The Seattle Storm lost in heartbreaking fashion Thursday night against the Minnesota Lynx by a final score of 76-73 at Key Arena.
From the opening tip, the Storm looked like the team who for so long dominated the Western Conference. Playing with a newfound aggression, Seattle jumped out to an early lead thanks in large part to seven early points from Sue Bird, and an absolutely devastating three-point barrage, that saw the Storm knock down four of seven from deep in the period.
The highlight of the period came when Jewell Lloyd checked into the game. On her first possession, she crossed over Maya Moore, drove with abandon to the rim, finishing through a foul from Moore and completing the three-point play. At the end of one, the Storm led 32-19.
In the second period, with Seattle going cold from long range, the Lynx chipped away at the lead, drawing within nine at halftime.
The Storm responded right out of the gate as the second half got underway as the Aussies got it going from behind the arc. The first three baskets of the half coming in the form of threes from Abby Bishop and Jenna O'Hea, putting Seattle up 60-44 with 7:07 to go in the third.
Despite the hot start, it was the third quarter where the veteran leadership and experience of Minnesota began to show. The Lynx forced eight turnovers in the quarter, and exploited defensive lapses from Seattle to cut the lead to just eight entering the final period.
The fourth was a true battle for both teams, but the experience of Minnesota would prove to be too much as they executed every possession near flawlessly. Despite the play of the Lynx, the Storm would hold the lead until there were just 18.4 seconds to play when Damiris Dantas completed a three-point play which put the Lynx up by one.
The Storm would commit their 12th turnover of the second half on the ensuing possession, forcing Seattle to foul Seimone Augustus who would hit both shots from the stripe.
Seattle would get a glimmer of hope when Devereaux Peters fouled Bishop with 4.3 seconds to play, but Bishop, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, missed one of two from the line. After the Lynx were again intentionally fouled, hitting one of two, the Storm got one final look on a half-court shot from Bird that fell well short of the goal.
"It's a learning experience," said Bird. "Now we have pretty much seen every type of loss. Unfortunately, with this one, we really had control of the game and this is the first time we have been in a close game."
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve praised the Storm after the game.
"I thought Seattle played great in the first half," said Reeve. "We gave up 51 points. They had a great bounce in their step and they knew how to exploit what we were doing defensively. Then we made a couple of adjustments that I thought were effective, that gave us life, that gave us some opportunities to climb back into it."
Despite the loss, Seattle showed great growth as a team.
"We made great strides," said Storm coach Jenny Boucek. "But there is a big difference between playing well in a game and closing one out. And (Minnesota) has a lot of experience collectively closing games out together, and we don't have that experience."
Seattle received stellar performances from Bird (16 points, five assists, 4 rebounds), O'Hea (career-high 17 points) and Bishop (12 points, 9 rebounds) in the losing effort. Also of note was the exemplary play in the second quarter of Markeisha Gatling who made her Storm debut and scored all seven of her points in the period.