Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins probably said it best.
“I thought they just recognized the moment, that’s what really good teams do,” he said of the Seattle Storm. “They knew they had to punch first in the third quarter, like they did last time... there was a moment there in the third quarter where they wanted it more.”
After the Liberty went up 30-23 in the first, powered by a career performance in the first quarter from Sami Whitcomb, the Storm came back in the second, getting to within a point of the Liberty. In the third, though, Seattle showed what makes them a perennial WNBA contender, outscoring New York, 30-16, including a 17-4 run. Final score: Storm 99, Liberty 83.
The game had to be particularly disappointing for Whitcomb, who won two WNBA titles with the Storm. Whitcomb scored 15 of her 26 points in the first quarter to lead New York.
“Sami came in with a lot of fight. She was scoring in multiple ways, and I’m happy for her to have a game like that, especially against her former team in Seattle,” said fellow Liberty and fellow Australian Becca Allen.
But the Storm had the goods, that is, three American Olympians Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd, Loyd, who had 35 points in the Liberty’s win two nights ago, scored 29 Friday, including 21 in the third, five more the the Liberty. Stewart and Bird had missed Seattle’s loss to New York Wednesday.
“Every article said ‘The Liberty beat the shorthanded Storm,’” said Hopkins referring to the coverage of the Liberty win Wednesday. “But I didn’t see any saying teams beat the shorthanded Liberty when we played without Natasha or Sabrina for stretches in the first half (of the season.)”
Sabrina Ionescu saw a positive out of the two-game set.
“In the first game, we weren’t sure what to do out of traps [and] switches,” said Ionescu who finished with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists. “It shows improvement to play a team like Seattle with their star power back, and improve taking care of the ball. It shows we’re eager to win & we’re gonna do that stuff that’ll help us win.”
Stewart and Bird finished with 19 and 10, respectively, but Friday was Loyd’s night. Noelle Quinn, the Storm head coach, kept feeding Loyd the ball.
“I’m old school,” Quinn said. “I was taught to milk the cow. When somebody is cooking like that, the basket was wide open for her. I don’t think you divert. I think you continue to go to what’s getting you a bucket.”
Natasha Howard, who won three titles with Seattle and is just back from injury, had a double-double for New York, with 11 points and 13 rebounds, but shot only 4-of-19 from the floor.
The Liberty is now 11-13, the Storm 17-7.
The game attracted 3,889 fans, one of the biggest crowds of the season, the Libs first in Brooklyn.