Storm too much for the Sky in 89-71 statement win

by Kevin Nesgoda

(Bradenton, FL) For those following the WNBA, Coach James Wade, of the Chicago Sky, has made some lofty goals for this season. After winning Coach of the Year last season and leading the Sky to the 2nd round of the playoffs the team has looked primed for another deep playoff run. Wade has done a wonderful job of building his players up, telling them they are the SKY and you don’t put a ceiling or limits on the Sky. But on Monday night, even for just one night, the Sky met their ceiling. And it simply wasn’t good enough against Seattle. The Seattle Storm beat the Chicago Sky 89-71 behind another MVP performance from Breanna Stewart.

Coach Kloppenburg gave his thoughts after the game.

“We just want to try and keep getting better and more consistent. We played really well, and we had one little lull in that third quarter so we ideally want to get it where we don’t really have any letdowns during a game. But I was really pleased with the overall effort tonight. You know, I think we set the tone defensively early on on how we wanted to disrupt their team. We ended up forcing 22 turnovers for 25 points, and that’s really good against a really good ball-handling team like this. Great team effort, we played really hard. We shot the ball really well tonight also.”

I asked Sami Whitcomb after the game if she felt this was a statement win against a very good Chicago team.

“I think it is. I think at this stage teams are going to start and feel a bit of fatigue. One of the things that can be a strength of ours and is an advantage is our depth and our bench. I think for us, this was a really important game in regards to that. Obviously, Chicago is a fantastic team, they’ll be a team that will be in the conversation at the end. So for us, to be able to hold our own defensively and get out the way we did offensively is something we can absolutely build on,” Whitcomb said.

Seattle proved once again that elite defense will often trump elite offense. We saw it in Super Bowl 48 with the Seahawks. We’re seeing it now with the 2020 Seattle Storm who sit atop the WNBA standings at 7-1 and lead the league in several defensive categories.

Through seven games the Sky were averaging nearly 89 points per game. Seattle held them to 18 points below their season average. Thats significant and the Storm are doing that against several teams this season.

The Sky are an extremely balanced offensive team with five players averaging more than 10 points per game. They are: Kahleah Copper (15.0 PPG), Allie Quigley (13.9 PPG), Cheyenne Parker (13.9 PPG), Courtney Vandersloot (12.4 PPG), and Azura Stevens (11.9 PPG). All five of those players were held below their season average against the Storm. That’s a major credit to Seattle’s defense.

Offensively, Seattle was led by Breanna Stewart’s 25 points and a season-high 7 assists. She also had five rebounds and four steals. Stewart talked to media after the game about how she continues to find ways to improve her overall game.

“I don’t think I look at stats in general like oh I need to do some more of that and that. I think just continuing to have more of an all around game, I think obviously you know, everybody knows me for my offensive presence, for my rebounding and stuff like that but continuing to do more defensively, get my hands in passing lanes, and as far as the assists, seeing how teams have progressed to play me defensively since my first year to now, knowing that they’re not helping off a lot and knowing, what can we do to counter that to get someone else open because I know that if they don’t come off me and they screen me for example, that person who screen’s me is going to be wide open.”

Sami Whitcomb played a pivotal role in this game scoring a season-high 17 points off the bench. Whitcomb really filled up the stat sheet with six assists, three rebounds, four steals, and two blocks! Ezi Magbegor scored a career-high 13 points off the bench as well on 75% (6-8) FG shooting. Magbegor leads the WNBA in Field Goal Percentage at nearly 71% per game. Jewell Loyd (10 points) and Alysha Clark (12 points) were the other players to score in double figures for Seattle.

Interestingly enough, during the Storm’s five game win streak, Alysha Clark has scored double digits in every single game averaging 12.0 points per game during Seattle’s undefeated streak.

Coach Kloppenburg talked about the key to Clark’s success.

“She’s a really good three-point shooter, and we were able to get her open a couple of times. She knocked some down. And then she can post up, she’s originally a post player so she has a lot of really good stuff down there. We try to post her four or five times a game, I think she’s getting in a nice offensive groove for us. And it’s good to have because we’re drawing a lot of attention with some of our other players and she’s a lot of times open out there. And then defensively she’s just so tough. We move her around, we really try to put her on the best offensive player but she can guard one through four, really.”

Ezi Magbegor also talked after the game about how well she’s adjusted to the WNBA so far.

 “I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was expecting the physicality to be a lot greater, which it definitely is, so just getting used to that. Being on a team like Seattle I’ve got such a great team around me so they’ve helped me fit into the league, get used to the style of play. As games go on, there’s not a lot of recovery between games, so it’s just adjusting on the fly and implementing that into games.

My teammates got me in the right spots. Just getting used to the flow of the game, and if there is an open lane just taking that. That’s what I’m used to, what I do. Definitely, with this game, I just looked to that more. My teammates did a good job of reading the game as well.”

The Quarters

Despite facing adversity immediately without Sue Bird and Jordin Canada picking up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of the game, the Storm got out to a torrid start against the Sky. Even after trailing 7-3 early, the Storm immediately erased that deficit with an 8-0 run. Chicago’s defense looked really bad in the opening quarter as Breanna Stewart put up 10 of her game-high 25 points in the first period. Stewart drove to the basket several times beating her opponent off the dribble for the easy baskets. Seattle shot 70% from the floor (14-20) and forced Chicago into seven turnovers. After Cheyenne Parker knocked down a three to cut Seattle’s lead to six at 24-18, the Storm finished the quarter on a 9-0 run. Seattle led 33-18 after one.

Both teams really struggled offensively in the 2nd quarter. After scoring 33 points in the opening frame (a season high for Seattle), the Storm were limited to just 13 points. Fortunately, their defense really stepped up and held the Sky to just 10 points in the quarter. That is the second game in a row where the Storm’s defense has held an opponent to 10 points or less in a quarter. Clark knocked down two shots from beyond the arc. The Storm led by 18 at the half (46-28). Seattle held Chicago to just 31% FG shooting in
the first half, well below their average of 47%.

By far Chicago’s best quarter was the third period. After being limited to just 28 points in the entire first half, the Sky scored 28 points in the third quarter. As all teams do, they made a run. At one point, cutting the Storm’s 21 point lead to just eight points at 55-47. The Sky used a 13-1 run to get Seattle’s lead down to single digits. Fortunately, for Seattle, they never let Chicago get any closer than eight. And pushed their lead back up to 15 points (71-56) by the end of the third.

Unlike Saturday’s game against the Phoenix Mercury, Seattle did not give up their big lead. They immediately scored four quick points to start the 4th, forcing Chicago Coach James Wade to call timeout as Seattle went back up 19. After giving up 28 points in the 3rd quarter, the Storm held Chicago to just 15 points in the final period. Seattle outscored Chicago 18-15 in the fourth.

The Storm’s bench outscored the Sky’s 32-21. 30 of Seattle’s 32 points came from both Sami and Ezi. Coach Klop praised those two players after the game.

“Sami’s playing really well. She can get her shot off. She comes off screens good, she has such a quick trigger and she’s so accurate that if you can give her any space when she gets hot like that, it’s going down. I’m really happy with her, I thought she did a good job defensively coming in and guarding some different people. And then Ezi is still a little raw but she’s got a pretty quick first step driving and she’s got some post moves inside so she’s a factor coming in off the bench. Really happy with our play and energy off the bench, especially those two.”

Sami Whitcomb’s Evolution

Sami has come a long way since she first started playing for the Seattle Storm back in 2017. Her first two seasons Whitcomb averaged between 3.0-4.5 PPG while playing between 9-12 minutes per game.

Whitcomb continues to improve with increased minutes. Last season, she had a career-high in points at 7.2 PPG off the bench. After Monday’s 17 point performance, she’s now averaging 8.8 PPG this season. She’s also improved her 3-PT shooting to 40% this season up from 34% last season.

More importantly, Whitcomb has been primarily a three-point shooter during her WNBA career. But before this season got going, I talked to her during Media Day and she talked about working to improve her overall game, especially on offense. Not just being limited to hanging outside the three-point line. She wanted to work on her midrange game and her ability to attack the basket. We’ve seen that already this season, especially in these past two games. On Saturday, she went right at 6’9” Brittney Griner and was able to lay it up. She had a couple really nice drives over Chicago in this game as well. I talked to Whitcomb after the game about her continued improvement.

“Obviously, I’m recognized as a three-point threat, and people really defend that well. You know, a lot of times people are flying at me so I do have that opportunity to take those midrange shots that wasn’t a comfort of mine at that stage. I really tried to work on it and so far I think it’s helped because I’ve had more confidence utilizing it,” Whitcomb said

Whitcomb continues to improve and could be looking at a big pay day in 2021.

Standout Plays

  • Early on, Breanna Stewart had a beautiful drive to the basket for two. On the very next possession, Sami Whitcomb got a steal and lobbed the ball up ahead to Ezi Magbegor. Magbegor Euro-Stepped around the defender and laid it up beautifully to put Seattle up 22-13 late in the first quarter.

  • In what is becoming a common theme, Ezi had another beautiful rejection in this game. Just completely denying Cheyenne Parker down in the low post and using her long arms to stuff the ball back in Parker’s face.

  • In what was the WORST PLAY of the game we saw an atrocious foul called against Jordin Canada late in the 2nd quarter. The shot-clock was winding down for the Chicago Sky and Courtney Vandersloot jumped into Canada forcing the contact. The referee blew the whistle and bailed Vandersloot out. Canada did not leave her feet off the ground, nor did she reach in with her hands. She kept her hands straight up. The refs need to be better than that.

  • My favorite play of the game was the beautifully executed play out of the jump ball with less than five seconds to play in the first-half. On Chicago’s end of the court, Stewart won the jump ball who tipped it to Alysha Clark. Immediately, Sami Whitcomb started running as fast as she could to Seattle’s basket. Clark whizzed a pass to Whitcomb who laid it up with about one second left to play. Chicago players were completely disgusted with that play and their performance as they trailed 46-28.

  • Late in the 3rd, Sami stole the ball and threw the ball back behind her back before falling out of bounds. The ball made its way to Stewart who drove up the court. Sami raced to the opposite corner where Stewart found her and Whitcomb knocked down the three to put Seattle up 66-51.

Around the W

The Connecticut Sun (2-6) picked up their second win of the season against the Atlanta Dream (2-6) by a score of 93-82. Alyssa Thomas led the team with 21 points, Jasmine Thomas had 15 points and led the team with 7 assists. DeWanna Bonner chipped in 12 points and led the team with 9 rebounds. The Dream hung tough in this game, especially after losing top rookie Chennedy Carter just three minutes into the game with an ankle injury. Former Storm draft pick Shekinna Stricklen scored 18 points to lead her team including knocking down six three-pointers. Kalani Brown, who was recently activated after being quarantined came up big for the Dream scoring 13 points in under 11 minutes. Courtney Williams was the only other Dream player to score in double figures with 12.

The Phoenix Mercury (5-3) took down the Dallas Wings (3-5) without Diana Taurasi who missed the game after suffering a lower back/hip injury late in the game against Seattle on Saturday. Skylar Diggins-Smith had her best game of her Mercury career leading the team with 26 points and a game-high 7 assists. Brittney Griner had a double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Brianna Turner (13) and Nia Coffey (10) were the other players to score in double figures. The Wings were led by Arike Ogunbowale who put up 22 points. Satou Sabally had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. And Allisha Gray added 17 points in the losing effort.

Up Next

The Storm have just one day off and will be back in action on Wednesday night at 7:00pm PST against the Atlanta Dream. The Storm just battled the Dream a few games ago edging out a 93-92 win in one of the wildest finishes we’ve ever seen
in a game. The Dream scored 14 points in the final 45 seconds of the game and nearly forced the game into overtime. To put that in perspective, the Storm held the Phoenix Mercury to just 23 points in the entire first half (20 minutes) on Saturday. What will be interesting to watch is whether or not rookie Chennedy Carter plays on Wednesday against Seattle or not. Carter lit up the Storm last week for a career-best 35 points. However, it is unclear if she’ll be able to play in this game as she left Monday’s game just minutes into the game with a severe ankle injury.

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