(Atlanta, Georgia) – After the Storm fell short in Minnesota on Wednesday, they bounced back strong against the Atlanta Dream on Friday evening. The Storm got back in the win column with a dominant 82-66 victory, led by another strong game by Natasha Howard.
Natasha Howard’s speed and athleticism have proven to a be a problem for the rest of the WNBA. Howard finished with a game-high 19 points and 14 rebounds. Her second double-double in three games this year. Despite starting the game off shooting just 1-8 from the floor, Howard would finish the rest of the game going 5-7 and knocking down 7-7 free throws. She also added four assists, three blocked shots, and two steals.
The Storm looked great from the get-go as they finally got off to a fast start outscoring the Dream 18-10 in the first quarter. Seattle took the advantage and never looked back. The Storm only trailed in the very first minutes and would grow their lead to 20 points on multiple occasions throughout the game.
Seattle had their highest scoring quarter of the season in the second period, putting up 27 points and outscoring the Dream 27-17; giving Seattle a 45-27 lead at half-time.
Atlanta Dream all-star Tiffany Hayes was held scoreless in the first half and limited to just nine points overall in the game. Which was really an incredible achievement for the defense because last season Tiffany Hayes averaged nearly 21 points per game against the Storm during the three regular-season games Atlanta played Seattle.
The Storm’s defense has been amazing so far this season. In the season opener, Seattle held Phoenix to just nine points in the second quarter. Despite the loss, Seattle held the Lynx to just 11 points in the final quarter of Wednesday’s game. And Friday night, Seattle held Atlanta to just 10 points in the first quarter.
Interim Head Coach Gary Kloppenburg, known for his defensive mind, has done an exceptional just leading the Storm in Coach Dan Hughes’ absence. Through three games the Storm are holding opponents to below 69 points a game. That is a full ten points below their average from a season ago where the team gave up 79.7 points per game.
Coach Kloppenburg was pleased with the team’s effort in the win tonight.
“I thought we just came out really focused and you know they were mad about losing up there and they wanted to come out with a lot of energy and I thought we followed the game plan that we needed to follow to beat these guys.
The Storm limited Atlanta to just one player scoring in double-figures. The Dream’s Brittney Sykes led her team with 12 points, but it took her 15 shots (5-15 FG).
The Dream’s bench played particularly well scoring 30 points tonight, lead by former UCLA Bruin and Jordin Canada teammate Monique Billings who had nine points and eight rebounds and Nia Coffey who had eight points and eight rebounds.
Surprisingly, Seattle’s bench also played extremely well. While Howard, Canada, and Loyd all scored in double-figures the team also got great contributions from Alysha Clark, Mercedes Russell, and Shavonte Zellous off the bench. The three of them combined for 28 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists.
Russell who had 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench had the best game of the young season and one of the best games of her career for the second year player out of Tennessee. There were times where she got deep into the post and was able to score a lot of easy short-range shots down low in the post.
Russell was impressive, but no player had a more positive impact on their team than Alysha Clark. Clark who finally returned to action Friday night had sat out the previous two games to rest as she had been playing in a France league championship up until one day before the WNBA season kicked off. Clark finished the game with 11 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a +18 in the plus/minus scale. She also played excellent defense and was taking charges late in the game with the Storm leading by more than 15 points.
Clark played starter’s minutes (27) despite coming off the bench. And it’ll be interesting to see if they ease Clark back into the starting lineup soon or if they prefer bringing her off the bench to bolster the Storm’s bench production.
Coach Klop may have hinted that Clark could be coming off the bench at least a little while longer.
“She’s big, she does a lot of things she can defend all the top twos and threes that we always go up against, you know she can make shots, she can pull strips. It was a real lift have her coming in off the bench.”
Clark was just happy to be back out on the court with her teammates after not suiting up for the first two games of the season.
Clark on getting back out on the court
“It was really good, I mean obviously playing in Atlanta is always hard, they play really well at home, so for us to come out here and play the way that we did was really good for us as a team. We’re a new group, we’re trying to gel and get familiar with one another, so being able to come here and get this win was really good and being back out there was great. You know I missed my teammates, I missed being back in my jersey, the Storm jersey was fun, I had a little pregame jitters, but once my first shot went in I was fine.”
Jordin Canada also bounced back and had a strong game for Seattle. She finished the game with 12 points, seven assists, two steals, and just one single turnover. A huge improvement from opening night where she had seven turnovers and more turnovers than assists.
Both teams were quite even in all major statistical categories. Seattle had the slightest rebound edge at 41-40 and blocks and steals were relatively close as well. The biggest difference in this game was Seattle’s defense and ability to limit Atlanta’s good looks at the basket. The Dream shot just 33% going 24-73. Meanwhile Seattle shot roughly 44% shooting 30-69.
The Atlanta Dream were the best defensive team in the league last season and the only team to beat Seattle twice in the regular season. But during Friday’s game, it was Seattle that looked like the better defensive squad on their way to picking up their second victory of the season.
The Storm have the quickest of turnarounds as they play the Chicago Sky on Saturday, June 1st. The Sky have not played a game since last Saturday’s season opener against the Minnesota Lynx. Meanwhile, Seattle will be playing their third game in four days. That will wrap up the Storm’s three-game road trip and they will return home to face the Minnesota Lynx again. Seattle will then go on another four-game road trip, where the Storm have played seven of their first nine games away from Seattle.