(Seattle, WA) – The Seattle Storm clinched a playoff spot on Sunday when the New York Liberty lost to the Washington Mystics 101-72. This is no doubt a huge accomplishment for the defending champions after their entire season was thrown completely off course before the season even began; once MVP Breanna Stewart tore her Achilles tendon while playing overseas in Russia. And then it was announced that Sue Bird would miss all or most of the 2019 season with knee surgery.
Most media outlets predicted the Storm would not make the playoffs. Not only have the Storm made the playoffs, but they still have a great chance to claim a first-round home playoff game.
“The season started by reshuffling the deck (after the injuries to Stewie and Bird). There’s a lot of people out there that didn’t think we were a playoff team. We thought we were. It’s gratifying (to earn the playoff spot). We’re still learning things. Things don’t come easy for this team and we try to be honest about that. That there’s going to be some ups and downs to this season. But I’m very proud that we are a playoff team and now we’re battling for the best position we can. Storm Coach Dan Hughes on clinching the playoff spot
The key I want is for us to be playing good basketball by the end of these next two weeks. When we go into the playoffs, we can win on the road. We would love to be at home as I told the team afterwards. If we could earn the ability to play at home that would be a major success for us.”
Unfortunately, the Storm’s playoff seeding took a huge hit on Sunday as they weren’t able to overcome a horrible shooting night as they fell to the Indiana Fever 63-54. The 54 points were not only a season-low for total points scored but you have to go back to Jewell Loyd‘s rookie season, five years ago, to find another game where they scored fewer than that. Sunday’s game was their worst scoring game since June 9th, 2015 where they lost 68-45 to the (then) Tulsa Shock (Dallas Wings).
“You look at the final score and it was just a consistent defensive effort throughout against a team that’s high-powered offensively. (Seattle) does a good job moving the basketball and can create some problems when they go small. I thought we stayed disciplined throughout and didn’t make the same mistakes twice. The best part of that is we married it to some concepts offensively by playing to Teaira (McCowan) and playing off of her. (Tiffany) Mitchell gets a wide-open layup late because they didn’t want to leave Teaira. And (Teaira) is a willing passer. It’s a tough environment to play in coming off of a tough loss in L.A. It was nice to see us bounce back and be the aggressor.”Indiana Fever Head Coach Pokey Chatman
Seattle jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the first three minutes of the game after back-to-back three-pointers by Natasha Howard and it was all downhill from there. The Fever would quickly call a timeout and settled down. Indiana then went on their own 6-0 run. Indiana would regain the lead on a Kelsey Mitchell fast-break to put the Fever up 16-14. Indiana finished the first quarter on a 16-4 run to take an 18-14 lead after one. Seattle would never regain the lead after that.
The Fever jumped all over the Storm to begin the second quarter on a 9-4 run to go up nine 27-18. The Fever would extend their lead to 11 points before Seattle made a small run at the end of the quarter to cut Indiana’s lead to seven points at half time, 33-26.
Seattle shot just 24% from the floor and only had two assists in the first half.
The Storm had absolutely no rhythm offensively and their guards could not buy a basket. Seattle’s four guards (Jewell Loyd, Jordin Canada, Sami Whitcomb, and Shavonte Zellous) shot a combined 2-19 from the floor (10.5%). In general, the entire team struggled mightily with their shot. It was one of the worst shooting performances I’ve seen since I started covering the team five years ago as they shot 18-63 good for just 28.6%.
This game was a stark contrast from last Sunday’s performance against the Minnesota Lynx where six different players scored in double figures, including all five starters. This Sunday, just one Storm member scored in double figures, Natasha Howard had 14 points and pulled down nine rebounds. She also had three steals and three blocks, including an absolutely vicious block on Kennedy Burke. Howard continues to make a strong case for defensive player of the year.
And while the Storm’s defense was quite strong holding the Fever to just 63 points, 6’7″ rookie Teaira McCowan absolutely dominated with 22 points and a career-high 19 rebounds. She also added two blocks and was absolutely a staunch presence in the middle of the paint, limiting Seattle’s scoring opportunities.
“I was just working hard like normal. I try to go out and get every (rebound) to get my team more shots and get us out in transition. That’s what I tried to do. That’s what I like to do best – get my guards out to get quick buckets then turn around and we’re back on defense.”Teaira McCowan on her career-high 19 rebounds
McCowan looked like everything she was projected to be as a potential number one overall pick; she ended up going third overall to Indiana in the 2019 WNBA Draft. But you can see the potential. She was unstoppable in Seattle on the offensive end, cleaning up the glass, and keeping the Storm out of the paint.
I had nightmare flashbacks to McCowan’s Mississippi State college days when she absolutely dominated Kelsey Plum and the Washington Huskies in Plum’s final collegiate game in the Sweet 16 of the March Madness Tournament.
“We’re asking her to guard fours. And they started the game with Mercedes (Russell), who has the height with her, but she probably played 11 or 12 minutes guarding (Crystal) Langhorne or (Natasha) Howard, which is really tough because she has to play the angles. And it’s a different set of plays so, for me, that shows her growth. Previously when that happened she was in foul trouble (against smaller teams) so that’s her growth. When she’s not on the floor and in foul trouble, we struggle. You can see her confidence and you can see the players trusting her more and more and wanting her to be that piece in the middle.”Indiana Fever Coach Pokey Chatman
The Fever had two other players score in double-figures, Candice Dupree added 12 points and Kelsey Mitchell added 13 points off the bench and was the only Fever bench player to score. K. Mitchell also had the best plus/minus of any player with a plus 16. She also knocked down several key shots in the 2nd half whenever the Storm attempted to make a run.
Per the Storm’s PR, The game marks the second time this season that Seattle has held an opponent to 63 points and lost. This season, Seattle is 3-2 when holding opponents to 63 or fewer points. The rest of the WNBA is 25-3 in such games.
This was also the 2nd time this season the team shot under 30% from the floor and it really highlights the Storms struggles to score this season.
The lack of offensive firepower is where Seattle clearly misses Breanna Stewart the most. While Natasha Howard, has done an incredible job of filling in for the MVP as Seattle’s top scoring option this year; in general, it just hasn’t been enough.
Jewell Loyd has not been the same since returning from her severe ankle injury and continues to struggle with consistency. Not terribly surprising, both second-year players Jordin Canada and Mercedes Russell have also clearly struggled with scoring each and every game. You’ll see them break out for 12-15 points one game and the next game maybe it’s 4-6.
Playoff Seeding Update
Despite the disappointing loss, the Storm remain in the 6th seed and have clinched a playoff spot. However, today’s loss was extremely costly when looking at results around the league. The team right above Seattle in the 5th seed, the Chicago Sky (18-11) and the team right below Seattle nipping at their heels, the Minnesota Lynx (7th seed), both won on Sunday. The Lynx (15-15) are now just 1/2 game behind Seattle (15-14).
If the Storm and the Lynx remain in the 6th and 7th overall seeds at season’s end, then they will face one another in the first round of the playoffs. Seattle will want to keep the 6th seed in order to have home-court advantage for that game.
The Storm have a quick turnaround as they face the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night in Seattle. Seattle will be seeking revenge as they recently lost a heart-breaker as they choked away a seven-point lead with about 80 seconds left in the game on 8/16 in Connecticut. The Sun are the only WNBA team the Storm haven’t beaten this season and this will be the last opportunity to get a win against them this year.