EVERETT, Wash. — Before her Storm coaching debut, Noelle Quinn tried to stick to the same pregame routine she has followed the past three years since retiring as a WNBA player.
On the drive from Seattle to Everett, Quinn called her mom, Golden, like she normally does and tried to downplay the historical significance of the game, which turned into an 88-73 victory over Indiana on Tuesday night, June 1.
“Obviously this has been an eventful few days,” said Quinn, who was named coach Sunday after Dan Hughes abruptly retired. “I haven’t really checked my phone, but I’ve talked to some very important people in my life that have encouraged me and supported me.
“Today, I tried to keep it as normal as possible routine-wise.”
The smattering of fans sprinkled throughout the Angel of the Winds Arena showered Quinn with a standing ovation as she stepped on the court for the first time as a WNBA coach, which was another reminder this was not a normal game for the Storm even if the outcome — a fifth straight victory — has become routine lately.
Breanna Stewart finished with a game-high 28 points, six rebounds and three assists to lead the Storm (6-1), which ran away from Indiana in the fourth quarter.
“She’s a certified bucket,” Mercedes Russell said when asked about Stewart. “It’s so fun playing with her and being alongside her in the game. She’s so versatile and athletic. Her size is incredible. It’s really fun being her teammate.”
The Fever (1-8) trimmed a 12-point deficit in the second quarter to 43-38 at halftime. Indiana trailed 50-44 when Seattle scored nine straight points to go up 59-44.
The Storm had a 12-point advantage (64-52) early in the fourth quarter and needed one last push after the Fever closed to 64-57 with 7:43 left.
That’s when Jewell Loyd (18 points and five assists) buried a three-pointer and Sue Bird (12 points and eight assists) canned a midrange jumper to start a 15-6 run. Bird capped the spurt with a three-pointer to go up 79-63 with 3:26 left and Indiana never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
“It was our energy and effort at that point,” Quinn said. “A little bit slow to loose balls. Not finishing off plays. Not moving the ball as much as we should. That was just a time to reset and understand we’re up so there’s no need to rush what we’re doing. But we needed to be more intentional about what we were doing and play a little bit harder and bring a little bit more energy.”
In her first game against her former team, Storm newcomer Candice Dupree finished with eight points on 4-for-8 shooting.
But this game was mostly about Quinn, the Storm’s seventh head coach and first Black head coach.
“I try to compartmentalize in a way that it’s not about me today,” Quinn said during a pregame Zoom interview. “But still I have an opportunity and an obligation to do my job and lead the team. In the back of my mind it is there, but there are bigger things and bigger goals. I say that in a humble way because I understand the magnitude of this. But also, we have some games to be played so that’s going to be my focus.”
For most of the game, the soft-spoken Quinn sat motionless between assistants Gary Kloppenburg and Ryan Webb. Before the game, she joked that she’s not going to be demonstrative on the sideline or bark at referees after questionable calls.
Quinn, who as an associate head coach last year when the Storm won the WNBA championship, admitted she was nervous.
“Noey was great,” Bird said. “I totally understand and respect a lot of conversation was about this being her first coaching job, but I feel like she’s had such great experience given that she was right beneath Klop in the Wubble (last year). In a lot ways, Noey was talking in the huddle back then. Noey was drawing up her plays. She’s been doing that now for a couple of years so it really hasn’t been that much different for us.
“But when you’re the head coach, the buck stops with you. Every decision ends with you and that is a little bit different.”
There wasn’t much noticeable difference in the Storm’s outing on Tuesday from previous games other than a few wrinkles in the rotation. Quinn relied on backup point guard Epiphanny Prince at the end and got a solid performance from the bench.
The Storm responded with one of its best defensive performances of the season while holding the Fever to 39.2% shooting from the field and 4 of 17 from long range.
Seattle sank 11 of 20 3-pointers and outrebounded Indiana 36-35.
“At the end of the day, the ball is the same,” said Quinn, who walked off the court with her arm around Jordin Canada. “It bounces the same. The preparation is the same. I’m just sitting in a different seat. I have the same support with our staff and with our players. Now it’s time to step up and step into a role and lead this team. And I’ll just stand firm in that. I’m just ready for that.”
When asked what she’ll remember 10 years from now about her first game as a WNBA coach, Quinn noted a special guest appearance by WNBA legend Tina Thompson, the Hall of Famer who played for the Storm in 2012 and ‘13.
“I will remember Tina Thompson was in the stands to watch me coach my first WNBA game,” Quinn said. “That’s amazing. A legend in our game. One of my dearest, dearest friends. For her to make this night even more special by being here, that was important to me. I will definitely remember that, along with the win.”