws that put Seattle ahead 57-54 with 3:35 left in the third.
“She was terrific,” Kloppenburg said. “She was coming off screens, driving the ball, finishing around the rim. She was really keeping us hanging in there with her scoring. I can’t say enough about her.”
In their previous game against Las Vegas, Loyd had a miserable performance while scoring a season-low three points on 1-for-11 shooting.
On Sunday, Loyd converted 9 of 21 field goals and was 10 of 12 at the line. She also had four assists in 35 minutes.
“She really bounced back,” Kloppenburg said. “I don’t think she had a good game against them the last time and she really took that to heart and really wanted to come out aggressive. She did just a tremendous job.”
With Loyd leading the charge, the Storm went up 66-64 heading into the fourth.
Neither team led by more than five points in the final frame, but the game slipped away from Seattle during a five-minute scoreless stretch.
Loyd’s jumper gave the Storm a 79-74 lead with 5:11 left. The Storm missed its next nine shots and fell behind 84-79 before Loyd drained a three-pointer to pull within two points (84-82) with 14.9 seconds left.
After a pair of Las Vegas free throws, Loyd hit another long jumper with 3.7 seconds remaining. However, Seattle failed to get a quick foul and the Aces essentially dribbled out the clock.
“We didn’t score for five minutes,” Loyd said. “That can’t happen. We’re better than that. That’s on us. We’ve got to figure out how to execute better. … You can’t go five minutes without scoring. That’s unacceptable.”
A’ja Wilson, the presumptive WNBA MVP, and Dearica Hamby each scored 23 points while Danielle Robinson had 13 and Kayla McBride had 10 for Las Vegas, which rolls into the playoffs with six straight wins.
Meanwhile, the Storm had its seven-game winning streak snapped and there’s a chance Seattle will see Las Vegas one more time with a championship on the line.
“The regular season is different from playoffs,” Clark said. “The season is over. It’s 0-0 now. Things that happen in the regular season don’t matter and don’t count anymore. We’re all walking into this thing with a clean slate.”