(Everett, WA) – The Seattle Storm finally returned home after playing three games on the road last week. The Storm went 1-2 on their road trip, losing games in Minnesota and Chicago while picking up a big win in Atlanta. The Minnesota Lynx handed Seattle their first loss on the season, 72-61 last Wednesday, so it was only fair that Seattle returned the favor Tuesday night in Seattle (Everett) in an 84-77 victory for the Storm.
Seattle had their best shooting game of the season, shooting 32-54 for over 59% from the floor and nearly 54% from three-point range. The 84 points scored against the Lynx on Tuesday was the highest point total Seattle has scored all season and a stark contrast from the season-low 61 points they put up in Minneapolis last week. Even more impressive as the Lynx came in as the only undefeated team in the WNBA (3-0) and had held all of their opponents to 40% FG shooting or under.
“It looked like they weren’t happy about the loss they had in Minneapolis. They set the tone from start to finish. They played much harder than we did. They had a great pace to what they were doing and it showed as they shot almost 60 percent and over 53 percent from three. They played harder than we did and that was the disappointing part.”Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve was impressed with the Storm’s performance.
The Storm made a couple of noticeable adjustments, inserting Alysha Clark and Mercedes Russell into the starting lineup. It was only a matter of time for Clark, who has missed time this season due to her overseas season overlapping into the WNBA season. Clark has been a consistent starter for the Storm dating back to 2014. However, this was Mercedes Russell’s first ever career start in her 29th game overall.
Russell, the 6′ 6″ second-year pro out of Tennessee, was inserted into the lineup to counter Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles, one of the most dominant centers the WNBA has ever seen. Seattle has long been brutalized by Fowles over the years, especially when being matched up against the much smaller 6′ 2″ Crystal Langhorne.
But Russell made a noticeable impact. While Sylvia Fowles did still score 16 points in the game, only two of those were scored in the second half with the game on the line. On top of that, I counted a handful of plays where Russell specifically deterred Fowles from scoring the ball. One time, Russell was able to deflect the ball off Fowles and out of bounds. Another, where she got her hands up high and forced a turnover, and another where Mercedes was able to front Fowles and steal an entry pass. Similar plays happened a few more times throughout the game and it really made a noticeable difference.
Minnesota made this a game when Natasha Howard picked up her third and fourth fouls early in the third quarter. Seattle had a nine-point lead that Minnesota completely erased with a 13-4 run. The Lynx even took a lead late in the period with a Lexie Brown three-pointer to put Minnesota up 62-61. Jewell Loyd would drive to the basket and score with 0.4 seconds left to give Seattle the 63-62 edge heading into the 4th quarter.
With around six and a half minutes left to play, Damiris Dantas would sink a three-point basket to tie the game up at 70-70. From that point forward, Seattle would use clutch play by Jewell Loyd and Jordin Canada to finish the game on a 14-7 run.
Rookie of the Year Candidate
The Minnesota Lynx very well may have the 2019 Rookie of the Year. Napheesa Collier, drafted 6th overall, came out with a bang in her season debut against Chicago scoring 27 points, the second most ever for a WNBA rookie in their debut. Tuesday night, she had 17 points and led the Minnesota Lynx in scoring.
Collier, third all-time on the scoring list at the University of Connecticut behind only Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart, looked extremely impressive scoring at the rim, knocking down the mid-range, a three-pointer, and getting to the foul line.
Collier was the 6th player taken in the 2019 draft, but leads all rookies in scoring and has looked extremely impressive in her first season. She appears to be the early favorite to win Rookie of the Year and I have a feeling at least two or three teams are going to end up regretting passing on her on draft day.
A Battle Between Young Point Guards
Those that followed the 2018 WNBA Draft closely will tell you that the two top point guard prospects coming out of college that season were UCLA’s Jordin Canada and Duke’s Lexie Brown; not counting Kelsey Mitchell who plays primarily shooting guard in the WNBA. The Seattle Storm had the 5th overall pick in that draft and they had their choice in taking Canada or Brown. The team opted to take the speedy undersized Canada out of UCLA and Lexie Brown was selected 9th overall by the Connecticut Sun.
While struggling with her shot all season, Canada would go on to play a pivotal role as Seattle’s backup point guard. Something the team had really struggled with since the departure of Tanisha Wright. Canada had big moments that helped lead Seattle to their third championship, despite not always getting a ton of playing time. Canada also led all rookies in assists per game with nearly three and a half assists per game.
Meanwhile, Lexie Brown played very limited minutes (less than 6) in just 22 games for the Sun, averaging less than two points per game. Connecticut seemed to give up quickly on Brown and dealt her to Minnesota just after the draft for 2nd round pick Natisha Hiedeman who the Sun then subsequently cut before finalizing rosters this season.
Brown has been given new life by being traded to the Minnesota Lynx where she’s averaging 19 minutes a game off the bench and scoring 8.5 points per game through four games. Brown has a great knack for knocking down three pointers and she scored 8 points and knocked down two from beyond the arc in Tuesday’s loss to Seattle.
Canada, thrust into the starting lineup due to Sue Bird’s knee injury, has also upped her game significantly since her rookie season. Through five games, Canada is averaging 32 minutes a game, 12.6 points, 6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game.
It was fun to watch both of these young guards go against each other. Canada had the superior performance scoring a career high 17 points, seven assists, and three steals. She also managed to use her incredible speed to blow by Brown a couple times to get some easy layups.
Canada also had the play of the game, an impressive steal and layup late in the game that helped secure the victory for Seattle.
Sue Bird’s absence is definitely noticeable
The Seattle Storm committed a season-high 20 turnovers in this game against Minnesota. On the season, Seattle has committed 13 or more turnovers in every game except for one. Without Sue Bird, Jordin Canada is pressed into the starting role and having to log long minutes at the point guard position. With Canada starting at point, the team no longer has a true backup point guard, and run PG by committee with Loyd, Zellous, and Whitcomb.
“Luckily we shot nearly 60 percent, that probably negated some of those turnovers. I thought we rebounded the ball really well, that was one of the keys that we have found against them. We have to hit the glass hard to negate one of their strengths. We had too many turnovers, Jordin Canada had five, Jewell Loyd had four, they are trying to make plays that aren’t there. That is something that we will show them, it is a learning process. We are a running team so we may have a few more than most teams, but we have some work to do in that area. When we didn’t turn it over, we moved the ball really well, we had good shots, and we were knocking down our open shots tonight.”Interim Coach Gary Kloppenburg on the team’s turnover woes
Jewell Loyd also talked about the high number of turnovers after the game:
“We play fast, it happens. We need a little bit more focus, maybe we need to slow down a little bit. I think that most of them were aggressive turnovers, where we were trying to push the ball up the court. We need to control the ball better, we will do a better job.”Jewell Loyd on why the team had so many turnovers
Alysha Clark also discussed the turnovers during the post-game press conference and the importance of cleaning that up moving forward:
“It felt like we had a lot, but I didn’t know we had that many. We are still trying to learn about each other on offense, because we have new players in new roles. New players, with new responsibilities. It is going to take time. To know that we had 20 turnovers, and we were still able to win, is really great. It is just going to take time for us to gel and that number will go down as the season progresses. We cannot do something like that on the road. Valuing the ball on the road is going to be key for us. That will definitely be a point of emphasis.”Alysha Clark on the adjustments to playing with new people and new roles
Alysha Clark Makes A Difference
I do not believe it is a coincidence that the Seattle Storm are 2-0 when Alysha Clark plays and they are 1-2 this season when she has not played. It’s one thing to lose the MVP in Breanna Stewart or the best Point Guard the WNBA has ever seen in Sue Bird, but when Seattle is also without one of their best defensive players and leaders and missing 3/5ths of their championship starting lineup, it really is a bit too much to overcome.
Clark will be key to the Storm’s success this year because the team needs at least three strong scorers in every game. It can’t always be Natasha Howard, Jewell Loyd, and Jordin Canada because it’s unrealistic to think that all three will score 15-20 points every single game throughout the entire season.
Clark has scored in double figures in both games she’s played in so far this season, she had 16 point and five rebounds in the win against Minnesota on Tuesday and 11 point and five rebounds against the Atlanta Dream last week.
“She is another leadership role. Her voice, her composure, she has been here the longest. She obviously knows what to do, she is a calming voice in the huddles that we need. She is our defensive leader and the heart of our team, we feel that adjustment of having her back.”Jewell Loyd on the importance of having Alysha Clark back on the court
Clark brings so many intangibles to the team. She is going to lock down one of the other team’s best wing players in every single game. She’s going to get key rebounds and she can has the potential to score 10-15 points every single game. With no teams really separating themselves in the first three weeks of the season, Seattle should have the potential to compete for a Top 5 spot in the standings and maybe even a first round bye in the playoffs (Top 4). But they are going to need everyone to step up and they’re going to need Alysha Clark to be a part of it.
The Seattle Storm are back on the road over the next two weeks, playing four straight road games. When this road trip is over they will have played 7 of their first 9 games on the road. I’m not certain if this was because of the difficult scheduling conflicts for the Seattle Storm while KeyArena is being demolished (the Storm are having to play some games in Everett at Angels of the Winds Arena and the rest of their games at the University of Washington’s Hec-Ed/Alaska Airline Arena) or if this is because the WNBA schedule makers wanted to make it as difficult as possible for Seattle to repeat as champions. It doesn’t really seem fair that a team would have to play 7 of 9 games on the road to start the season, but the Storm will play with the cards they have been dealt.
The positive spin to this is that if they just play .500 ball (win half their games) during these early road trips, the team will be in good shape to win a lot of games this season and make the playoffs despite all the major setbacks with losing Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird.
Next up, the Seattle Storm will head back to Chicago on Sunday June 9th as they seek revenge after losing to the Sky on Saturday June 1st, 83-79. It was a game the Storm really should have won, but could never take the lead late and ultimately fell to the Sky. Seattle did not have Alysha Clark in that game and it’ll be interesting to see if she can make the difference in the next match-up.