I've documented the highs and lows of the Storm over the past week and it seems that it is hard to make any grand statements about them because it's been back and forth. That was true over the last two days as well as they clinched the playoffs with a win over the Washington Mystics on Saturday, but fell back into a tie for fourth with a loss to the same Mystics on Sunday. They missed out on a golden opportunity to go up on Washington by two games.
Both games were in DC and both were incredibly close. Since Washington is the team the Storm are tied with, it is quite possible the two teams will meet in a competitive first-round playoff series. The one other meeting between the teams this season went to the Storm, so Seattle has the tiebreaker for home court advantage should they end up tied with the Mystics at the end of the regular season. But the Mystics could still finish with a better record.
Here's a look at Saturday and Sunday's games:
Saturday (Storm win 82-77)
The Mystics went on a 15-4 run from 3:19 remaining to 26 seconds remaining to cut their deficit to one. Former Storm player Alysha Clark had the Entertainment and Sports Arena rocking when she buried a three at 26 seconds. Washington then forced a turnover on the ensuing Storm inbound play out of a timeout. That opened the door for the Mystics to potentially take the lead, but Elena Delle Donne missed an inside shot that was heavily contested by Ezi Magbegor.
Two Breanna Stewart free throws later, the Mystics had a chance to tie, but Natasha Cloud missed a three with seven ticks remaining. Stewart then iced the game with two more free throws at four seconds remaining.
“I would describe the fourth quarter as a playoff-type game, playoff atmosphere," Stewart said. "Obviously our bench did a great job really getting us a good lead. And then you knew that their punch was coming, their run was coming, they hit some big threes. But I think what we did best was we kinda weathered that storm, we continued to keep playing. And despite it all, confusion on timeouts, things like that, we were able to get stops when we needed it and knock down free throws.”
The Storm's top three scorers (who are three all-time great scorers), Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Tina Charles led the way with 18, 17 and 16 points, respectively. Their combined effort was able to overcome Delle Donne's game-high 22. Those top three scorers being consistent will be crucial for Seattle and they've had some good games together so far; Saturday wasn't the first.
Sue Bird dished out a team-high seven assists. It was her second straight game with seven helpers and her eighth straight with at least four. She averaged 5.8 over that stretch. She only scored in double figures once over the span. She has always been a pass-first point guard who is not too concerned with her scoring numbers, but she is sacrificing her scoring now more than ever in pursuit of a fifth championship. Her scoring average stands at 7.7 - 2.1 lower than her career low set in 2020. The Storm of course won the championship that year. As long as her assist numbers continue to be stellar, we'll know Bird is doing her job and impacting winning to a great extent, as she always has.
With the win, the Storm clinched the playoffs for the seventh straight season, a streak that started Stewart's rookie year. But for Charles, it was her first time making the playoffs since 2016. Her next three seasons with the Liberty, New York failed to make it and then Charles went playoff-less in 2020 and 2021 as well - two seasons where she had high hopes of winning a championship with Washington. In 2020 she was granted a medical exemption from the wubble because of asthma and in 2021 Delle Donne missed all but three games with back issues and the Mystics were not a super team without the two-time MVP, missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
“It’s really special," Charles said of making the playoffs with the team she joined midway through this season. "I know for these guys it’s something that always happens for them. But then you have a player like me, bounced around and just trying to win. I'm just very thankful that I had the opportunity to be with this organization. I don’t take anything for granted, so, as you can see I'm very emotional so I’m thankful.”
“I love that for her," Storm head coach Noelle Quinn said when told that Charles got emotional about the playoffs. "I love that for us. That shows the care in wanting to find success. ... I think sometimes it’s like with the players that we've had for the past few years, playoffs just seems like something you’re supposed to be doing. And that is not normal for a lot of other teams within the league. And so I think sometimes we do breeze over that ... not saying that it doesn’t matter in any way, but because we’re used to, past few years, winning championships. And I think it’s important to soak in the fact that this is huge for our organization, for our team, for everyone who pours into the Storm organization. Though, the job is not done. The success is winning a championship and I think that's all in our hearts and minds.”
Sunday (Storm lose 78-75)
The Storm's celebration over making the playoffs was muted when they lost the second game of the back-to-back against the Mystics. With four seconds left and the team down three, Stewart got off a straightaway 3-pointer, but Natasha Cloud and Shakira Austin were right in her face and the shot fell short of the rim. Gabby Williams got the rebound right under the basket and ran out behind the 3-point line for a shot, but that also missed and Delle Donne got the rebound as time was running out.
Bird had made a layup to cut it to three with 39 seconds to play. She had also made a three to cut it to two with 2:03 to go and finished with 12 points. She also extended her streak of seven-assist games to three.
“There’s a reason we’re so close in the standings," Bird said of the Storm and Mystics. "We’re pretty even in that way, so there’s gonna be times where they go on runs, there’s gonna be times where we go on runs. I think it was the same in the first game as well. Both these games, in my opinion, were really similar in that way — just two teams that are evenly matched. And it always comes down to one team making a couple more plays than the other. And that’s who gets the win. It happened for us yesterday, it happened for them today.”
“I thought our team had some good energy coming off a tough game yesterday," Quinn said. "And another tough one today. ... They make a run, we make a run, and one-possession game and get a good look at the end. So, all in all, something to build off of, a lot of good things that happened on the court. Just have to lock in on key moments of the game and just kinda get over this hump.”
“I think (Ariel) Atkins was big for them today. ... And I think she’s key for them, so I think that’s a big matchup we kinda have to pay more close attention to, aside from Delle Donne and her minutes. They’re tough. And it’s a chess match with them, adjusting as they adjust. And I just think that the focus can’t wane when it comes to rebounding, our defensive execution and our efficiency on the offensive end.”
Stewart matched Atkins with a game-high 23 points. She remains first in the league in scoring with 21.1 points per game, but is averaging just 4.3 rebounds over her last three games and a career-low 7.1 rebounds on the season.
Loyd was good for 15 points and four steals. Charles was held to nine points.
Eleven-time NBA champion Bill Russell passed away at the age of 88 on Sunday. Both Sue Bird and Noelle Quinn commented on his legacy after their game.
“We’re all sad to hear about Bill Russell’s passing. His legendary basketball career speaks for itself. Someone I think that really started the idea of athlete-activist. So he did it with his play on the court, obviously the championships and what he meant to the NBA, but even more importantly his work off the court. And I think we all have looked to him as a role model, as an inspiration on how to conduct ourselves in that way. Him and his family were living in Seattle, so we were really fortunate to spend time with him at different moments. It was not uncommon to find him at Storm games, especially in playoffs. He set the standard, he set the bar, on and off the court.”
“He’s a legend in our game and he’s the standard when you think about winning multiple championships and just being a winner in life. I remember as a player he was at some games, I believe he came into the locker room and spoke with us. So he was a big advocate of women’s basketball, specifically the Storm. And just having him around, I think that was an awesome feeling because just to know a legend of the game, of NBA, just really cherishes the game of basketball, but also on the women’s side to be such a fan and supportive, I think that was huge. All the love and respect to him and his family during this time. We lost a legend and hopefully we’ll continue to honor him and make sure we uplift his legacy at all times.”