Seattle, WA — Seattle beat LA for the second time this season in front of a sellout crowd at Key Arena on Sunday, extinguishing the Sparks 78-60 and clinching a spot at #7 entering the WNBA Playoffs.
The shutout was LA’s third loss in a row, but the defeat won’t affect the Sparks’ assured second place spot in the playoffs.
Seattle entered Sunday’s game 15-17 with a pressing need to win at least one of their three remaining regular-season games to clinch a spot in the WNBA Playoffs. And they did it – playing with an offensive ferocity that led them to win six of eight games in post-Olympics season play.
Coach Jenny Boucek applauded her team's recent jive. "I think our synergy has grown," she said. "Just our ability to make plays together on both ends of the floor.”
Determined to keep his stars fresh for their (guaranteed) run in the playoffs, Brian Agler purposefully condensed his bench, sitting four out of five top scorers for the entirety of the game. Candace Parker refused to spectate, however, leading her team right off the bat with seven points and two rebounds. Parker’s impact was stunted, however, when she landed herself on the bench with three fouls before the second quarter.
Coach Agler wasn't thrilled with LA's effort. "It changes a lot when you don’t have Kristi and Nneka," Agler acknowledged. "But we still expect more.”
With LA’s top players on the bench, the Storm saw an opportunity and got after it, to say the least. Within six minutes, all five of Seattle’s starting players had points on the board.
Veteran Crystal Langhorne asserted herself early on, dropping in an and-one floater down the middle to bring her squad up 8-2 with just under eight minutes remaining in the first quarter. With her fourth Olympic gold medal win tucked away in her back pocket, 35-year-old Sue Bird played with fire, reminding us that age is just a number.
Coach Boucek said the win means a lot to the veteran superstar. "I am excited for Sue," said Boucek. "For her, it has been since 2012, and with her making the commitment to us, to retire here, I was really hoping that before she retired, we would end up in big games and that she would have a lot more big games left in her career here.”
Fresh off a gold medal win in Rio, Breanna Stewart played with offensive finesse well beyond her years, wreaking havoc from both ends of the floor and buttressing her case for snatching the coveted title of WNBA Rookie of the Year.
Mosqueda-Lewis made a statement off the bench, swishing a 15-foot jumper from the side to boost Seattle’s lead to 13-points at the beginning of the second quarter.
Veteran Breanna Stewart collaborated with reigning 2015 Rookie of the Year Jewell Loyd with an old school give-and-go to bring the score to 41-21 with just over five minutes left in the first half.
Langhorne consistently picked up the trash, putting back missed shots and muscling her way through LA’s defense – sending Parker back to the bench before the end of the first half with foul number four.
The Storm smeared LA’s defense in the first half, entering the locker room at 49-27, having made 100% of free throws and out-rebounding the Sparks 21-10.
The second half was more of the same.
Although Seattle’s second half start was sluggish, LA failed to capitalize on the lull, and Alysha Clark stepped to the plate to add four points to the Storm’s lead.
Stewart defied gravity with a one-handed hook shot in the third quarter, grinning as she took her team to their highest lead yet at 60-34.
Schooling LA’s lineup from under the basket and on the run, Stewart led her team in scoring with 20 points. Veteran all-star Crystal Langhorne was close behind, putting up her second double-double of the year at 15-10.
While LA failed to overcome a severe player deficit, the Sparks’ backup talent shined every now and then. Backup point guard and Duke alumna Chelsea Gray contributed 13 points - second leading scorer for the Sparks behind Parker, who ended with 20.
Clark was the final Seattle starter to reach double figures, drilling two three-pointers at the end of the fourth quarter to seal LA’s fate and clinch Seattle’s 18-point victory.
And just like that, Sue, Stewart and the perfect Storm are in the playoffs.
"To not get in there the last couple of years and to finally get back feels really good," Bird said.
With the playoffs looming, the former WNBA MVP sees room for improvement.
"I think we need to work on our one-on-one defense and then just our offense," said Parker. "This team is capable of scoring way more than 60 points in a game, and we haven’t done that consistently the last part of the season."