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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Storm remain confident despite struggles against top-seeded Aces: ‘They’re not unbeatable’

By Percy Allen Seattle Times

SEATTLE – To beat the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA semifinals, the No. 4-seeded Storm must first convince themselves that they can in fact beat the top seed in the playoffs.

And that’s no easy task considering the recent history between the teams.

Las Vegas is 5-2 against Seattle the past two seasons since Breanna Stewart and the Storm swept A’ja Wilson and the Aces 3-0 in the 2020 WNBA Finals that was played entirely at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The Storm are 1-3 versus the Aces this year and haven’t won a road game against Las Vegas (not including 2020) since 2018.

“They lost 10 games, so they’re beatable,” coach Noelle Quinn said noting the Aces’ 26-10 regular-season record. “Yes, they are No. 1. And yes, they’re tough to beat. But they’re not unbeatable. … This is the playoffs. We’re in a series. We’ll make adjustments. We’ll find ways to exploit and be successful. Anybody is beatable in the postseason. I like the way that we’re playing.”

The Storm are 5-2 in their past seven games, including a 2-0 sweep against the No. 5-seeded Washington Mystics in the first round of the playoffs.

Those two losses, however, were against Las Vegas.

Following an 89-81 defeat to the Aces on Aug. 7, which spoiled Sue Bird’s final regular-season home game, the Storm fell 109-100 in the regular-season finale at Michelob ULTRA Arena.

Las Vegas is riding a six-game winning streak into Game 1 of the best-of-five series that begins Sunday.

“They have a lot of offensive weapons,” Storm center Tina Charles said. “We just want to make it as hard as we can on A’ja, Chelsea (Gray) and KP (Kelsey Plum). Obviously, Riquna Williams is there and (Kiah) Stokes does all of the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

“They have some great players and that’s why they got to where they are. … What happened in the regular season is in the past. We understand that. We’re still trying to figure out a game plan and how to face them. This is Day 1 of us getting into them and locking in on Vegas. After tomorrow, once we get our defensive schemes, we should be fine.”

In consultation with team trainers, Quinn gave the players Monday and Tuesday off. The Storm practiced Wednesday and Friday before Saturday’s workout in Las Vegas.

“(Wednesday) was good,” Quinn said. “The focus was good and the buildup was good. Sometimes after days off, it’s hard to get your body to where it needs to be, but I thought everyone was locked in and focused on our next opponent.

“It’s a balance knowing we’re in postseason mode, so no trying to overdo it but also utilizing the time we have. We got up and down (the court) and made it as gamelike as possible but being smart about it.”

On Friday, Quinn implemented the game plan intent on slowing down Gray, who is averaging 25.7 points in the past three games, including a season-high 33-point outing versus Seattle in their previous matchup.

“We have to really lock in on the defensive end,” Quinn said.

“Chelsea Gray is playing out of her mind. She’s the head of the snake, and that’s who we have to really try to take off her game as much as possible, and hopefully that filters down to other players.”

If the Storm devote too much attention to Gray, they expose themselves to an offensive onslaught from Wilson, who scored 29 points in Las Vegas’ win in Seattle on Aug. 7.

Plum, the former Washington Huskies standout who finished second in the WNBA in scoring (20.2 points per game) behind Stewart, is an offensive threat as well as Young, who averaged 15.9 points.

“We just want to try to get to their bench,” Charles said. “That’s going to be key. … Now, how do we do that? That’s a good question. But I trust our coaching staff. The good thing is we don’t play (until Sunday). We’ve got some time to figure this out.”

The seven-day break between games is the longest for Seattle since May 27.

“I want us to use this time to find our rhythm, make sure we get our defensive reps in and know what we’re looking for offensively,” Quinn said. “I liken it to preparing for an exam. The more you study, whether it’s film or getting reps, the more comfortable you are.

“Now you walk into the classroom, and in this instance the game is a classroom, and you know that you’re going to get an A on your test because you’ve studied, prepared and you’re ready. That’s what these days are going to be for us.”