Thursday’s early-season showdown between the 2018 WNBA champion Storm and the defending champion Washington Mystics pitted the league’s top-rated defense against the highest-scoring offense.
After a few minutes, it became apparent Seattle’s staunch defense was no match against Washington’s blistering perimeter attack that handed the Storm its first loss of the season, an 89-71 setback at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Seattle (2-1) entered the game allowing a league-low 68.5 points while Washington (3-0) averaged 97.5 points, which topped all WNBA teams.
The Mystics wasted no time proving their revamped roster, which includes just one starter from last year’s team, is better than their modest preseason projections.
While the Storm missed 5 of its first 6 shots, Washington sprinted out to an early 12-2 lead and was up 21-14 after the first period.
The Mystics outscored the Storm 29-18 in the second and Seattle trailed 50-32 at halftime.
“For whatever reason, it’s hard to pinpoint why it looked like we were a step slow on everything in that first half,” coach Gary Kloppenburg said via video teleconference. “We have to play with a high energy at the defensive end and hit shots.”
It was the first real test of the season for the Storm, which crushed New York and Minnesota during lopsided wins.
This time, however, the Mystics enjoyed mismatches on the wing with forward Ariel Atkins (game-high 22 points) and point guard Leilani Mitchell (12 points), who combined to convert 9 of 16 3-pointers.
Washington also hammered Seattle inside with center Myisha Hines-Allen (17 points, seven rebounds and five assists) and forward Emma Meesseman (10 points, five rebounds and four assists).
The Storm fell behind by 25 points for its largest deficit when Hines-Allen banked in a fadeaway jumper with 2:19 left in the third.
“One thing that we always pride ourselves is knowing that our run is going to come at some point,” said forward Breanna Stewart, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds for her second straight double-double performance. “At some point it’s going to come and today it didn’t.
“We struggled to put together multiple stops and we struggled to execute when we did get a stop. That’s not going to get us anything.”
Seattle entered the fourth period down 71-50 and made things interesting for a moment when the reserves trimmed Washington’s lead to 74-62 with 4:40 remaining.
Kloppenburg re-inserted Stewart and Alysha Clark in the final minutes and chose to leave the other starters on the sideline.
“Our bench came in there scrapping and hustling and got us back at least in striking range with four minutes to go,” he said. “At that point I felt like we’re going to ride with them because they got us back in it and they were really playing hard.”
However, Atkins put the game away with a dagger 3-pointer on the wing after being fouled. Her ensuing free throw pushed Washington ahead 78-62 at the 4:21 mark and the Storm never threatened again.
“Sometimes that’s the way a game goes,” Kloppenburg said. “I just didn’t feel like our starters tonight came out with a lot of energy in general. ... Actually we played them even in the second half numberswise. We just got into such a big hole that it’s difficult to climb out of against good teams.”
Both teams scored 39 points in the second half, but the more relevant statistic is the disparity in 3-point shooting. Washington converted 15 of 32 shots behind the arc while Seattle was 5 of 25 from downtown.
“I thought we got a lot of good looks and I got a lot of good looks,” said Stewart, who was 1 for 5 on 3-pointers. “The ball just didn’t go into the basket. This is our third game and we haven’t played in awhile. We have to be conscientious of the fact that we got to get our legs underneath us. This isn’t going to be easy playing here in the bubble especially with all the games coming up.”
The Storm face the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday for its third game in five days.
“That’s the luxury of having the season that we have,” Stewart said. “I’m happy this happened Game 3 instead of Game 22. We have some time to make some adjustments and put the pieces together. We want to be at our best in September.”