Professional Basketball

Seattle Takes First Game in WNBA Finals

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The Seattle Storm dominated Game 1 of the 2018 WNBA Finals and cruised to an 89-76 win in front of an announced crowd of 11,486 at Seattle’s KeyArena on Friday night.

Storm center Natasha Howard and forward Alysha Clark got the momentum rolling early for Seattle as they combined for 14 out of the Storm’s 18 points in the first seven minutes of the contest. The Mystics struggled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they couldn’t contain the Storm, who shot 50 percent, and offensively, Washington was held to 26.7 percent shooting. At the end of the first quarter, Seattle had a comfortable 24-13 lead.

Washington Mystics guard Kristi Toliver pushes Seattle Storm center Natasha Howard to prevent her from getting an entry pass in the paint during Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Friday night at KeyArena. Photo by Chuckarelei/Sports Page Magazine

The teams were even in the beginning of the second quarter. Every time Washington scored, Seattle answered. The Mystics couldn’t cut the deficit nor could the Storm extend their lead.

The Storm began to get hot beginning at the 4:38 mark when forward Breanna Stewart scored on a reverse layup making the score 33-21 in favor of Seattle. From then until midway through the third quarter, all 31 points scored by the Storm were either by Stewart or guard Jewell Loyd. Stewart scored 14 points and Loyd scored 17 during that stretch. Though Washington was able to cut the deficit to as low as 10 points in the second quarter, Seattle led by 16 at the half.

When Stewart made a driving layup with 5:03 left in the third quarter, the Storm held a 22-point advantage, with the score 62-40. A minute later Storm guard Sue Bird scored on a driving layup to extend the lead to 24 points.

Washington guard Kristi Toliver tried to will her team back into contention. She hit her first three-pointer of the game with 32 seconds left on the clock, and then attempted another one as time expired but it rimmed out. Seattle held a 77-53 advantage at the end of the third.

Mystics forward Ariel Atkins attempted the next Washington rally by scoring six points in the first three minutes of the final frame. Then teammate Tierra Ruffin-Pratt scored on a layup with 6:42 left, forcing Storm head coach Dan Hughes to call a timeout to get his team refocused so they wouldn’t blow the lead. Seattle led 81-63.

The Mystics cut the deficit to 15 with 5:42 on the clock when forward Myisha Hines-Allen scored on a put-back layup after a miss by guard Aerial Powers, but Howard immediately answered with a driving layup making the score 85-67.

Washington Mystics guard Ariel Powers looks for an open teammate on an inbounds play during Friday night’s WNBA Finals Game 1 at Seattle’s KeyArena. Photo by Chuckarelei/Sports Page Magazine

Shortly afterwards, Washington head coach Mike Thibault put the substitutes in opting to give the starters a chance to rest before Game 2. Seattle’s Hughes did the same at the 3:33 mark. When the game ended, Seattle maintained a 13 point margin and an 89-76 victory in Game 1.

“I thought our defense helped our offense today in a lot of ways. We were able to create opportunities to play in transition as well as in the half court,” said Seattle head coach Dan

Hughes. “It was one of those days we shot the ball well and Washington didn’t. Any time you’re at home and you get a lead, that’s something you want to have.”

Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault understood what his team was facing. “Basically we got our butts kicked in every phase of the game. The only bright spot probably for us was our bench as a whole, and Ariel Atkins probably wasn’t too phased by the whole experience, but we were a step behind,” said Thibault. “They were quicker than us, made us pay for every defensive mistake for a stretch, and we made enough of them to help them. Give them credit, they were ready to go.”

“The good part of the series, we get a chance to recoup and regroup tomorrow and come back and play better on Sunday,” he added.

Seattle hit 54.7 percent of their shots. Loyd led the Storm with 23 points, Stewart added 20, Howard netted 15 points and grabbed five rebounds, and Bird led the team with seven assists.

“I think in general, we focused on our defense. When you get your defense going, it motivates our offense. When you get steals and layups, the crowd goes nuts and you just keep going,” said Stewart. “You don’t feel tired anymore. You kind of just get energized by that. That’s something that we really focus on is trying to make it hard for them and get steals and try to get some easy transition layups.”

Washington was led by 23 points from Atkins, 11 points and five assists from guard Natasha Cloud, while forward Elena Delle Donne scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds. The Mystics shot 44.6 percent from the field.

Atkins scored a playoff career-high 23 points on 10-for-14 shooting from the field, giving her 113 total points this postseason, a new WNBA rookie record. Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore’s 110-point rookie postseason held the record since 2011.

“I think our whole offense was a little bit stagnant. Instead of moving the ball and getting it side-to-side, we [were] just kind of hanging on to it on one side and staring at each other,” said Delle Donne. “We’ve got to create way more movement in our offense, make it difficult for them and make them chase us around a little bit like they do with us. We’ve got to dive more. We’ve got to go back door on over plays. I think just as a whole, we were way too stagnant.”

Seattle leads the best-of-five series 1-0 and will host Game 2 at KeyArena beginning at 2:30 p.m. CT on Sunday. The game will be broadcast on ABC television.

 

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