This was supposed to be opening weekend for the WNBA season. Yet, here we are with no live basketball in sight.
Instead, teams are making due by re-airing classic games in their franchise history.
On Friday night, the Seattle Storm re-aired Game 1 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals. The matchup between the top-seeded Storm and the Phoenix Mercury was a hard-fought game that came down to the final minute. It was also the same night Breanna Stewart received her MVP award. Let’s set the scene.
Can the Mercury complete the comeback?
Entering the fourth quarter, the Storm held a 12-point lead against the visiting Mercury. With a 79-67 lead, it seemed Seattle was in a position to pull away, especially with Brittney Griner in foul trouble. Little did we know as the third quarter ended, things were just getting interesting.
To get back in the game, the Mercury needed to win the battle of the benches to begin the fourth quarter. They did just that, making a 7-3 run over the first 3.5 minutes of the frame and forcing Seattle to put their starters back in the game.
Despite now trailing by single digits and having the momentum, Griner picking up foul No. 5 at the 6:30 mark felt like it would have consequences. Even if she didn’t foul out, having Griner playing too carefully could affect the game.
With the Mercury hot on their heels, Sue Bird found Jewell Loyd for a 3-pointer to push the Storm’s lead back to nine. The Mercury had done a great job in limiting Stewart’s touches in the quarter and forcing Seattle dynamic backcourt to beat them. Phoenix would cut the lead to four on a deep 3-pointer from Diana Taurasi with 2:39 to play.
Loyd answered on the other end as the two teams traded baskets. It was Griner’s layup with 1:40 that brought the Mercury within two points that forced the Storm to call time out. What seemed like a game that could get out of hand at the beginning of the quarter was turning into a nail biter.
As Seattle set into their offense and found Stewart on the block, DeWanna Bonner left her assignment to help Griner. This left Natasha Howard free to run to the rim, forcing Taurasi to cover Howard and leave Alysha Clark open for 3. However, Clark’s deep shot fell harmlessly off the rim. Stewart was able to snare the offensive rebound from Griner, who can’t risk another foul, helping the Storm reset and leading to this moment.
How Loyd got open
This is obviously a huge possession for the Storm with Taurasi and the Mercury carrying so much momentum. Stewart’s offensive rebound was huge and Loyd follows it up with her own big moment. To understand how Loyd gets such a clean shot, you have to start after Stewart’s rebound and after Clark resets the possession by getting the ball back to Bird.
You’ll notice Loyd at the top of your screen by the Mercury bench guarded by Stephanie Talbot. As Stewart and Bird have their two-woman game, Clark cuts to the basket as Stewart nearly hits her with the pass before realizing Taurasi has closed the passing lane.
Simultaneously, Loyd races from the corner to the top of the key as her defender, Talbot, is watching Clark’s cut. In doing so, the quicker Loyd gets a step on Talbot, who gets caught behind Howard at the elbow who unintentionally sets the screen. This action allows Loyd to get open at the opposite elbow where Bird hits her for the game-clinching shot.
Aside from Taurasi, January played great one-on-one defense on Bird to force the ball from her hands and Griner kept Howard from getting the open lane to the basket. Loyd’s quick thinking as Talbot stopped moving allowed her to push the lead to four points with a minute to play.
Game 1 was a game when the stars came to play. Stewart led Seattle with 28 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Howard added 20 points and five rebounds. Bird didn’t have her best shooting night but still dished 10 assists and grabbed four boards. Loyd added 23 points, five assists, and three rebounds of her own.
For Phoenix, Bonner dropped 27 points, snagged 13 rebounds, and dolled out three assists while Taurasi added 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists of her own. Griner had more assists (five) than rebounds (four), blocked two shots, and her layup with just over one minute left in the game was crucial.
The rest of the series
Funny enough, the Storm would win the first two games of the series 91-87 before getting clobbered by 20 points in Game 3 by the Mercury. Phoenix also won Game 4 to send the series back to Seattle but the Storm would prevail to advance to the WNBA Finals. The home team won every game in this series, which shows how important home-court advantage can be.
Had it not been for Loyd’s seven-point fourth quarter to pull her team out of the fire in Game 1, WNBA history might look a little different. If the Mercury win games one, three, and four to advance to the Finals, maybe they become champions. Or perhaps the Mystics go back-to-back in 2018 and 2019.
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