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Storm meet the moment in Charles’ debut, Bird breaks regular-season wins record

WNBA legend Tina Charles debuted for the Seattle Storm in a game against the team that Seattle is gunning for: the Las Vegas Aces. The Storm made a statement with a 10-point win that featured clutch plays down the stretch from two of the stars it already had in Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart. Plus, their four-time champ Sue Bird became the winningest regular-season player in league history.

Las Vegas Aces v Seattle Storm
Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd all played great on Wednesday.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Tina Charles is one of the best players in WNBA history and is still at the top of her game at age 33. Last year she even led the league in scoring and finished fifth in MVP voting. Her addition to any team is cause for celebration and for the fourth-place Seattle Storm (12-7) it could mean the difference between edging out the Las Vegas Aces, Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun as the frontrunner in the WNBA.

Thus, Charles’ Storm debut Wednesday night was bound to be a big deal. To make things even more exciting, Seattle was facing the first-place Aces (14-5). Despite Charles scoring just four points in 16:18, the Storm broke a tie with a 16-6 run over the final 6:22 to claim an 88-78 victory over Vegas at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle.

They met the moment with perhaps their best win of the season and made Sue Bird the winningest regular-season player in the history of the league in the process.

“Our fans were amazing, I felt the energy of the building,” said head coach Noelle Quinn. “There’s something about seeing where you’re at in the midst of a season against a team who everyone is saying is the top team in this league. And I think we have a team of competitors who step up to challenges and get to a level that they need to get during every game, but this was a little bit special just because you add in Tina in the mix, she gets a standing ovation, I think that elevates the mood as well.”

On Bird, Quinn said, “It’s not only the assists with Sue, it’s making big plays, the big shots. I thought she played great defense tonight, those intangibles that she brings. But also, she’s the GOAT. An amazing player with a long career and deserving of every single record she’s about to break.”

The Storm were actually one ahead of the Aces at No. 3 in our preseason power rankings and many considered them a contender to win it all, mainly because they had Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. That duo sealed the deal on Wednesday, combining for 19 of Seattle’s final 21 points.

Stewart started the stretch off with a short jumper in the lane that cut the Storm’s deficit to 70-69. Loyd, who finished with a game-high 24 points and four assists, then buried a triple from the left corner to tie the game at 72. The lone Storm points scored by someone other than Stewart or Loyd in the final 9:47 came on an Ezi Magbegor layup that made it 74-72 Seattle with 3:57 to play. Loyd then went behind her back while stepping back to create separation on Dearica Hamby and made a long fadeaway two to make it 76-72. After a layup from Aces MVP candidate A’ja Wilson, Stewart followed with back-to-back threes that made it 82-74. Finally, Loyd created eight-point leads with two free throws at 58 seconds and another deep two at 33 seconds and then created the final 10-point lead with free throws at 28 seconds.

You couldn’t have asked for a better closing performance from two of the best players in the world. If the Storm are going to win it all, they need Charles, someone who is used to having the ball in her hands, to be unselfish and fit into the flow of the offense. They also need Loyd and Stewart to be elite closers. It remains to be seen if Charles will fit in long-term, but Seattle checked the latter box on Wednesday.

Las Vegas Aces v Seattle Storm
Tina Charles and the rest of the Storm celebrate a Jewell Loyd three.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

As far as Charles, Quinn is optimistic.

Quinn is an admirable individual because she understands that there are things bigger than basketball. When she was named head coach, she said the following:

I’m not moved by a title. I’m not moved by money. I’m not moved by championships. I love to win. But what moves me is my impact and I know that I have impacted somebody. I hold that dear to my heart. Everyday I will move in a way that honors that and honors these ladies’ legacy that have paved the way for me to be here.

I agree that she, and everyone, should ultimately be judged by their impact outside of basketball. But if we’re talking about coaching basketball, Quinn still has a lot to live up to as the head coach of a storied franchise. She already has a Commissioner’s Cup title to her credit, but if she wants to be considered a great coach she needs to also win a title at the end of the season. She won one as the Storm’s associate head coach in 2020, but there is now a lot of pressure on her to duplicate that as the head woman because she inherited so much talent.

The pressure increases with the addition of Charles.

“Just adapting to the way that we play automatically is good to see,” Quinn said of her new star. “Now, are we gonna get her in spots, yeah, to be successful, we gotta work our way through that. But to have a player of that caliber on the floor is going to help everybody else.”

Stewart finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks, while Bird (13 points, six assists, two steals) also played great. But Stephanie Talbot outscored both of them with 15 points — her first double-digit performance since scoring 11 in the team’s opener. Talbot also had three steals.

“Thought she played amazing,” Quinn said. “I think Tina helps that a lot, just because she’s going to get so much attention. So Steph is able to utilize her skill set and shooting the three, getting to the rim. I thought she was very poised in transition. I thought she was locked in defensively, her athleticism, her physicality — she was guarding (Kelsey) Plum majority of her minutes — just her attentiveness to the detail, making sure she was getting into Plum’s body, getting over screens. She was very locked in.

“I thought from top to bottom everyone contributed in a great way. I thought we weathered runs. I thought we were locking in defensively. ... It was an effort that was on both sides of the ball, which was amazing to see against an opponent who is one of the top offensive-rated teams not only this season but historically, they’re on mark to be amazing. So really pleased with the effort from everyone and just glad to get on track.”

The Storm shot a scorching 14-of-29 from three (48.3 percent) and another highlight was the 20 turnovers they forced. They won that margin by seven.

“We executed our game plan,” Loyd said of the forced turnovers. “Whether we were switching, trapping, we just made sure that they never knew what we were gonna do. And once they kind of read certain things, we switched it up on the fly. You have to be unpredictable sometimes on defense just cuz everyone’s so good. People pick up things so quickly, you know Chelsea Gray’s such a great point guard, she knows and she has a feel for the game. So throwing different looks at all their guards helped a lot and we were so active covering up certain mistakes ... I think that’s just a credit to our energy tonight.”

On Tuesday, Loyd was named an All-Star reserve. She will be making her fourth appearance in the game and joins Storm teammates Stewart and Bird, who were named starters.

The All-Star Game will be held in Chicago. Loyd was born in Lincolnwood, Ill. and went to high school at Niles West in Skokie, Ill. Both locations are just north of Chicago.

“I’m excited,” Loyd said. “I’m excited to get back to Chicago and sleep in my own bed, for at least a night. Just be back with my friends and family. So it’s an honor. I don’t think this feeling ever gets old. And I said this before: you have the respect of the league and players and fans. So I’m just trying to be my best self every single day, but it’s special going back for sure.”