The Washington Mystics are known for their perimeter defense. Up until 4:52 remaining Thursday night at Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle Storm fans had to be wondering if superstar shooting guard Jewell Loyd was going to be able to score on them at any point during Game 1 or even any point during their first round playoff series against Washington.
But Loyd came alive at 4:52 and, starting with a three at that mark, scored 12 points over the remainder of the contest to help the Storm pull out a thrilling 86-83 victory.
Loyd’s three at 4:52 cut the Mystics’ deficit to two and another Loyd three at 2:56 cut it to one. Elena Delle Donne continued a stretch where she was trading baskets with Loyd by scoring at 1:58 and making it a 3-point game in favor of Washington. But Loyd answered with a 4-0 run that put the Storm up 82-81 with 38.1 ticks remaining.
Unless they hurried to make a basket, the Mystics were faced with one last possession to take the lead before having to foul. Natasha Cloud threw it out of bounds with 25.8 seconds to go, meaning Washington did indeed have to foul. Loyd (16 points in the game) hit two at the line, where she was 6-of-6 on the evening, to make it 84-81 Seattle.
Instead of going for a quick two, the Mystics went for the three to tie and Delle Donne missed a shot that was contested by Gabby Williams with 16.1 seconds left. Two Breanna Stewart free throws later, the Storm were up 86-81 with 14.6 seconds remaining.
On Washington’s ensuing possession, it didn’t go for a quick desperation three. Instead, the Mystics let some precious seconds tick off the clock before Myisha Hines-Allen was fouled inside with 6.3 seconds to go. She made both free throws, but Washington was unable to steal the ensuing inbound pass and then was also unable to foul before the buzzer sounded on a Seattle victory.
The Mystics should have had an opportunity to increase their lead to seven or eight with 5:08 to go, but a bad call was made. A loose ball foul was called on Shakira Austin, a rookie who had 12 points and seven rebounds in her first career playoff game, when really Stewart ran into her. This was off an Ariel Atkins missed three, so Washington had possession and should have kept possession. Instead, the Storm took over and Loyd made her first three just 16 seconds later.
It was a back and forth all game long. The largest lead for Seattle was eight; for the Mystics is was seven.
Stewart finished with 23 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and four assists, but it was Williams’ energy early that helped the Storm come back from a 7-0 deficit. She brought the intensity on defense to create opportunities for her team in those dire moments and went on to go 2-of-2 from three in the contest after making just 18 treys at a 25.7-percent clip in the regular season. She totaled 12 points, seven boards, a game-high six helpers and a game-high-tying three steals.
Sue Bird began her final playoff run with 10 points (2-of-6 from three) and two assists. She started the game 4-of-5 from the field and 2-of-3 from three, scoring all 10 of her points in the first 15 minutes and 27 seconds of the contest, including seven in the first 6:07. She may not be the same player she used to be, but when she’s playing smart and hitting open shots, you’re reminded how valuable she is. If she keeps knocking down shots, this could be a fun farewell tour for her and Storm fans.
Sue Bird hits her 2nd three-pointer of the game and now has 100 three-pointers in her playoff career. She is one of only four WNBA players to make 100+ 3pt FGs (Diana Taurasi, Becky Hammon, and Maya Moore).#TakeCover
— Seattle Storm PR (@SeattleStormPR) August 19, 2022
Like Bird, Tina Charles was hot early, scoring all nine of her points in the first 13:29. It seemed like she might end up being the story of the game: The best player without a championship starting off her first playoffs since 2017 with a bang.
Charles being the Storm starter who plays the least minutes is the norm, but when it happened on Thursday (26 minutes and 16 seconds) it seemed to stick out because she just wasn’t able to have a signature playoff performance. Her backup, Ezi Magbegor, played 15:37 and scored eight points, including a nice and-one reverse layup off a give-and-go with Stewart. The free throw on the and-one was missed though.
Delle Donne scored a game-high 26 points to go along with five assists. She was 0-of-4 from three. Atkins (four assists) and Cloud (six rebounds, three blocks) both added 16 points in defeat. Cloud was surprisingly held to just one assist.
The Storm, who shot 44.2 percent from the field in the regular season, shot 50.8 percent from the floor and 10-of-20 from three.