(Indianapolis, Indiana) – After losing to Chicago on Sunday, the Seattle Storm were desperate for a win as they faced off against the Indiana Fever on Tuesday afternoon. The Fever, the league’s worst team last year, seemed like the perfect opponent to get back in the winner’s circle. But the 2019 Fever have already proven to be a better club than last year’s team and they wouldn’t make it an easy game for Seattle.
Despite a defensive lapse by Sami Whitcomb at the end of the third quarter and a feisty Fever team that rallied in the fourth, the Storm were able to hang on and escape Indiana with an 84-82 victory. The game came down to the final minute after Indiana took the lead on a Natalie Achonwa free throw with 29 seconds left to play. On the next play, Jewell Loyd drove to the basket put up a shot that missed but a controversial foul was called. The refs went to the review monitor and it appeared that Achonwa was outside the restricted circle and that the call would be reversed as charging foul on Loyd. However, the referees determined there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call, which resulted in loud boos by the home Fever crowd. Jewell Loyd proceeded to calmly sink both free throws to put Seattle back up by one.
Kelsey Mitchell of the Fever took a three point shot (they only needed two) that was off the mark. Jewell Loyd secured the rebound and was immediately fouled. Loyd sank one of two free throws. The miss was the Storm’s first and only miss in the entire game after 16 attempts. Interestingly enough, both the Storm and Fever were perfect from the foul line all game line until the final 30 seconds where both teams missed one free throw that could have decided the game for either team.
Because Loyd missed the second free throw the Fever still had nine seconds left with a chance to send the game to overtime or win with a three-pointer. They got a good look from Candice Dupree but the shot was short and Crystal Langhorne was able to secure the rebound and Seattle was able to dribble out the clock and leave Indiana with a win.
“I just thought it was a really tough hard-fought game. That’s a really good young team over there with some outstanding offensive weapons. And we were just trying to hang on there at the end for dear life. We got a couple stops late in the game that we needed to get with a little bit of a lead to hang on. Pokey [Chatman] does a really nice job. That’s gonna be a very good team.”Interim Coach Gary Kloppenburg on surviving Indiana in the 4th quarter.
Seattle was led by Natasha Howard’s monster game of 26 points, a new regular season career high for the 6th year player out of Florida State. Howard’s all-time career high was her 29 point performance in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals where the Storm beat the Washington Mystics to claim the franchise’s third championship. Howard also finished the game with a team-high nine rebounds, two blocks, and two steals.
Jewell Loyd also contributed in a big way. She had 18 points, four rebounds, and three steals in the game. As mentioned above, Loyd sank three free-throws in the final 30 seconds to secure the victory for Seattle. Loyd also knocked down several impressive jumpers including a couple with the shot clock running down to zero.
Natasha Howard wasn’t the only Storm player to finish the game with a regular season career high. Mercedes Russell had an extremely impressive performance finishing the game with a new career-high 13 points and 8 rebounds. Russell scored seven points in the first quarter and was dominating the low post against Indiana in the early frame.
Natasha Howard, Jewell Loyd, and Mercedes Russell combined to score all of the team’s first quarter 24 points. And it was really Seattle’s first quarter, where they outscored the Fever by seven that allowed them to get the win in Indiana. Both teams played evenly in the second quarter and the Fever outscored Seattle by five points in the second half.
Natasha Howard talked about the differences between the first and second half.
“First half, we started off hungry. We started off throwing the first punch and our focus was getting rebounds and getting stops. That was what we were kind of struggling on, was rebounding and we picked that up. And in the second half, we kept our momentum still. And we just kept it going through the whole game. And we knew it was going to come down the wire with Indiana.”Natasha Howard after the game on the keys to winning.
Jewell Loyd also discussed the keys to winning late in the game.
“Just our toughness, in general. Just making sure that we were executing down the stretch. They had a few big runs, and we kind of messed up on our matchups a little bit. But I expected it to be like this. This team doesn’t give up. The Fever, they fight all the way through, so we knew that they were going to come back with a punch. But I think down the stretch we kind of came together and got big stops from Crystal Langhorne.”Jewell Loyd credits the team’s defense in the final minute.
The Fever were led by Kelsey Mitchell’s 21 point and seven assists. But Indiana actually got several strong contributions from around the team. They had five players that scored in double figures compared to Seattle who only had three, of those five they included: K. Mitchell (21), Achonwa (17), Burke (14), T. Mitchell (12), and Dupree (10). Candice Dupree also had a game-high 15 rebounds.
Not only was the game’s score extremely close, but several of the key statistics were as well. Both teams had 23 assists apiece, Indiana out-rebounded Seattle by just one (32 to 31), Seattle had a slight edge in steals (10 to 8), and the Storm had a slight edge in taking care of the basketball with two fewer turnovers (11 to 13). Really the biggest difference in the game was the 19 fouls for Indiana compared to the Storm’s 11. This led to Seattle getting 16 free throw attempts, seven more than Indiana got.
Kennedy Burke and the Wings’ mistake
The Dallas Wings drafted Kennedy Burke out of UCLA in the 2nd round (22nd overall) of the 2019 WNBA Draft. Burke was by far one of the most impressive rookies during the WNBA preseason games. And yet the Wings surprised everyone when they cut both of their 2nd round picks Megan Gustafson and Kennedy Burke. Burke was immediately picked up off the waiver wire by the Indiana Fever.
Burke has scored 14 and 18 points in the past two games for the Fever and is currently averaging 11 points per game off the bench for Indiana. After a very successful college career at UCLA, Burke looks to be a very nice piece that the Fever can build their young core along with the Mitchells and Teaira McCowan.
While it’s not surprising that Wing’s coach Brian Agler would cut multiple rookies off his team, it does seem to be an interesting choice when the Wing’s currently don’t have Skylar Diggins-Smith, traded away Liz Cambage and are currently the only WNBA team without a victory this season (0-4). If Burke continues to impress throughout this season and beyond, this could definitely end up being a movie the Wings ultimately regret.
Mercedes Russell Continues to Grow
Mercedes Russell has moved into the starting lineup for the Seattle Storm the past three games. The 2nd year pro out of Tennessee is improving by leaps and bounds this season. Russell was a legit factor in this game. Not only did she score a career-high 13 points, but she was dominating down in the low post. Her seven quick points in this game forced Indiana to make a quick substitution and bring in 6′ 7″ Center Teaira McCowan off the bench.
Over the past two games, Russell has scored 21 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. She is clearly getting more comfortable against WNBA competition and is proving to be a capable scoring Center in this league.
I know many fans were clamoring for the Storm to play Mercedes Russell more often last season. She’s getting that opportunity now and she is absolutely rising to the occasion.
This game against Indiana was a must-win if the Storm want to stay above .500 and work towards a playoff spot. The next two road games will be extremely difficult as the Storm play the two best teams in the league, the Connecticut Sun and the Washington Mystics.
First up will be a rematch of the WNBA Finals as Seattle heads to Washington DC for a 4:00pm match-up against the Mystics on Friday 6/14. The Storm then conclude their four game road trip with a game against the top seed (6-1) at 12:30pm on Sunday 6/16.