(Seattle, WA) – Entering Sunday’s game in Seattle, the Storm were one of two WNBA teams that were still unbeaten at home along with the Connecticut Sun (6-0). Unfortunately, for Seattle, the Storm finally lost their first game at home against arch-rival the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday afternoon 69-67.
The Storm actually did a lot of things well in the game. They out-rebounded the Mercury 37-29, which Coach Hughes was particularly proud of. Seattle had the edge in assists 20-13. They also held Phoenix to below 40% shooting and an abysmal 22% (6-27) from three-point range.
But the Mercury also countered the Storm well, especially on the defensive end. They limited Natasha Howard to just nine points on 4-15 shooting (her lowest point total this season). They made life extremely difficult for Howard keeping her out of the paint and sending double-teams her way often.
“They doubled and congested Natasha Howard and they did it really early. What we have to do is be able to play out of that [congestion] and put them in rotation and do that quickly. I saw signs of it in the second half, a little bit, but If they are going to commit that much congestion to Howard, we have to play out of it. Phoenix didn’t turn the ball over to us that much tonight, so Howard wasn’t playing in a lot of live ball situations. We will work on understanding that other teams are going to load up Howard, and we need to make them pay in another way.”Coach Dan Hughes on the Mercury’s defensive emphasis on stopping Natasha Howard
One of the biggest reasons the Mercury were able to come into Seattle and get the victory was their ability to take care of the basketball. The Storm lead the WNBA in forcing about 17 turnovers per game. However, the Mercury only committed six turnovers. A season-low for a Seattle opponent. I talked to Coach Hughes after the game if the defensive focus on Brittney Griner limited what Seattle could do defensively to throw more traps defensively on other players around the perimeter.
“I give them credit, they did a pretty good job of [not turning over the ball]. There was not a lot of errant passes or catches coming from them, so I’ll give them credit. They have Brittney Griner and they have the perimeter aspect. But we need to be able to win games where the other team doesn’t turnover the ball, I am not sure that every team will allow us to pressure them to turnover the ball. I was pleased with our rebounding. It was a close game, there are a lot of little things that we can point to, but I wish we did not get down by double digits in the first half and have to play catch up.”Coach Hughes on the Mercury’s ability to take care of the ball and limit turnovers
Phoenix was led by their two healthy superstars DeWanna Bonner and Brittney Griner. Griner was especially dominant any time Seattle did not immediately send double-teams at her. Both players finished with a game-high 20 points each. Griner shot 71% (10-14) and Bonner knocked down a season-high four three-pointers. Griner also led the team with seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
The Mercury’s bench still struggles with production but they’re starting to get some really good play from rookie Sophie Cunningham. Cunningham had a career-high 19 points on Friday against the Indiana Fever and finished Sunday’s game as the team’s leading bench player with seven points. She also seemed to be pesky throughout the game, forcing Seattle into some fouls and getting physical with the Storm players. Cunningham was selected 13th overall in the 2019 WNBA Draft, one selection after Seattle made their pick. Cunningham also seems to have leap-frogged first-round pick Alanna Smith on the depth chart as Smith did not play at all and Cunningham played for nearly 20 minutes.
Seattle really struggled offensively out of the gate. The Mercury did a fantastic job defensively clogging the middle of the paint, especially Brittney Griner who had three blocks in the first quarter alone. The Storm really lacked Jewell Loyd’s shot-creation ability on the perimeter. Loyd remains sidelined for at least the next two weeks with a severe ankle injury.
The Mercury led 19-12 after one. Dewanna Bonner did most of the damage scoring eight points in the opening quarter. Seattle was held to just 28% shooting (5-18) and simply looked out of rhythm. The Storm made several miscues including bad passes to areas their teammates weren’t even at through the first 15 minutes of the game.
“We do not make excuses for those turnovers. We just did not execute. They brought double teams and congestion, and they sped us up and we have to deal with being sped up. They have great length on certain match ups. There were a few possessions that we took to the time and the care to get points and it worked. There were a lot of times that we could not handle their aggressive nature on defense. We have to learn things whether we win or lose and unfortunately we learned things tonight from a loss.”Coach Hughes on the sloppy play and not wanting to use it as an excuse
Similar to the first game between these two teams this season, Phoenix got out to a double-digit lead (13 points) with 6:50 left to play in the first half on a Sophie Cunningham jump shot, 28-15. However, the Storm would battle back finishing the quarter on an 18-6 run including a 7-0 run to end the quarter. Jordin Canada was a huge spark for Seattle scoring seven points in the 2nd quarter after scoring zero in the first. Phoenix led 34-33 at the half.
Seattle took their first lead of the game early in the third on a Mercedes Russell floater to put Seattle up 35-34. The Storm would extend their lead to three at 39-36 before the Mercury would go on their own big run to put them back up five. Crystal Langhorne received a beautiful pass from Sami Whitcomb to lay it up and cut Phoenix’s lead to just three at 51-48 to end the third.
Whitcomb would finish the game with a team-high 13 points and five assists. She also had the best plus/minus on the team with a +8. Whitcomb also added six rebounds and only one turnover. It wasn’t one of her best shooting nights (5-13 and 3-11 from 3-point range), but it was certainly one of Whitcomb’s best overall games as a pro.
Entering the 4th quarter, the Storm only had one single free throw attempt for the entire game. Something that certainly had an impact on the game. They finished the game with nine attempts, so they did a much better job of getting to the line in the 4th.
I spoke to Coach Hughes about the fact they only had the one free throw attempt entering the 4th and he had this to say.
“As a coach, I talk to the officials about what they are doing, and I talk to the team about being more aggressive. You have to own it as a team. We get fouled and that’s the way this team wins games. When we’re not getting to the line, that is an issue. We either have to correct it, or I have to convice the officials to change their angle. I ask the team to be more physical and aggressive in getting fouls because we have to have that component.”Coach Hughes on whether it was on the refs or his team to get to the line more
The Storm would briefly take a one-point lead over the Mercury with 5:22 left in the game on a pair of Crystal Langhorne Free Throws, but the lead didn’t last long. Phoenix immediately went back to work with Griner who scored back-to-back baskets down in the low post. Then Briann January hit a three, which was followed up by a DeWanna Bonner three and all of a sudden the Mercury had a nine-point lead with less than three minutes left in the game.
Bonner’s three looked like it’d be the dagger to put Seattle down for good. But just as they’ve done all season long, the team kept fighting. Natasha Howard countered with a three-pointer of her own and then Mercedes Russell got a huge AND1 to cut Phoenix’s lead to just a one-possession game with two minutes left to play.
In the final minute of the game, the Mercury had extended their lead to six when Seattle wasn’t able to convert on the offensive end. But another three-pointer by Sami Whitcomb with 31 seconds left pulled Seattle back within three. The Storm were able to get a defensive stop and Canada took a last-second shot to tie the game. She didn’t make it but she was fouled beyond the three-point line and had a chance to send the game into overtime if she could make all of her free throws.
Unfortunately, she was not able to and after a bizarre clock malfunction at the end, the refs called the game in favor of the Mercury.
“It came down to the little things. We fought from beginning to end but there was just a few plays and we didn’t finish on the defensive end and that really hurt us. It came down to the wire. We had a chance to tie it up, but basketball is a funny game, you can’t make every shot, you can’t get every free throw, you can’t get every layup. Credit to Phoenix, that’s a tough game, that’s a very tough team but, I think we played a solid 40 minutes but it just came down to the last minute. We fought as a team, we stuck together, we came up a little short.”Mercedes Russell on losing to the Mercury
I talked to Russell after the game about her new opportunities this season and if she tries to model her game after Griner while she was at Tennessee.
“So it’s just an opportunity for me to grow and get better every single game. I mean, I go against some of the best posts in the game, I mean, Brittney Griner is going to be one of the best to probably ever play. When I was younger, watched her a lot when she was at Baylor because, she was like the hot thing of the year, right? Through college, and now that she is in the league, she is one of the centers I look up to. I look up to a lot obviously, just trying to model my game and grow and just be dominant like them.”Mercedes Russell on watching Griner when she was younger and now competing against her
The Storm had another balanced attack which is likely what they will need to continue to do without Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, or Sue Bird active on the team. Seattle had four players score in double-figures but no player topped 13 points. For a second consecutive game, Natasha Howard really struggled with her shot shooting just 27% (4 of 15); but did lead the team in rebounding with eight.
The Mercury were thrilled to pick up the big win to get back to .500 and improve to 5-5 on the season. Coach Sandy Brondello talked about the win after the game.
“We’re resilient. We’re persistent. Sometimes against Seattle you have to play ugly and you have to win ugly, but we competed when we needed to. Did we make mistakes? Sure. Did they? Sure. It’s basketball and we’re not going to be perfect. I think we executed the scout pretty well and we were locked in. We missed a lot of open shots and they missed a lot of open shots and that’s what it comes down to when you’ve got two high-quality teams competing.”Mercury Coach Brondello on the team’s gutty road win
She also gave an update on the potential return of Diana Taurasi.
“It’s not her back. It’s just getting her back into shape and how her body feels. I don’t want her to come back until she mentally knows that she’s able to do that and physically is ready to do it. Maybe it’s next Friday … I don’t know. We have to go back, get on the court and see how she goes and how she responds after practice. It’s good that we’re actually finding a little bit of a groove now without her because we struggled there for a while with all the other injuries. Seattle has just done a little better job than us in that regard.”
KIDS DAY! The Storm continue their six-game homestand with an early 12:00pm game on Wednesday against the New York Liberty. This will be the first match-up between these two teams this season. The Liberty enter Seattle with a 5-7 record and currently sit 9th overall in the standings. However, they have been playing better as of late as they are 5-5 in their last 10 games.