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Gold Mamba the closer again as Storm steal Game 1 in Vegas

Jewell Loyd closed out another playoff victory for the Seattle Storm, adding to her growing mystique.

2022 WNBA Playoffs - Seattle Storm v Las Vegas Aces
Breanna Stewart (jersey #30) and Jewell Loyd (jersey #24)
Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

Jewell Loyd was trapped by the Las Vegas Aces’ defense early and often Sunday afternoon at Michelob ULTRA Arena. It was no surprise that the dangerous Seattle Storm guard received a lot of attention in the Game 1 of a semifinal series and she did a phenomenal job of passing out of the traps before they became an issue.

However, when the game went down to the wire, Loyd would become the Storm’s closer for the second time this postseason. It was her job to get the ball out of her hands as quickly as possible early on, but in crunch time it was her job to keep the ball in her hands.

Loyd capitalized on a Vegas turnover that occurred with 2:04 remaining by burying a triple that gave Seattle a 73-71 lead with 1:45 to go. She then took A’ja Wilson 1-on-1 on the perimeter and hit a step-back, foot-on-the-arc two to make it 76-73 Storm with 34.6 ticks left and two Kelsey Plum misses from deep later the game was over with that as the final score.

Loyd scored or assisted on Seattle’s final 12 points, scoring 10 herself for a total of 26 points, a game high. She hit a fadeaway two in the paint at the 5:04 mark of the fourth to cut the Storm’s deficit to one and cut it to one again on a short bank shot from the left side at the 3:59 mark. Her one other point in the fourth came when she made 1-of-2 free throws at 1:16.

“I think last series she grew up a lot, tremendously,” Storm head coach Noelle Quinn said of Loyd, who is also known as the Gold Mamba, a nickname given to her by Kobe Bryant. “And had the same kind of cadence today, you know, rhythm. She started off good, maybe a little bit of lulls, but just ended with a lot of firepower ... Some poise, making great reads, She got trapped early and she’s been trapped multiple times this year and handled it tremendously today. She continues to grow up before our eyes. I think that last series helped with that experience and how to handle that. And she continues to make big plays for us because she’s a great player.

“Jewell is playing with a lot of confidence and we need that. We’re not gonna be successful if Jewell’s not at her best, point blank period. And I think she understands that and she’s locked into that. And what’s amazing today is that she guarded (Chelsea) Gray most of the game and still able to be very effective down the stretch. She’s finding ways to help our team outside of just getting buckets. It’s the defense, it’s the steals, it’s getting in the passing lanes, it’s the energy. All of those extra little things matter.”

In addition to Loyd’s heroics, a couple Storm players made history in the victory.

Tina Charles hauled in a Storm-playoff-record 18 rebounds, five of which were offensive.

Per Across the Timeline, The most ever by a Storm player in any game is 20 (Lauren Jackson in 2003). The most rebounds in a single game by an individual for any team is Cheryl Ford’s 23 in a 2006 playoff game for the Detroit Shock.

“When I made the decision to come here, I was just here just trying to fill in the holes,” said Charles, who also had 13 points on Sunday. “And I knew that was rebounding, being the third, fourth option scoring and just taking my shots when they come to me. So for me, coming into this game, the thing I knew I could control was just being on the boards and watching their tendencies when we box out ... So for me, I definitely took it personal coming into this game just to try to be on the boards, start early outlets, get second chance opportunities — I know those are always key come playoff time.”

“Tina is a bucket, she’s a prolific scorer in this league,” Quinn said. “But one of our deficiencies before she came to our team was our rebounding. And she’s done an excellent job of cleaning boards up on the defensive end and that helps our defense tremendously. And I think 18, that’s amazing. That’s effort, that’s championship-level effort. And I think we will continue to need that from her the rest of this series.”

In other news, Sue Bird, the regular-season assist queen, became the playoffs assist queen in game where she had 12 assists and zero turnovers.

Amid all this history, Breanna Stewart was actually the story of the game until Loyd took over late. She made some incredible high-arching shots on back-down turnarounds from mid-range and was simply her usual unstoppable self. She added six rebounds and three blocks, outplaying co-MVP frontrunner Wilson, who had just eight points to along with 12 rebounds, three helpers and three rejections. Wilson also made an outlet pass too quickly to Gray while the Aces were still trying to move up the court after gaining possession and Jackie Young ran into Gray, allowing the ball to go out of bounds for the costly turnover at 2:04 remaining.

Stephanie Talbot started in place of Gabby Williams (concussion protocol) and scored all seven of her points in the first 8:16 of the contest. She also had six boards and played 28:15.

The Aces played just seven players. Gray led the way with 21 points and five assists. Plum added 20 points while Young had 11 to go along with five helpers.

Both teams had poor performances from the field (41.3 percent to 41.2 percent in favor of Seattle) and from three (6-of-23 to 5-of-22 in favor of Vegas). Charles helped the Srorm win the rebounding battle by three and the visitors only turned the ball over seven times, winning that margin by four.

The Storm had both their offense and defense going in the first quarter as they led 26-15 after one. They failed to break 20 in each of the remaining frames, but their defense came back around in the fourth when they held the Aces to 16 points.

The play of the game for Vegas was a left corner three from Riquna Williams that gave the team its first lead of the game at the 6:15 mark of the fourth.