Three WNBA teams remain unbeaten since the All-Star break. They are the Top 3 teams in the standings.
The third-place Seattle Storm opened the second half with an 83-74 win over the Dallas Wings last Tuesday. They then basically had a second All-Star break with four days off before they defeated the Indiana Fever 81-65 Sunday afternoon at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle.
While the second-place Las Vegas Aces have broken 100 twice and scored 91 in their three wins since the break, the Storm continue to not blow us away with their scoring. Their defense carried them early and that narrative has continued longer than expected. Now there are only 11 games remaining in the regular season.
Seattle may not be piling on the points, but it will take the wins and hope for a big statement at the first-place Chicago Sky on Wednesday.
The points that did come on Sunday came largely from the team’s most gifted scorers. Breanna Stewart had 25 points, eight rebounds and three assists, Tina Charles had 15 points, seven boards and two steals off the bench and Jewell Loyd was good for 15 points and five boards.
It was the fourth game in a row that all three scored in double figures. They combined for 50 points on July 5, 57 on July 7, 43 last Tuesday and 55 on Sunday. With an added scorer in Charles, it would make sense for someone to have to take a back seat in the scoring column and that could be Charles herself at times. On Sunday it was Sue Bird posting a goose egg, but only taking three shots and getting the job done in the distributing department with six assists.
All in all, it was more good news coming out of Seattle on the Tina Charles front.
A lot has been made of Charles adjusting to Seattle’s schemes and on Sunday she was asked if she was enjoying the learning process. She took the question in a different direction.
“I love playing basketball. So regardless of (the schemes), it’s just more so ... the individuals that I’m alongside of. How each of them approach every single practice, caring about every single possession, defensive possession. Just seeing how the coaching staff prepares for the game and makes sure everyone is readily prepared. I think that’s the beauty of it, I think that’s what the main difference is. You know, what attracted me to Seattle were the players on this team and just their approach and just what’s known about Seattle.”
“Tina obviously brings a lot, everyone knows, she’s an amazing player, she’s one of the best players in our league, and the way she can really affect and change a game,” Stewart said. “But, if I’m being completely honest, the thing that she’s brought has just been confidence. Obviously she’s confident in herself, but I can see just the rest of the team gaining confidence and kind of thriving off what she brings. It’s a lot of fun. It’s great to share the court with her, we’ve done it with USA a lot of times, and now to be able to do it in the WNBA, it’s dangerous.”
Also notable in the game was Bird passing all-time great defender Alana Beard for third in league steals.
Congratulations to @S10Bird on recording her 711th steal and passing Alana Beard to move into the No. 3 spot in all-time steals! ⛈️ #TakeCover pic.twitter.com/NvVGop1C0Z— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) July 17, 2022
Afterwards, both Stewart and Storm head coach Noelle Quinn were asked about what makes Bird a good defender.
“I think it’s just her court awareness,” Stewart said. “Everybody knows she knows where everyone’s gonna be offensively and she knows the same defensively. She knows who she’s guarding, who has the ball, which matchup is most important and she puts herself in passing lanes.”
“She plays defense with her mind,” Quinn said. “She knows angles, she knows where she’s effective, and understanding personnel. I think sometimes you think about the best defensive players being aggressive, being physical, being in bodies and in spaces. And I think sometimes you don’t think about the defensive players who know the scout, know the schemes, know what the players are going to run, how they like the ball, and just being in the vicinity of areas to get hands on balls, to get steals and just to be aware.”
Stewart had 17 points in the first half, but things weren’t looking too good when she picked up her fourth personal foul 2:25 into the third. At the time, Seattle was only up nine (seven after NaLyssa Smith’s free throws).
“She gave me a look and I gave her a look back without any words exchanged. I knew what it meant and I trusted her in that moment,” Quinn said of her decision to leave Stewart in the game at that point. Stewart did not commit another foul.
Even with Stewart staying in, Indiana was able to cut it to three twice in the third.
“Nothing that it’s out of the ordinary of what Indy did,” Quinn said of the stretch. “I think it just was us and just kind of picking back up our energy and our focus a little bit.”
“I know they still want to get better regardless of their record and we definitely felt that out there, we have respect for them,” Charles said. “But we knew what we had to work on and Stewie led us.”
The Storm have a chance to improve on their 9-9 finish to last season. Quinn said that finishing the regular season strong is going to be “huge.”
“Just knowing that that is (a) very tight race at the top. And in general, you want to be playing their best basketball toward the end of the season. I don’t think that we've peaked quite yet, we’re still trying to figure things out. And it the midst of that, finding ways to win and be very effective. So, each and every game moving forward is very important. And we are going to be present, be where our feet are. So we don't want to look past any opponent, not think big picture too much. But just knowing it’s the last stretch and we have to be mindful of the way in which we come into games and how we want to be effective on both ends of the floor.”