Noelle Quinn struggled to pick her favorite moment from the Storm’s dominating 97-84 win over the Washington Mystics to sweep their WNBA first-round series 2-0 Sunday afternoon.
In fairness, she had so many plays to choose on a day when Seattle scored at will against the league’s top defensive team, which allowed the fewest points in the league (75.9) during the regular season.
“I’m very happy with our crew and how we performed tonight,” the Storm coach said. “We had a lot of great performances from everyone. … Our team was locked in and focused. We will enjoy this one tonight.”
It wasn’t long ago when Quinn worried about the Seattle’s offense that struggled to generate points and greatly contributed to a 3-5 late-season swoon during a three-week stretch between late July and early August.
But in the past two weeks, the Storm have exploded offensively, starting with a record-setting performance at Chicago in which they set league records in assists (37) and franchise record in points (111).
Against a stingy Washington defense, Seattle shot 55.6% from the field, 52.2% on three-pointers (12 of 23) and had 26 assists on 35 field goals.
The Storm also had more rebounds (33-25), points in the paint (40-26), second-chance points (19-6) and fewer turnovers (8-10).
“They’re just a great team,” Mystics star Elena Delle Donne said. “They have so many weapons. They’re constantly in motion. They wear you down. Obviously, 97 is too much, but we need to put up more.
“When you’re playing a team like Seattle, with a bunch of scorers and a ton of movement, there’s some breakdowns that happen.”
Breanna Stewart recovered from a slow start and scored 17 of her game-high tying 21 points in the second half. She also had 10 rebounds and eight assists and nearly recorded the third triple double in WNBA playoff history.
“Jantel [Lavender] told me with like two minutes left, she was like ‘You need one rebound and two assist.’” Stewart said. “I was like, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ …I was close, but I didn’t get it.”
Jewell Loyd, the Game 1 hero, had 19 points and five three-pointers.
Sue Bird, the league’s oldest player at 41, delivered a vintage performance while tallying 18 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and draining four three-pointers.
Gabby Williams kept the Storm afloat early with 14 points before suffering a concussion in the third quarter and not returning.
And Tina Charles rebounded from a quiet outing in the series opener with 12 points, five rebounds and an impressive defensive effort against Delle Donne, who had 12 points on 5-for-14 shooting after scoring 26 points in the previous game.
Quinn also noted contributions from reserves Ezi Magbegor (six points, five rebounds and three steals) and Stephanie Talbot (three offensive rebounds).
“I thought we were really patient,” Bird said. “The other side of it was, we finally got out and ran. That really was the key. They’re a team that when they’re set, it’s really hard to score against them. But we were picky about the moments to run. It was the third and fourth quarter where we finally got it going and got some things in transition because that’s when they can’t execute their schemes quite as well.”
The Storm, which led 45-43 at halftime, broke the game open in the third quarter while outscoring the Mystics 26-18 in the period.
Seattle used a decisive 9-0 run to extend a 54-53 lead to 63-53 following Bird’s dish to Talbot, who drained a corner three with 4:05 left in the third.
Early in the fourth, Loyd and Stewart drained back-to-back three-pointers to put the Storm up 79-63.
Then Bird swiped a steal and raced ahead for a layup for a 92-79 lead that sent the Climate Pledge Arena crowd of 12,490 into a frenzy.
“Even though they scored the next two possessions, that steal felt like a moment like this is over,” Bird said.
Washington trimmed its deficit to 92-84 with 1:32 left, but Bird sealed the deal with a dagger three-pointer in the final minute.
Seattle, which is 15-4 in its last 19 playoff games, advances to semifinals for the fifth time in franchise history and will face No. 1-seed Las Vegas.
Game 1 in the best-of-five series is Sunday in Las Vegas.
“I only have so many games left [and] what today’s win did was push us into the semifinals, but it also guaranteed us more home games,” Bird said. “That was definitely in the back of my mind today. It wasn’t some overwhelming motivator. Just kind of a thought.
“Simultaneously, none of us wanted to travel [for Game 3 in Washington]. It’s big part of it. Now we have all this rest and time to prepare. Knowing that Vegas had already advanced so they were going to get that rest and that time. Being able to stay home and not have to travel across country is huge.”