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Mystics pull ahead of Storm in third quarter, prevent season series sweep

July 31, 2022 Updated Sun., July 31, 2022 at 5:10 p.m.

Kate Shefte Seattle Times

If they meet again — and at the moment, it appears they will — the Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics could make the No. 4 vs. No. 5 WNBA playoff series one to remember.

The teams played even, back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday. The Storm threatened but couldn’t close the gap as the Mystics won the rematch, 78-75.

Both teams have clinched postseason berths. In the first round, the No. 1 seed is set to face the No. 8 seed and the No. 4 seed is pitted against the No. 5 seed in a best-of-three series, with the winners advancing to play each other in a best-of-five semifinal.

The Storm and Mystics sport identical records, 19-12, though the Storm hold a potential tiebreaker, having won two of three in the regular-season series between the teams. They would hold onto fourth and secure home-court advantage.

Seattle took Saturday’s 82-77 game against Washington at Entertainment & Sports Arena. The Storm went on a 16-0 run toward the end of the third quarter and the Mystics responded with a 17-5 run of their own. There weren’t those dramatic momentum swings a day later. At one point in the third quarter it looked as if Washington might be pulling away, but Breanna Stewart went to the other end and responded with a jump shot.

“There’s a reason we’re so close in the standings. There’s going to be times where they go on runs, there’s going to be times when we go on runs,” Seattle’s Sue Bird, who is set to retire after the playoff run, said.

“Both these games, in my opinion, were really similar in that way. Just two teams that are evenly matched. It always comes down to one team making couple a few more plays than the other and that’s who gets the win. It happened for us yesterday, it happened for them today.”

The Mystics opened a seven-point lead with 6:28 left and Seattle coach Noelle Quinn called a timeout. The Storm regrouped and closed the lead to one.

Quinn noted the teams play similarly offensively and defensively.

“It’s a chess match with them, adjusting as they adjust,” she said.

There are many pieces to plan around. While Elena Delle Donne was the only player on either side to clear 20 points on Saturday, Quinn took notice of Ariel Atkins’ improvement from Saturday to Sunday. The Mystics guard had 23 points in her team’s win, tied with Stewart for the game high. Atkins added three rebounds to Stewart’s five.

“I think that’s a big matchup we have to pay more close attention to, aside from Delle Donne and her minutes,” Quinn said.

Washington stayed just ahead the rest of the way. Bird (12 points) re-entered the game after the timeout. Her three-pointer and driving layup kept the Storm in range. She had seven assists for the third straight game.

Stewart and Gabby Williams attempted threes just before the buzzer but they wouldn’t go. Jewell Loyd chipped in 15 points, four steals, four rebounds and three assists. Washington had a 34-20 advantage in points in the paint.

“A lot of good things that happened on the court. Just have to lock in on key moments of the game and get over this hump,” Quinn said.

The Storm’s run of four straight wins against the Mystics came to an end. They’ll spend the week at home, hosting the Minnesota Lynx and Las Vegas Aces. The latter game is already sold out.

Then they finish the regular season with a three-game road trip.

“Get some momentum behind us,” Stewart said. “Get to a place where we’re all feeling really good and being our best when the playoffs happen.”

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