The Storm spent the past four months in pursuit of home-court advantage in the WNBA playoffs, believing their massive crowds at Climate Pledge Arena, which have been the largest in the league this season, would carry them when it mattered most.
Sure enough, the building rocked Thursday night as the No. 4 seed Storm and the No. 5 seed Washington Mystics went back and forth in a thrilling game of runs and big baskets.
Needing a basket in the final minute to take the lead, the Storm came out of a timeout and Jewell Loyd drained a go-ahead jumper from midrange with 42.7 seconds left that led to an 86-83 victory in Game 1.
Through three quarters, Loyd struggled offensively and was 0 for 5 from the field for four points. She scored 12 of her 16 points in the fourth.
Breanna Stewart led the way with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Gabby Williams did a little bit of everything and finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block.
And Sue Bird added 10 points.
The Storm needed a team effort to combat an otherworldly performance from Elena Delle Donne who tallied a game-high 26 points.
Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud each had 16 points and rookie Shakira Austin added 12 for Washington.
Game 2 is Sunday afternoon and the Storm can advance to the semifinal with a win in the best-of-three series.
Of course, their first-round WNBA playoffs matchup was decided in the final minutes, considering they ended the season with identical 22-14 records.
Seattle won the regular-season series 2-1 by an average of 5.3 points.
The Storm led 28-20 early in the second quarter and was up 37-33 when the Mystics took control of the game with an 11-0 run to surge ahead 42-37.
Stewart embodied Seattle’s struggles and frustrations when she powered up a layup through contact and waved her arms to the refs asking for a foul. She connected on the ensuing free throw and the Storm went into halftime down 42-40.
At the time, the Storm were connecting on half of their field-goal attempts and 44.4% on three-pointers (4 of 9), but they had difficulty slowing down Washington’s backcourt of Atkins and Cloud who combined for 23 first-half points on 8-for-14 shooting.
The Storm trailed for most of the third quarter before Stewart tied it up 62-62 with a jumper.
Neither team led by more than five points the rest of the way.
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