The Seattle Storm have two blowout wins this year, but both were against teams that currently have losing records and that were struggling mightily around the time of the contests.
On Thursday night at Climate Pledge Arena, they notched their third-highest margin of victory of the season, defeating a good Washington Mystics team 85-71. The win was important for the standings, as the fourth-place Storm improved to 11-6 and the fifth-place Mystics fell to 11-9.
Seattle led most of the game, but saw a 10-point lead entering the fourth dwindle to two on a Shatori Walker-Kimbrough three with 7:07 to go. At that point, the Storm called a timeout, subbed in Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird and closed the game on a 16-4 run.
Stewart scored seven points on the run, Ezi Magbegor had four and Bird had five, though her layup to close all scoring at 19 seconds remaining was cosmetic.
The run began with a no-look bounce pass from Bird to a cutting Magbegor for an easy layup. Shakira Austin free throws then cut it back to two, but Stewart answered with her second triple of the game. Bird followed with a three in transition and things were comfortable from there. Bird to Magbegor for a layup in transition that made it a 12-point game with 1:51 remaining provided the finishing touch.
Magbegor could be in the running for MIP and she is certainly in the running for an All-Star reserve spot. She finished Thursday with a career high in playing time (36:08). Stewart, 27, and Loyd, 28, who both played south of 33 minutes, joked that the 22-year-old Magbegor was younger than them and could handle 36 minutes, while 32 was fine for them. Magbegor tossed in 20 points, one off her career high.
“I think Ezi is really continuing to develop in this league,” Stewart said. “Coming in and taking on a much bigger role with (Mer)cedes (Russell) being in and out of our lineup. And she’s making the right reads. She’s understanding what teams are doing defensively — if they’re gonna three-play her, she’ll have a guard on her. A lot of slips to the basket. And she’s just finishing strong, finishing well through contact. And yeah, 36 minutes. That’s pretty high. But we needed her out there tonight and she did her job.”
“It’s hard to take her off the floor when she’s playing this way because defensively she helps plug a lot of holes that sometimes when she’s not on the floor, we cannot plug,” Storm head coach Noelle Quinn said of Magbegor. “And then offensively ... one thing that I’m super proud of with Ezi today is her timing and her screening. And that is a direct translation of what we did in practice, what she saw on film. ... She’s able to slip and get the things that she got today, because she was intentional about the way in which she screened and the timing of that.”
Magbegor’s performance was noteworthy because of her youth and because it was yet another 2022 display of how much she has improved. But she wasn't the only star of the show. Stewart nearly had a triple-double with 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, Bird recorded 12 points, eight helpers and three steals and Loyd led the team in scoring with 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting from distance.
In her previous two games combined, Loyd had just 17 points on 23.1 percent shooting from the field (6-of-26).
“I think I just wasn't thinking as much,” Loyd said of breaking out of what one would call a slump if not advised by Kobe Bryant that there’s no such thing. “I just really just got into the flow of things. And I think knowing that (my teammates) never lost confidence in me too helped a lot. But I mean, I just tried to play as free as possible.”
“She’s a student of the game and she continues to put the work in,” Quinn added. “And she has that mentality, right? That Gold Mamba mentality. And she’s gon’ stick with it, she’s just gotta stay positive and stay confident.”
Notably, the Storm turned the ball over just eight times and Mystics sharpshooter Ariel Atkins shot 1-of-10 from beyond the arc.
Also in this game, Jewell Loyd beat former teammate Alysha Clark in rock-paper-scissors.
Clark spent nine years in Seattle, winning two championships. This was her first-ever game facing the Storm. Quinn played five years with her in Seattle.
On Clark, Quinn said:
“Of course I don’t like that she’s on the opposite end. But just as her friend and not the coach of the Storm, ... just as Noelle as a person, I think it’s amazing to see her elevating that team and playing at such a high level.”