Howard, Loyd lift defending champ Storm past Mercury 77-68
EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — After the rings were handed out, the banner unveiled, the Seattle Storm proved there can be optimism about what they can accomplish even without Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird on the floor.
“Don’t doubt us. Just don’t doubt us,” Seattle’s Natasha Howard said. “Even though we’re down two players with injury, don’t doubt us. Anything can happen this season.”
Howard had 21 points and 16 rebounds, Jewell Loyd added 17 points and the Seattle Storm opened defensive of their WNBA title with a 77-68 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday.
Beginning a season where they will play without Stewart, the reigning league MVP, for the entire season and Bird, an 11-time All-Star for a significant portion, the Storm rallied from an 11-point first half deficit to make sure celebrating last year’s title was capped with a victory.
With Bird sitting on the bench and Stewart a few feet away in a protective boot, Seattle’s two biggest stars were forced to be spectators and watched their teammates outscore Phoenix 40-25 in the middle two quarters and hold off the best efforts of DeWanna Bonner to rally the Mercury. Bonner scored 15 straight points for Phoenix late in the third quarter and early in the fourth to pull the Mercury within 58-57. That’s as close as they would get as Seattle outscored Phoenix 19-11 over the final seven minutes.
Bonner finished with 31 points, as the Mercury started a season where they will be without Diana Taurasi for a significant chunk after undergoing back surgery in late April. Brittney Griner added 18 points
“They know who is going to score for us and we need other people to be aggressive on offense and be more involved,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said.
Jordin Canada, starting for Bird, had eight of her 16 points in the fourth quarter for Seattle. Canada struggled with six turnovers in the first half. She had just one in the second half.
“The first half I was overthinking it too much, wasn’t playing with a lot of poise and patience,” Canada said. “The second half my coaches talk to me, my teammates talked to me about staying in the moment.”
Playing in one of two temporary home arenas, Seattle received its championship rings, unveiled a championship banner with the three years it has won the league title then got a sense of what it will take without Bird and Stewart on the floor.
Bird will soon undergo left knee surgery. She may be able to return at the end of the season depending on her recovery. Stewart is out the entire season after tearing her right Achilles tendon playing overseas. Stewart was placed on the suspended list by the Storm earlier this week to clear a roster spot, but the WNBA has made Stewart an ambassador and will pay her in excess of the roughly $65,000 base salary she would have made with the Storm.
Seattle was presented with its championship rings before tipoff. Included in the celebration was coach Dan Hughes, who recently underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his digestive tract. Hughes is out for an undetermined period while he undergoes treatment, accepted the first championship ring of his career as a head coach.
Seattle is playing in temporary venues for at least the next two seasons while the arena at Seattle Center — formerly KeyArena — undergoes a complete renovation that will be the home for the Storm and Seattle’s future NHL franchise when it reopens in 2021. The Storm are playing five games in Everett, about 30 miles north of Seattle. The remaining home games will be played at Alaska Airlines Arena on the University of Washington campus.
Mercury: Phoenix hosts Las Vegas in its home opener next Friday.
Storm: Seattle travels to Minnesota on Wednesday.