(Everett, WA) – The Seattle Storm aren’t done yet. Seattle advanced to the 2nd round of the WNBA Playoffs Wednesday night with a thrilling 84-74 victory over the Minnesota Lynx.
“I thought it was a good game. You had two teams that at the end of the season are playing well back and forth but I thought we did a good job of just playing basketball. I thought Minnesota did some things with preparation time, Coach Reeves is a great coach, but I loved the way we just kind of played basketball out of it. Natasha’s not going to have many days where she doesn’t score as readily but they got a lot of congestion to her… so she gets six assists, and they were coming off of Jordin and Jordin got really active and there were times we couldn’t reverse it over… Mercedes dribbles over like a point guard and we played full of action. Our maturity of playing basketball, to me, was part of this [success] and we got great guard play. You have to really like the guard play we played today. I also thought that as the game got close we got big rebounds.Seattle Storm coach Dan Hughes with his thoughts on the game
Seattle finished 6th overall in the league this season, which was good enough to host a home playoff game in the opening round of the WNBA playoffs Wednesday night. And in this tightly contested game between the last two WNBA champions, it was Seattle’s home-court advantage that played a key role in securing the victory and moving on to the next round of the playoffs.
Minnesota Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve talked about that after the game.
“Give credit to Seattle. Three members of an All-Defensive Team and their effort was terrific tonight defensively. Jewell Loyd got them going playing off of their defense. Our defense wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be early in the game. We ended up giving up 29 points in the first quarter, but we adjusted okay. And then we couldn’t score when we needed to when it got close. Seattle wanted to win the game. Give them all the credit in the world. They earned a home game and this is exactly why home games are so coveted.”Minnesota Head Coach Cheryl Reeve on Seattle’s tough defense and the game overall
Seattle also did something they hadn’t done all season long; win without Natasha Howard scoring in double figures.
Prior to the game, I wrote down three keys to the game. The Storm needed to knock down a good amount of three-pointers, they needed to limit Sylvia Fowles to under 20 points, and they needed someone else to step up beside Jewell Loyd and Natasha Howard.
When I wrote that, I didn’t envision that Natasha Howard would score just two points in the entire game. Her lowest point total of her MVP caliber season.
Fortunately for Seattle, they did get that extra help in this game. On top of Jewell Loyd’s 22 points, the team got huge contributions from their two rookies from last season: Jordin Canada and Mercedes Russell. Both were instrumental in the Storm’s playoff victory.
Mercedes Russell was one rebound shy of a double-double (13 points and nine rebounds) and played nearly dead even with the Lynx’s superstar center Sylvia Fowles (14 points and 11 rebounds). Most importantly, Russell’s size and defensive presence kept Fowles in check and prevented her from scoring 25-30 points as she has done so many times against Seattle in the past.
Coach Hughes praised his 2nd-year center after the game.
“We’ve watched (Mercedes) improve the whole season. I was telling the coaches that Sylvia [Fowles] got it going. But the thing Mercedes did really well was not let her get too deep. There was a lot of people all around Sylvia. The journey has taught our young ones a lot…. I’m talking about Canada and Russell… They have learned a lot this year. You can see it a part of the play today. It’s pretty daunting that Fowles is that good, but we’ve done it five times now, so you’ve got an idea.”Storm coach Hughes on Mercedes ability to limit superstar center Sylvia Fowles
Of course, Russell wasn’t the only 2nd-year player to come up big in the playoffs Wednesday night.
Jordin Canada set a new career-high with 26 points on 10-21 shooting. She was relentless, attacking the basket all game long and blowing by the slower Minnesota defenders.
Her hesitation crossover past Seimone Augustus was such a beautiful basketball play.
And then there was this one.
And we have to show off this ridiculous steal, where she raced down the court, prevented a Minnesota fast-break, stole the ball and tossed it back to her teammates before falling out of bounds.
To say Jordin Canada had one of the best games of her career would be an understatement. With performances like Wednesday night, in her first-ever career playoff start, it goes to show why Seattle selected her 5th overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft and why they picked her as the potential heir to the legend Sue Bird.
“I thought she did things off the ball that were exceptional. You always think about Jordin taking it and pushing it… her cutting, her relocation, all those subtle things without the ball led to situations where now she scores readily like that. That was key. She’s a player in the game, like Russell, who has really grown in a lot of ways. For her to recognize ‘I need to be pivotal’ without the ball because of the teams we’re playing against….and she was.“ Storm coach Dan Hughes on Jordin Canada’s performance
While Minnesota’s frontcourt put up huge numbers with Damiris Dantas (20 points), Napheesa Collier (19 points) and Sylvia Fowles (14 points) and a combined 27 rebounds; it was the Storm’s backcourt play of Jewell Loyd and Jordin Canada that were the absolute difference in this game. Seattle’s backcourt outscored their Minnesota counterparts 48-1. You read that right, 48-1. Odyssey Sims had one point in 19 minutes. Danielle Robinson had zero. Loyd’s 22 points and Canada’s game-high 26 were the difference between winning and losing this one.
Coach Reeve seemed disappointed in her All-Star guard’s lack of performance in this one.
“If I could answer why players do what they do and why they show up when they do then I’d make a lot of money because coaches would want to know the answer to those things. It’s really unfortunate timing because you need one of your top players from the season to show up it didn’t happen for her tonight.”Lynx Coach Reeve on why Sims wasn’t able to get going offensively
How the game progressed
The Storm came out hot knocking down three 3-pointers and led 11-4 within the first couple minutes of the game. Seattle then beat the Lynx on many pick and roll and backdoor cuts to the basket. The Lynx defense looked a step slow as the Storm got out to a ten-point lead, 23-13.
Unfortunately, Natasha Howard picked up her second foul of the game with about four minutes left in the quarter. The Lynx immediately went on a 6-0 run to cut the Storm’s lead to just four. Seattle battled back to put the Storm up eight after one quarter of play, 29-21.
Both teams played evenly and each team had big runs in the 2nd quarter. Seattle led by as many as 14 points at one point before Minnesota finished the half on an 11-4 run. The Storm led 47-41 at the half. Loyd was the leading scorer for Seattle at the midway point with 15 points.
Jewell made several impactful plays beyond her 22 points in this game. She had three steals. On one possession she grabbed an offensive rebound between three Lynx defenders and was able to immediately draw a foul as she went back up to score. Late in the game, she also managed to snag the ball away from a Lynx player while she was flat on the crowd, forcing Minnesota into a jump ball and preventing them from getting a fast-break play.
I talked to Loyd after the game about these extra-effort plays.
“Obviously we want to win at home and win in the playoffs. I came into the game with an aggressive mindset and I was very calm and relaxed coming into it. I wanted to leave it all on the floor. That was something that we talked about going into the game. No matter what happens, we want to leave everything on the floor and come into the locker room knowing that you gave it everything.”Jewell Loyd on doing whatever it takes to earn the playoff victory
Damiris Dantas played a critical role for the Lynx in the first half scoring a team-high 15 points on 6-8 shooting. Without her, the Lynx likely would have trailed by more than ten.
The biggest surprise of the first half was that Natasha Howard didn’t score a basket until the 3:45 mark of the 2nd quarter and finished the first half with just two points.
The Storm made adjustments in the second half limiting Dantas to just five points. But Napheesa Collier went off in the third quarter scoring eleven.
Seattle extended their lead to 12 points (60-48) on a Jordin Canada layup with 4:35 left in the third period. But Collier’s jump shot would cut Seattle’s lead down to just three points (62-59) that capped off another 11-2 run by the Lynx. The three-point deficit would be the closest Minnesota would get the rest of the way.
Seattle was able to execute a beautiful drive and dish play between Jordin Canada and Mercedes Russell, resulting in a soft jump hook by Russell with just a few seconds remaining in the third to put Seattle up five (64-59) as they entered the fourth quarter.
While Seattle’s bench didn’t play above themselves in this game (17 bench points), they came out extremely strong to start the fourth quarter. Shavonte Zellous knocked down back-to-back jump shots (her only points of the game) and Sami Whitcomb knocked down a three to quickly put Seattle back up ten 71-61; which quickly prompted Minnesota to call a timeout.
To the Lynx credit, they never gave up in this game. They trailed by double digits multiple times throughout the game and a lesser team would have easily quit on the road. They would have allowed Seattle to balloon their lead to more than twenty. But that never happened in this game. The Lynx had too much fight in them.
“That’s the epitome of our team. I think that’s what we’ve been doing all season. Starting with losing players, retirements, sabbaticals, injuries – they never made any excuses and they just competed. When we get down in a game, we just keep battling so I think it’s a testament to the players and the leadership from our captains. I’ve seen it all season long. We’ve hung in there.”Coach Reeve on her team’s ability to push through adversity and keep the game close
Back-to-back low post buckets by Sylvia Fowles cut Seattle’s lead down to four again at 71-67 with just under six minutes left in the game. The home town team would finish the game on a 13-7 run.
With five minutes remaining in the game, Seattle had one of their best defensive possessions of the game as they forced the Lynx into a 24-second shot clock violation. Minnesota would commit eight turnovers in the final five minutes of the game, including four possessions in a row.
“I think it had a lot to do with our turnovers. We were turning the ball over left and right and I think that hurt us down the stretch because they were able to utilize our turnovers.”Sylvia Fowles on how the turnovers prevented them from being able to take the lead against Seattle
While Seattle wasn’t perfect, this allowed them to put the game out of reach and push the lead back up to 13.
As the final buzzer sounded Seattle was moving on and Minnesota was headed home.
Seattle also snapped Minnesota’s impressive streak of winning a WNBA Championship every odd year this decade. The Lynx took home the title in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017.
The Storm will face a very tough Los Angeles Sparks squad who finished third overall in the WNBA this season 22-12. Seattle plays their single elimination 2nd round game on Sunday at 12:00pm.