SEATTLE — Mercedes Russell’s name is spelled with 15 letters and pronounced with five syllables.
On Wednesday, the Storm’s second-year center earned more.
After each of Russell’s seven field goals, the public address announcer at Alaska Airlines Arena took her relatively mundane name and gave it a seismic stretch.
In all, the 6-foot-6 former Tennessee standout scored a career-high 19 points and connected on 7 of 8 field goal attempts. But in an 84-83 loss to the New York Liberty, the Storm (8-7) finished a few syllables short.
“I think I had a good feel for the game from the start,” Russell said. “I think everyone did on the team. We were hitting shots from the beginning of the game.”
Not as much at the end. The Liberty (6-7) outscored the Storm 24-13 in the fourth quarter, and Seattle point guard Jordin Canada and forward Alysha Clark both failed to convert game-winning shots in the final seconds.
“It was a good basketball game,” said Storm coach Dan Hughes. “I just wish we could have made one more play.”
That also goes for Russell, who — despite the scoring outburst — misfired on four consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter that ultimately proved costly.
“It’s really tough. That’s on me, though. It comes down to the little things at the end of the game. It happens. It’s basketball.”
Still, like her new (and arguably improved) name, Russell’s role has expanded. Without the services of reigning MVP Breanna Stewart, Russell — who averaged 1.7 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.6 minutes per game last season — has been called upon to assume more responsibility. She has responded with six total (and three consecutive) double-digit scoring performances.
She responded early, often — and maybe not enough — on Wednesday.
“I thought she really did a great job of creating step-ins and things where we could throw it to her and play to her in that regard. The team continues to look for her more, which has got to be a theme. That’s got to be a theme in a lot of situations.
“It’s evolving. That’s kind of true of this team that we have on the floor right now. It’s evolving in certain situations. We had every starter in double figures. We’re looking to her more throughout the game. I think we can even look more.”
Russell needed to make the most of those looks, considering that star forward Natasha Howard — the WNBA Player of the Month in June — was uncharacteristically quiet in the first half, contributing just five points on 2-of-10 shooting. It didn’t help that Storm guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis left early in the fourth quarter with a right ankle injury.
It also didn’t help that Liberty center Tina Charles exploded for 11 of her 26 points in the fourth quarter.
“She created catch-and-shot opportunities,” Hughes said. “She made a 3. She went inside. They weren’t all low block things. It’s hard for us to bring congestion to a player that makes a decisive move before we get there in situations. We ultimately went to some size (delivered) her, trying to help that. But they played to her well, and she delivered.”
The teams traded runs in the second quarter, as the Liberty countered a 6-0 Storm run with nine consecutive points of their own, only to watch Seattle score five consecutive points to end the half. And after the Storm outscored New York by 11 (30-19) in the third quarter, the Liberty countered and matched it (24-13) in the fourth.
But Russell wasn’t Seattle’s only consistent contributor. All five starters — Russell (19), Howard (15), former Washington Husky Sami Whitcomb (13), Alysha Clark (11) and Jordin Canada (10) — finished in double figures. The Storm shot 33.3 percent from distance and converted 15 of 20 free-throw attempts as well.
But they needed one extra shot, one extra stop — one extra syllable — at the end.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mmmerceedeeeeez Russelllll! arrived. Going forward, the Storm need to start replacing losses with extra letters.