(Minneapolis, MN) – The Seattle Storm went into Minnesota and got an impressive road victory Wednesday 90-79. And yet a 4th quarter collapse nearly ruined what was an otherwise exciting win led by a career night from Natasha Howard.
Howard absolutely dominated the Lynx, scoring a career-high 33 points on 12-21 FG shooting. She also had seven rebounds and three blocked shots in the game. Coach Cheryl Reeve didn’t have the answers but gave Howard her credit for the performance.
“She’s a great player, that the GM traded. I knew that would be a difficult matchup for Phee (Napheesa Collier). This was not one of Phee’s better nights. Natasha Howard is a fast player, dynamic player. 28% three-ball, step-back threes…she was feeling herself. Not a great matchup. Natasha is a tough matchup for most people but, obviously for Phee that was challenging.Coach Reeve (also Minnesota’s GM) takes a shot at herself while praising Natasha Howard
The Storm had four players score in double figures in another balanced team effort. The other players were Sami Whitcomb (15 points), Alysha Clark (12) and Jordin Canada (12). Whitcomb also had a career-high dishing out eight assists. Clark also became the 7th player in franchise history to collect 300 assists in her career.
Whitcomb talked about getting open to hit her five threes in this game.
It’s sort of the way they defend a bit. They try not to, they tend to keep the bigs off a little and they like to keep them in the paint a bit more so if you can really use the screen, and we have some really great screeners, you have that split second, that one second to get the shot off and that sort of suits my game.”Sami Whitcomb on how Minnesota was guarding her in the game and leaving her open
And while Mercedes Russell didn’t score in double figures in this game, she still made a huge impact. Russell finished the game with seven points, nine rebounds, and three blocked shots. She also had the highest plus/minus of any player on either team with a +21 rating. This was very noticeable as she did a very solid job defending Minnesota’s All-Star Center Sylvia Fowles. Russell altered multiple shots and forced Fowles to miss, even in single coverage. When Russell wasn’t in the game, Fowles was able to score at a much higher clip.
Another major reason the Storm were victorious is that they held All-Star guard Odyssey Sims to just five points on 2-12 shooting. And while a lot of the stats were comparable, the Storm held an eight to nothing advantage in blocked shots.
Minnesota also had four players score in double figures led by Lexie Brown‘s 20 points off the bench (more on her later). Sylvia Fowles had 16 points and seven rebounds. Danielle Robinson had an impressive double-double with 14 points and 10 assists. Stephanie Talbot chipped in with 10 points.
The Storm never trailed in this game. Seattle started off 4-4 including 3 three-pointers to jump all over the Lynx. Seattle was 7-8 to start the game and had a 17-6 lead just four minutes into the game. Minnesota started 2-2 but then went ice cold from the floor shooting just 1-12 from the floor in their next 12 shots. The Storm finished 4-8 from 3-point range after one and led 26-16. Shavonte Zellous drained a three with about a second left in the quarter. That wouldn’t be the last time a Seattle player would do this.
Early in the 2nd quarter, we saw an interesting lineup with Shavonte Zellous, Sami Whitcomb, and Blake Dietrick all on the court at the same time. This was partly because Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis suffered a left knee injury where she landed awkwardly after a jump shot. Mosqueda-Lewis played just two minutes prior to the injury and would not return in the game. She is questionable for Friday’s game against Las Vegas.
Seattle led 50-40 at the half. The Storm shot 54% while the Lynx shot just 39% in the first half.
The Storm would use a 10-2 run to go up 18 at 60-42 to start the 3rd quarter. Seattle would extend their lead to as many as 21 points in the quarter.
Natasha Howard had 12 of her 33 points in the 3rd quarter including a beautiful step back 3 as the third quarter came to an end. Seattle outscored Minnesota 21-14 in the 3rd period.
The Storm would take a 17 point lead into the 4th quarter, 71-54. The victory appeared well in hand for Seattle, but then the team completely fell apart for the first six minutes of the final period. The Storm committed seven of their 21 turnovers in the fourth.
Minnesota found life after Danielle Robinson forced Blake Dietrick into back-to-back turnovers just by pressuring the ball in the backcourt. The first turnover resulted in a fast-break layup from Robinson to Lexie Brown. The 2nd time, Blake attempted to stop Robinson for scoring and was called for a Flagrant 1 foul.
While it was a bit of a questionable Flagrant call. There is a legit concern about Dietrick’s ability on this team. She appears to be lacking in confidence offensively and is extremely limited in her ability to score. This is also not the first time I’ve seen her struggle to bring the ball up the floor when being heavily pressured. And she looked visibly shaken and upset on the sidelines after committing the turnovers.
The Lynx cut the Storm’s 17-point 4th quarter lead down to just one point at 78-77 with 4:05 left to play in the game. Minnesota used several of Seattle’s turnovers against them. Lexie Brown was also huge knocking down multiple 3’s in the quarter.
The Lynx would never take the lead, cutting Seattle’s lead to just one again at 80-79 with 3:30 left to play. Minnesota would not score again for the rest of the game as Seattle would finish the game on a 10-0 run.
Minnesota had 34 points off of Seattle’s 21 turnovers, the most points given up off turnovers since 06/28/2009 in a defeat to the Los Angeles Sparks. And yet, the Storm managed to hang on to win this game.
Coach Hughes was proud of his team for hanging on and executing down the final stretch.
“You know, you knew Minnesota was gonna make runs at us. I thought we played really well. We made shots. And our pace was very good throughout the game. And then we face a little adversity with losing a couple of players and you knew Minnesota is playing well, and you knew they were going to make a run. And I was just really proud, we didn’t give up the lead, they got it to one and D- Rob had that shot, but then we had a little presence at the end. And that, we’re learning about ourselves as our team has moved around personnel-wise so much. But I was pleased because you knew as well Minnesota’s playing it was gonna be, at some point, a run we would have to deal with and could we come back from it.Coach Hughes during the post-game
Point Guard Problems
Without Sue Bird the Storm are extremely thin at Point Guard. And it was extremely troublesome when Jordin Canada went down with a knee injury earlier this year. While Shavonte Zellous and Sami Whitcomb have done their best to run the backup point guard position, that isn’t their natural position and their play won’t always be positive.
While it’s true that Sami Whitcomb had a career-high eight assists in the game. She also had a team-high five turnovers.
Unfortunately, Canada went down with another injury in the final five minutes of this game. She was driving to the hoop and stumbled to the floor. She was either tripped or lost her balance while attempting to drive through traffic. Sadly, as she fell face-first to the ground, it appeared that her head may have made contact with Lexie Brown’s knee. Canada laid on the ground as the Lynx recovered the ball and she did not get back for the entire next possession which allowed Lexie Brown to drain a wide-open three-pointer. Seattle called a timeout and Canada did not return to the game.
It is unclear on whether or not Canada will be available to play on Friday night back in Seattle against the Las Vegas Aces.
With the myriad of injuries this season and the possibility that Sue Bird may not play at all this season, I completely understand having Blake Dietrick on the team. But I do believe that Alisha Valavanis should look to add another point guard with greater upside in the future and that could be a priority for the 2020 WNBA Draft.
Lexie Brown and My Confusion with the Connecticut Sun
I honestly don’t understand it. The Connecticut Sun have been a relatively successful organization in recent years, finishing as the 4th overall seed the past two seasons. They currently own the second-best record in the WNBA this season.
But more than anything else I associate the team as one that has given up on some talented players. In 2015, they drafted Elizabeth Williams 4th overall. Then they barely played the 6’3″ center out of Duke during her rookie year. The Sun would then trade Williams before the 2016 season to the Atlanta Dream.
Williams would go on to win the WNBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award in 2016 averaging nearly 12 points, over eight rebounds and nearly 2.5 blocks per game (2nd best in the WNBA). Williams would be named to the WNBA All-Star team in 2017 while putting up similar numbers the following season. And while her numbers have dipped a little over the past two seasons, Williams has still proven to be a high-quality player for the Dream.
And I can’t help but feel like we might be seeing the same thing happen again, this time with Lexie Brown. Brown was a highly touted point guard out of Duke entering the 2018 WNBA Draft. It was likely that the Storm were going to draft either Jordin Canada or Lexie Brown with the 5th overall pick and while I’m very happy they selected Canada as that was the player I wanted them to take after watching her dominate the PAC12 her junior and senior seasons. I was still very high on Lexie Brown as well.
But Connecticut never gave her any playing time to develop and shipped her off to Minnesota before this season for a 2nd round pick that never even made the Sun’s final roster.
And while Brown continues to develop in Minnesota, she has shown flashes of brilliance already this season. She has scored over 20 points a couple of times already and is averaging around 8 points off the bench for the Lynx. She is also shooting over 41% from 3-point range.
I’ll be interested to see if Brown improves even more in another year or two and I’ll wonder what prospect the Sun will give up on next.
The Storm host the #1 overall seed Las Vegas Aces and UW’s own Kelsey Plum on Friday 7/19 – 7:00pm at UW’s Hec Ed/Alaska Airlines Arena.