Seattle, WA— Change is never easy, but all inquiries into how to handle it should be directed to the Seattle Storm. Undergoing a coaching change in the past week and forced to play the Minnesota Lynx tonight without their all-star point guard, Sue Bird (out with left knee soreness), Seattle had every reason to succumb to turmoil or excuses. Yet, the Storm looked like a team with a new lease on life.
Offensively, the charge was led by Crystal Langhorne who started the game with eight points off of perfect 4-of-4 shooting. In addition to hitting the go-ahead shot inside the paint with 11 seconds remaining, she and Jewell Loyd combined for 28 points on the night.
The Storm offense certainly held their own admirably without their premier floor general in Bird, but what handed them a character-defining 62-61 win over the league’s best was heart on the defensive end.
“I think down the stretch, crunch time, we got some key stops that we had to get,” said interim head coach Gary Kloppenburg. “I think if you’re playing hard and you’re battling every possession, you create your own luck.”
Through the first quarter, the Storm defense forced Minnesota to take the battle to the midrange, rather than the paint where their physical frontcourt can wreak havoc. The strategy paid off as Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson, who had done the majority of damage in both prior meetings with Seattle, were each held to only two points of offense.
Seattle took a 22-20 lead after Alexis Peterson’s buzzer-beating floater at the end of the first quarter.
While Loyd and the Storm offense were clearly feeling it from the field in the second period, questions still remained as to the durability of their defense, especially with the likes of Fowles and Brunson lurking in the paint -- and Maya Moore threatening from outside. Any team can hang for one-quarter, two-quarters, maybe even three. But consistency determines good from great to uphold tough defense the entire game.
The Storm defense did anything but cower. They held Fowles to only 10 points off of 4-of-10 shooting in the first half. Seattle closed the half by rattling off five unanswered points, including a thrilling sequence in which Loyd snagged a loose ball, Stewart sunk a clutch three, and Fowles was rejected three times at the rim. Seattle took a 36-31 lead at halftime.
Seattle fans never need a reason to stand up for their team, to begin with, so going toe-to-toe with the league’s best had KeyArena electrified, to say the least. The third frame started on a bitter note for Minnesota as Brunson was relegated to the bench due to a sprained ankle. The MVP front-runner, Fowles, shouldered the load defensively as not one offensive board or shot seemed to go uncontested by her.
Showing off the stunning combination of quickness and size that make her a once in a generation type of player, she helped give Minnesota a narrow 51-49 lead at the end of the third frame.
While the final stanza was light on offense, it was stock full of drama. Midway through the frame, Noelle Quinn went down and Seimone Augustus’ made jumper was followed up with a long stare-down, and a little trash talk directed Quinn’s way. Loyd had Quinn’s back as she answered with a quick jumper to tie the game back up 56-56 with 5:06 left in regulation.
From there, a Seattle team marred by adversity this year seemed to grow before KeyArena’s eyes as every Minnesota punch, including a three-point dagger from Moore, was met with spirited defense and a commitment to getting stops.
Seattle forced 11 turnovers off of six steals, but even more tellingly—they held a duo in Fowles and Brunson, who had taken them for 47 or more points in two prior meetings, to only 16 combined points.
“We just wanted to keep her in a crowd all night,” said Coach Kloppenburg on Seattle’s defense on Fowles. “We kept bodies around her and did a pretty good job of that. I was happy with the way we prepared.”
The game plan of sending two — sometimes three — defenders to the Lynx’s post player paid off. Keeping Minnesota from getting deep in the paint and forcing them to take tough shots from the perimeter handed Seattle a highlight reel-worthy win.
Seattle is now 2-0 on Coach Kloppenburg’s watch, and they appear bent on taking a page out of last year’s book, in which they won five out of their last six games to sneak into the playoffs.
“When Klopp stepped up as the head coach, we looked at it as an eight-game season,” said Storm forward Breanna Stewart. “We have eight games to prove ourselves and get ourselves back in the mix of things. That’s what we’re doing.”
Seattle resumes their home stand on Friday at 10 pm ET against the San Antonio Stars. Meanwhile, Minnesota will “search for answers” as Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve stated in the post-game as they seek to avenge a recent loss to Indiana on Friday at 8 pm ET at home.