The Seattle Storm went into Indiana Farmers Coliseum Tuesday night and came away with a 95-73 win over the Indiana Fever to bounce back from a concerning 90-76 loss at the Atlanta Dream on Sunday.
Jewell Loyd dropped a game-high 25 points for the winners, who improved to 14-8 (tied for third with the Connecticut Sun and two games behind the first-place Chicago Sky), while the last-place Fever fell to 5-18 (5.5 games out of the playoff picture with 13 games to go).
It was the last game in Indiana for Seattle guards Briann January and Sue Bird, who are both retiring at the end of this season. January played the first nine years of her career with the Fever, winning the WNBA championship with them in 2012. She was the third-leading scorer (10.3 points per game) and leading distributor (3.9 assists per game) on that year’s team.
“It was very cool to see like she got honored before the game and the fans were cheering very loud for her,” Storm head coach Noelle Quinn said of January’s farewell to Indiana. “A consummate professional, staple to that championship team and in her time here in Indiana had amazing teams and they did amazing things here, so I loved that she was honored today.”
The place where an incredible career began @BriannJanuary @IndianaFever #TakeCover pic.twitter.com/AAFGuKAeTt— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) July 5, 2022
Though Bird never played for the Fever, Indiana’s farewell to her was a big deal as well.
“She’s always making plays, always leading,” Fever point guard Danielle Robinson said of Bird. “And just been a great example for me obviously in this league. Trying to lead that way, trying to will teams to win. It was (a) crazy farewell, honestly like thinking back like, ‘Dang she’s really done.’ But just honored to have played against her.”
In addition to Loyd’s phenomenal performance, Tina Charles’ Storm-high 13 points and eight rebounds were of note as the high-ceiling but yet to fit in legend struggled with just two points and two boards on Sunday. Charles went 5-of-6 from the field and 1-of-1 from deep on Tuesday as opposed 1-of-6 and 0-of-2, respectively, on Sunday.
Charles, a 14-year vet and the league’s fourth-all-time-leading scorer will certainly be seen as a leader on the Storm, but still deferred to Bird’s leadership after the game.
“I’m not gonna say that we didn’t have the energy in the last Atlanta game,” she said. “I’ll just say that they hit us first and we were always in recovery mode. This game Sue made it a point to make sure that we focused on us.”
Although she is sure to have some breakout scoring performances of 20-plus, 13 points is about what the Storm need from Charles off the bench. They don’t want her to try to score too much and take the offensive focus away from Loyd and Breanna Stewart. As far as fitting in with those two superstars and the rest of the team, Charles says she’s still not at the level she needs to be at.
“Being on an opponent of Seattle, I always knew they had all the schemes, they always had smart players where they could do a scheme on one player and it could be totally different from the other. And I haven’t been involved in something like that in a while, probably since like 2015 with Bill Laimbeer or early, my first four years when I was with Coach (Mike) Thibault. So it’s just locking in on what they all mean and when and how. But I’ll definitely get there, I have no doubt in my mind. Just still figuring it out.”
Third-year center and emerging star Ezi Magbegor added 12 points and 11 boards to the winning cause, giving Seattle another strong frontcourt presence in addition to Charles.
“It’s needed,” Quinn said of the production from the post. “Obviously our deficiencies are rebounding and scoring at the moment. And I think it’s good to see our bigs being efficient from the floor and being physical. And obviously Ezi with her defensive prowess and blocking shots and Tina becoming more comfortable.
“It feels good to see where we can be and there’s a glimpse of that, a snapshot of that with today, just having our bigs just be more productive in a way, giving us shots on goal, giving us more paint points, all of those things matter.”
Though Charles’ fit is still a work in progress, Quinn is happy with where it’s at.
“We haven't had much practice time,” she said. “I think she’s being a pro and just picking up systems really quickly and learning through film and walk throughs and things that we can do when our schedule doesn’t allow us to have the proper up and down with practice. So (on Thursday) in LA, just more of the same. Just looking to make sure we’re clear on what we want to do and that’s presented and that gives her confidence just to be her.”
Seattle also got 14 points and six rebounds from Gabby Williams and 12 points, six boards and three blocks from Stewart.
For Indiana, Kelsey Mitchell bounced back from a three-point performance with a team-high 21. NaLyssa Smith added 14 points and Robinson had 11 to go along with six rebounds and four assists. But the team was without Queen Egbo, who averages 7.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, due to health and safety protocol.
“The one thing about Queen that we always love about her is that she’s gonna speak her mind without trying to be rude to anybody and she’s gon’ bring energy, and I think we needed that today,” Mitchell said. “We needed that push, we needed that pick-me-up. And on the floor we needed that bounce, you know she got a certain bounce to her, she’s aggressive, she can go get boards from anywhere. And we miss her.”
The Fever led as late as the 5:23 mark of the second quarter and were still within single digits as late as the 3:11 mark of the third, but it was never close in the fourth. Indiana lost points in the paint 52-30 and 22 was the margin in the overall score as well. The Fever have now lost five in a row.
“Our team is still obviously a young team,” said Fever head coach Carlos Knox. “But they are very attentive and enthusiastic. So we are going to be ok. Everyone knows that when you lose a few a lot of things can happen. A lot of things go south as far as your mentality. So my job as the head coach of this ball team is to make sure that everyone stays focused and they understand the task at hand. And that’s very important. And sometimes you can lose sight of that during losing streaks.”
While Knox maintains optimism about the future, what has already transpired has been tough to swallow.
“It's hard as hell,” Mitchell said. “As a competitor and a person that wants to be in that elite conversation, it’s hard. And all we can do individually is find it in yourself and figure out what you playing for and collectively take that and put it together. ... It’s blood, sweat and tears, it’s a lot of tears for me individually about how do I get through this season. And hopefully we can keep making a run at it, but I can’t even lie to you ... it’s hard right now.”