Seattle Storm Stay in First Place with Win over Dallas Wings
The Seattle Storm defeated the Dallas Wings 91-84 on Saturday night at KeyArena.
Breanna Stewart put together her best performance of the 2018 WNBA season, scoring a season-high 35 points. She was four points short of setting a career high. Stewart also had 10 rebounds to post her third straight double-double and sixth of the campaign.
Natasha Howard (17 points) and Jewell Loyd (13 points) were the only other Storm players to score in double figures.
Seattle was without Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who was recovering from a concussion she suffered in Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Sparks. Sue Bird, meanwhile, dealt with an illness that limited her to 24:19 on the floor.
Liz Cambage led the Wings with 23 points but didn’t have a great game otherwise.
With 16 victories, the Storm surpass last year’s win total, and they’re tied for their most wins since 2013.
Here’s a look at some of the top takeaways for Seattle.
Give Stewie the MVP Award Now
Should Stewart win the WNBA Most Valuable Player Award, this game will likely be near the top of her highlight reel. Time and again, Stewart was there when Seattle needed her Saturday night.
While the Storm are getting positive contributions from a number of players, Stewart is the reason they sit first in the WNBA. She’s playing at such a high level a 20/10 game is becoming a run-of-the-mill night.
This was the second time this month Stewart faced a direct rival for MVP and walked away the victor as well. She outplayed Cambage en route to a win Saturday and got the better of Elena Delle Donne on July 8 as the Storm won 97-91.
Stewart is clearly the MVP favorite, and the next 10 games will almost certainly seal the deal either way. Nine of those 10 games come on the road, and the Storm will face off with the Minnesota Lynx twice during that span.
No single stat line may be a better microcosm of Loyd’s 2018 season than Saturday’s game.
Loyd’s 13 points came on 3-of-15, including 1-of-4 from beyond the arc. However, she also had eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and zero turnovers.
If one looked simply at Loyd’s scoring numbers, then it would be easy to conclude she had a bad game. Her contributions went well beyond just points, though, and it’s unfair to overlook that when assessing her performance.
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You almost wonder whether Loyd should start prioritizing efficiency over volume when it comes to her offense.
In the past, the need for Loyd to score 20 points a game felt more imperative. Seattle was a more top-heavy team, so it required extra effort from its biggest stars. Unrelated to that, Loyd wasn’t much of a rebounder or playmaker, so her biggest role was largely that of a high-volume scorer.
Neither point is necessarily true anymore.
Not to mention, Loyd’s shooting has taken a nosedive the last two months. Since the start of June, Loyd is hitting 35.9 percent of her attempts.
Dialing back Loyd’s role in the offense might be a good idea for Seattle until she rediscovers her stroke.
The Storm Miss KML
Mosqueda-Lewis’ absence was glaring as the Storm shot 7-of-24 on three-pointers. Seattle also got just 12 points off the bench, which is often a telling indicator as to whether the team is going to be in a position to win.
Mosqueda-Lewis is only averaging 6.1 points, which doesn’t seem like much. But that’s six points the Storm bench generally can’t make up when she’s gone. More importantly, the team doesn’t have a comparable three-point shooter.
Mosqueda-Lewis is connecting on a league-high 50.0 percent of her long-range shots. She’s a big weapon to bring off the bench both for how she directly and indirectly impacts a game. Opponents have to account for Mosqueda-Lewis at all times when she’s on the court.
Take Mosqueda-Lewis away, and teams feel a lot more comfortable packing the paint against the Storm’s second unit. Sami Whitcomb is Seattle’s second-biggest three-point threat off the bench, and she hasn’t hit a shot from beyond the arc since June 24—a stretch of six games.
Seattle Confounds Cambage Again
The Wings were minus-14 with Cambage on the floor. Let me repeat that: Dallas was 14 points worse when Cambage was in the game Saturday night.
The third matchup between Dallas and Seattle mimicked their second, which the Storm won 97-76 in June. Cambage had a minus-19 net rating despite scoring 23 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
In general, the Storm match up well against Cambage.
They can exploit her on defense because Stewart and Howard have the ability to stretch the floor. Cambage’s defending away from the basket leaves a lot to be desired if you’re the wings. Her effort to guard this three-pointer from Howard is a perfect example:
When Cambage is fighting for position on the offensive end, Seattle’s physical approach with an emphasis on ball denial clearly irks the 6’8″ Australian international.
Cambage received a flagrant 1 foul with 3:29 left in the fourth quarter for an elbow to Howard. Referees then slapped her with a technical foul when she appeared to yell in their direction after they didn’t whistle for a foul on Howard.
The technical foul was a bad call, but it highlighted how Cambage’s frustration had grown over the course of the game.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Storm head coach Dan Hughes also thought Howard’s off-ball movement on offense helped tire out Cambage:
"When we really ran the floor, we were really active. We screened a lot. We did a lot f things so you can play your hearts out, but you’re not going to stop her completely offensively. When she has to guard someone as active as Howard, then you’re going to have an impact on the amount of energy she’s having to expend. And I thought that was key because with her and [Skylar] Diggins-Smith, they have a 1-2 punch that’s really strong."
Although Cambage is rightfully in the MVP discussion, Seattle has the blueprint for limiting her influence.
Jordin Canada Steps up for Ailing Bird
In addition to keeping her on the bench for long stretches, Bird’s illness impacted her on-court contributions. She had just two assists and six turnovers, the latter of which were her most since July 18, 2017.
With Bird ailing, the Storm needed more from Jordin Canada, and she delivered. The rookie point guard was 4-of-10 from the floor for eight points while adding four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Canada’s defense was invaluable to helping keep Diggins-Smith and Allisha Gray in check. Diggins-Smith in particular was unable to help push Dallas over the line in the fourth quarter, scoring five points in the final 10 minutes.
Seattle needed something extra from Canada on Saturday, and she stepped up to the plate.