NEW YORK – For three quarters on Monday morning, the Seattle Storm could not help but hit the snooze button on their way to one of their more lackluster starts to a game all season.
When it counted the most, however, Seattle woke up from its slumber to maintain their red-hot form heading towards the WNBA Playoffs.
Breanna Stewart led all scorers with 32 points, including 12 in the decisive fourth quarter as the Storm pulled away from the New York Liberty 96-80 at Madison Square Garden, winning their seventh game in their last eight outings.
Poor shooting from Seattle (22-7) in the third quarter allowed the Liberty to end the third quarter on an 8-0 run to cut their deficit to 61-60, and New York took a 72-70 lead on a Kia Nurse three-pointer with 6:27 remaining. But the Storm put on an explosive 35-point performance in the fourth to put the game out of reach, going on a 24-4 run after Nurse’s three-pointer.
Stewart scored all 12 of her fourth-quarter points during that four-and-a-half-minute scoring outburst for Seattle. Shooting less than 40 percent from the field for the first three quarters, the Storm made 14 of their 20 attempts from the field in the fourth quarter, with Stewart nailing five of her six shots in the final stanza.
“We felt like that run was coming,” said Stewart, who recorded her fifth 30-point game of the season. “It wasn’t if it was coming, it was when.”
Playing in Madison Square Garden as opposed to New York’s home for most of the season, the Westchester County Center, added a lot more energy to the game as the teams were playing in front of a crowd of over 12,000 people – mostly kids – for Camp Day, a stark contrast to the sparsely-attended games upstate.
“Anytime you’re playing in front of thousands of screaming kids the atmosphere is going to be great,” Stewart said. “To just see them enjoying game, seeing them dancing, getting really hyped for the game, that’s what we’re here for. That’s what we’re playing for.”
It was Stewart’s three-point play at the 6:13 mark of the fourth quarter that started Seattle’s run, and her three-pointer with 1:31 remaining gave the Storm a 92-76 lead, completing their fourth-quarter turnaround.
At halftime, New York was shooting markedly better than Seattle, making almost 53 percent (18-of-34) of their shots compared to Seattle’s 39.5 percent. However, New York was only able to forge a tie with the Storm at 44 at the break. Outside of Stewart’s extraordinary play in the second half, New York was undone by its carelessness with possession of the ball, committing 20 turnovers (10 in each half) which led to 24 Seattle points. In the second half alone, New York’s 10 second-half turnovers led directly to 18 points by the Storm.
Kia Nurse and Tina Charles led the Liberty with 20 points, but it was not enough to break New York’s losing streak, which now extends to seven games. Six of those losses have come by double digits.
“We’re all playing for next year,” Liberty coach Katie Smith said. “We’re all playing for jobs. I love that we came out today and competed….Still, we want to win some ballgames.”