August 8, 2020 

Storm’s scare versus the Dream may be what they need

What can Seattle learn from this experience?

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PALMETTO, FL- AUGUST 6: Breanna Stewart #30 of the Seattle Storm shoots the ball against the Atlanta Dream on August 6, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. 

Thursday’s game had all the makings of a blowout. The veteran Seattle Storm with the 4-1 record were facing the retooling 2-3 Atlanta Dream. Despite a 31-16 lead after the first quarter, the Storm would eek out a narrow 93-92 victory. This may have been the wake-up call the contenders needed.

“We were lackadaisical on the offensive end and even on the defensive end, our defensive schemes weren’t tight. We were allowing them to get offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities. Drives to the basket, just open threes, we weren’t really locked in on the defensive end, and it allowed them to come back and get the hope,” said Seattle’s Jordin Canada. “Down the stretch, we just tried to execute as much as we could, knock down free throws – thank God – because if we didn’t, we would probably still be playing right now. But yeah, we were a little bit sluggish in the second half and that’s something that we got to fix going into the next game.”

At the end of the first half, the Storm led by 15 points and the Dream had nine turnovers. Between their performance through 20 minutes and their edge in experience, Seattle should’ve known better to take their foot off the gas. Even the worst teams in WNBA are too talented for any team to think they can coast against. Yet, this seemed like what happened to the Storm.

Seattle fell asleep at the wheel

After holding a 63-48 lead with 3:23 remaining in the third quarter, the Dream ripped off an impressive 23-7 run resulting in them retaking the lead at the 6:21 mark of the fourth quarter.

Eleven of these points belonged to Dream rookie Chennedy Carter, who finished the game with 35 points and seven rebounds. Carter’s energy helped her team build confidence as they drew fouls and created great scoring chances.

Seattle was outrebounded 12-8 in the third quarter made just 1-of-10 3-pointers between the second and third quarters. Both third-quarter turnovers led to points for Atlanta. Anything that could go wrong for the Storm did and their wounds were somewhat self-inflicted.

After the Dream retook the lead, something awoke in the Storm. Suddenly, they were closing out harder on shooters, coming harder over the top of screens, and battling for every rebound. Suddenly, the team with the machine-like offense from the first quarter returned.

Two of the Storm’s best players would carry them down the stretch: Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. Loyd’s physical defensive work and activity on offense kept the intensity on the opponent. She and Canada worked well on the perimeter to ice those Dream pick ‘n’ rolls that had troubled them throughout the second half.

When the Storm needed her, Stewart was there to answer the call inside and out. It was Stewart’s 3-pointer with 1:46 left to give Seattle the 81-73 lead that gave the Storm some breathing room. Stewart also snared several key rebounds and made crucial free throws in the clutch.

Far from over

Yet, Atlanta’s backcourt wasn’t done. Carter and Betnijah Laney each had 12 points in the final frame. Laney dropped all 12 of her fourth-quarter points after that Stewart 3-pointer. The Dream’s barrage forced the Storm to go 10-for-10 on free throws down the stretch. In total, the Storm made 15-of-16 free throws in the fourth quarter and they needed every one of them.

“We’re happy to get out of here with a win. One point or twenty, you’re happy to get it. That’s the way our league is. There’s not much separation talent-wise, so you got to really play well,” said coach Gary Kloppenburg. “Our experience helped us down the stretch, being in clutch situations. Jewell, especially, Jewell and Stewie, they’ve been there before so they made some plays that helped us get over the hump. I thought Jordin, she got to the line, she hit all her free throws down the stretch, which was huge. We needed every one of them.” 

“We needed every one of them. After that L.A. game, we’ve been putting more time in on our free throws so it hopefully paid off tonight. They’re a difficult team. They have penetrating guards, they have skilled guards, they’re aggressive up in the front lines. It’s difficult — you want to try to not foul but they’re really aggressive and physical. We needed every one of those 25 tonight to get out of here with a W.”

No one in the Storm locker room was going to refuse any win, but the team seemed aware they made their lives more difficult than necessary.

“It was wild and crazy. Obviously, we started really strong and then seemed like second and third quarters we were struggling to kind of make shots a little bit, and I think the thing is we can’t be so focused on when one thing doesn’t go our way, we need to do something else, and that starts with me,” said Stewart. “Just continuing to kind of pick it up, obviously we picked it up at the end, close game as well, but it didn’t even need to be a game.”

Loyd finished with 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Stewart led the Storm with 27 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. Canada and Alysha Clark both scored in double figures and played key roles in the victory.

Next, Seattle will face the Phoenix Mercury. The Storm were fortunate to escape with a win on Thursday and the Dream would have deserved the win with their play to retake the game. However, the Mercury have the experience of big games and would relish the opportunity to steal a win from the Storm and close the gap in the standings.

We’ll find out if the Storm learned their lesson on Saturday afternoon.

Written by Derek James

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