The Seattle Storm earned a 95-86 win over the Atlanta Dream on the road Friday night at McCamish Pavilion.
The result represented a measure of revenge for Seattle after Atlanta beat the Storm 67-64 at KeyArena on June 10.
The Dream attempted to make a late comeback but had too much ground to make up in too little time.
Breanna Stewart led all scorers with 29 points, with all five Storm starters scoring in double figures. Sue Bird finished with 18 points and 10 assists, and Natasha Howard posted her third double-double of the season (10 points, 11 rebounds).
Angel McCoughtry and Tiffany Hayes combined for 49 points for Atlanta, but Seattle did a great job of keeping the Dream’s supporting cast in check.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the Storm’s 14th victory of the season.
You Don’t Tug on Superwoman’s Cape
During the first meeting between the Storm and Dream, Hayes inadvertently pulled Stewart’s hair while attempting to corral a loose ball. That set off a discussion between the two on Twitter the next day:
For future reference, drawing the ire of a leading MVP candidate isn’t advisable.
Stewart’s 29 points were her second-most of the season, and she added nine rebounds, two assists and three blocks to an excellent all-around night.
Beyond just the minor incident between Stewart and Haynes, Atlanta succeeded in throwing the Storm off their game by playing a physical style. Stewart wasn’t exempted from that, as she scored 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting—underwhelming by her standards.
Dropping 29 in a winning effort had to feel good for the presumptive All-Star.
A Complete 180
Stewart’s numbers were part of a major offensive turnaround for the Storm.
The 64 points they scored against in Atlanta last month are their fewest in a single game this season. In that loss, Seattle shot 33.8 percent from the field and 15.4 percent from three-point range.
The Dream are a bit like Burnley of the English Premier League. Burnley can be a nightmare for opponents because of their stifling defense, but The Clarets aren’t great at playing from behind.
The longer you allow Burnley to dictate the tempo of the match, the more trouble you’re going to find. Take control early, and they become a much more pedestrian team.
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The Storm led 23-16 after the first quarter Friday. Twenty-three points in one quarter may not sound like much, but Atlanta is giving up just 79.9 points per game and is tied for first in defensive rating (96.9).
Also consider Seattle trailed 15-11 after the first quarter in the first head-to-head matchup.
The Storm put the Dream on the back foot right from the outset and turned this into a track meet, which is exactly what Atlanta didn’t want to happen. The Dream are 2-5 when their opponents score at least 80 points.
Seattle got into a comfort zone early and ended up shooting 51.4 percent and going 9-of-20 on three-pointers.
Defense on Display
The Storm were naturally going to have an adjustment period under head coach Dan Hughes this season. The WNBA preseason isn’t all that long, and Seattle had two games to test things out before the regular season began.
Over the last two weeks—an admittedly arbitrary measure of time—the Storm are second in defensive rating (93.7) behind the Minnesota Lynx (93.4).
That stretch includes games against the Dream, Lynx, Connecticut Sun, Dallas Wings and Los Angeles Sparks. Those five teams occupy the final five playoff spots at the moment.
Friday was a continuation of the trend, as Seattle held Atlanta to 38.4 percent shooting. Take McCoughtry and Hayes out of the equation, and the rest of the Dream hit 31.7 percent of their shots and went 4-of-16 on threes.
Now that Hughes has had time to implement his tactics and tinker with his lineups, the results are obvious on the court.
Jewell Loyd’s Efficiency is Returning
Jewell Loyd only had 11 points, which might have been a cause for concern were it not for the fact she shot the ball well Friday. Loyd was 4-of-8 from the field and 1-of-2 from beyond the arc.
Loyd has registered fewer than 10 shot attempts in three games this year. Two of those performances came in the last week, which raises a question. Is this merely a coincidence or part of an conscious shift regarding Loyd’s usage?
Loyd had a 16.3 percent usage rate against the Dream and a 15.8 percent usage rate in Seattle’s 84-70 win over the Sun, when she had 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting. For a comparison, Loyd has a 24.8 usage rate for the season, which is second-highest on the team.
Following a June in which Loyd really struggled, perhaps Hughes is looking to scale back her role a bit so she can rediscover her shooting stroke.
Don’t Mind If I Do
The Dream looked pretty content to let Bird shoot whenever she wanted, and she more than obliged. Bird’s 17 field-goal attempts were a season high and her most since Seattle’s 91-82 win over the Dream in September 2016.
The strategy made sense in theory. Bird is a 39.4 percent shooter this season and connecting on 34.2 percent of her attempts from deep.
In practice, Atlanta’s plan backfired, as Bird was 7-of-17 from the field and 3-of-7 from three-point range. Although neither of those figures are otherworldly, Bird hit enough of her shots to capitalize on the space the Dream afforded her.
The Storm don’t need Bird to chuck up 17 shots on a nightly basis, but it’s nice to know she can pick up some of the slack if the opponent is putting its focus on Seattle’s top scorers.