The Storm (1-3) were without Breanna Stewart and Epiphanny Prince (both in health and safety protocol) for the second game in a row and, while they were more competitive with the Phoenix Mercury, fell 69-64 Saturday afternoon in Seattle. In their first game without Stewart and Prince, Seattle fell 97-77 in Phoenix.
One thing was the same in both games and that was Jewell Loyd’s scoring total: 26. Loyd, a participant in last year’s 3-point contest, was 4-of-7 from distance in the first game and 5-of-11 on Saturday. She has a history of high scoring outputs in games that Stewart misses. However, she missed an opportunity to come up clutch late and her efforts to that point were not enough.
Sue Bird was notably 0-of-8 from three and 1-of-11 from the field with just two points on Saturday. Loyd was the only Storm player in double-figure scoring. Stephanie Talbot had eight points and a career-high 14 rebounds, while Ezi Magbegor (career-high seven blocks) had eight and 10.
Each of the first three quarters was close and the game was tied going into the fourth. The first lead greater than three in the final frame for either team came on a Brianna Turner layup that made it 64-59 Phoenix nearly eight minutes in. Magbegor cleaned up a Talbot miss to cut it back to three with 1:26 to go, but the GOAT Diana Taurasi nailed a step-back three in Gabby Williams’ face on the ensuing Mercury possession.
Typically Robin but the Batman of the moment, Loyd answered with a clutch three of her own from the left wing, but had a chance to cut it to one or tie and lost the ball out of bounds with 26 seconds left.
The Storm had two more chances down three, but Talbot missed a low pass from Williams she could have grabbed and Bird missed a three. Two Taurasi free throws with four ticks remaining iced the Mercury win.
On Loyd’s turnover, she would have had a wide-open layup if she hadn't lost the ball.
“Offensively I think just not being solid with our possessions,” Storm head coach Noelle Quinn said of what happened to cause the loss. “Kind of bobbled a possession, would have had a really good look if we just executed cleanly. But at the end of the day, we were in great position to win. Our defense held us steady, we just have to find ways to execute on the other end of the floor.”
Tina Charles, who had 22 points when the Mercury blew out the Storm, was held to four points, but Taurasi dropped 24 on the strength of six made triples.
As a team, Seattle was 8-of-31 from distance (25.8 percent) compared to Phoenix’s 12-of-32 effort (37.5 percent). Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field and in Seattle’s case it was the third game in a row. This time, the Storm’s 31.2 percent marked a season low.
In addition to Stewart and Prince, a key player in Mercedes Russell was out for Seattle with a non-basketball injury. She has not played yet this season.
“We have a couple new faces, obviously we’re not full strength, so we’re not our whole team yet,” Loyd said. “Season’s not over, we’re just getting started. We know that, we know it’s early, but obviously we want to build ourselves. We’ll get there.”
“We have yet to play one single game with our entire unit,” Quinn said. “And so that’s encouraging. ... We can grow from this. ... Holding a heavy offensive firepower team like Phoenix to 69. ... By no means is it time to press the panic button. We’re in a game with an amazing team without one of your best players on the floor and 30 points combination if you add in what Piph has done this year and what Stewie has been doing and no telling what Mercedes can do in a game. I’m encouraged.”
The Storm can’t get Stewart back soon enough. They play the defending champion Sky next on Wednesday and then a much-improved Sparks team on Friday.
Percy Allen of the Seattle Times reports that Quinn is “optimistic” about Stewart and Prince’s chances of playing on Wednesday.