Storm ‘flip switch,’ rally from 21-point deficit to stun sparks

Kevin Pelton, ESPN Senior WriterJun 7, 2023, 02:06 AM ET

Close Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus series
Formerly a consultant with the Indiana Pacers
Developed WARP rating and SCHOENE system

SEATTLE — Down 18 after one quarter and by as many as 21 early in the second period, the Seattle Storm rallied to stun the Los Angeles Sparks 66-63 for their first win Tuesday night at Climate Pledge Arena.

The Storm (1-4), who started the season 0-4, overcame the second-largest deficit after the first quarter since 2006, when the league went to four quarters instead of two halves. It’s also the first time a team has overcome a deficit of 21 or more points to earn its first win, outside of season openers, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“Never was a moment when I felt we were out of it,” said Storm head coach Noelle Quinn, adding that she felt her team’s slow start was due to uncharacteristic mistakes.

“Honestly, I felt it was just our energy. We began the game losing Lexie Brown and Lexie Brown got a 3. It was just focus and energy and we haven’t had to coach that, so I wasn’t ever worried about schematically. I always felt that we will stay together and we will fight and continue to work hard and flip that switch.”

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Seattle guard Jewell Loyd, who led all scorers with 25 points, said she preached patience to her teammates while the Storm were stuck on four points for much of the opening period.

“Chip away,” she said of her message. “It’s the first quarter, so we still have a long game left. We were able to get some stops. We weren’t discouraged. We understand it’s basketball. It’s a game of runs. We came out a little lax, but at the end of the day we found some motivation, got energized by the crowd, had people like Jordan [Horston] step up and kind of get going.”

Five games into the season, the Storm have already amassed substantial experience rallying from deficits. The Storm trailed by as many as 17 points against the Dallas Wings and 15 against the New York Liberty, both eventually single-digit losses. This time, Seattle got over the hump and completed the comeback.

“Today, everyone was super locked in, and I really do think it was the crowd,” Loyd said. “We felt that energy shift, and we were able to just go into what we needed to do.”

Beyond the support of the crowd, which let out a roar when Loyd made a free throw in the third quarter to give the Storm their first lead, the lineups on the court also changed. During the second half, Quinn relied heavily on rookies, at one point playing four of them — Horston, Ivana Dojkic, Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu and Jade Melbourne — alongside Loyd.

Dojkic and Horston, on the bench to begin the game, finished it on the court alongside starters Loyd, Ezi Magbegor and Yvonne Turner. Horston, Seattle’s first-round pick, made a huge impact with 14 points, seven rebounds and four steals — all career highs.

“We had to meet their physicality,” Horston said of what she helped change. “I feel like we were on our heels when we started the game. That’s not who we want to be. That’s not who we are. We have athletes on this team now who can pressure people. We can switch one through five. We have that in us, we’ve just got to execute that and be consistent doing that. Once we do that, sky’s the limit for us.”

After giving up 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting in the first quarter, the Storm allowed just 12 field goals to the Sparks over the final three periods. Forcing turnovers was key to that defensive success. Los Angeles (3-3), which entered the game as one of the league’s most sure-handed teams, committed a season-high 23 turnovers, more than the team’s previous two games combined (20).

That, in turn, powered Seattle’s offense.

“We were able to get stops,” Loyd said. “We were able to rebound, push it and play in transition.”

Previously the WNBA’s last remaining winless team, the Storm had been competitive since losing by 41 to the Las Vegas Aces in their season opener. Despite the dreadful start Tuesday, those hard-fought games finally resulted in a victory.

“Super excited for this group to see the fruits of their labor being rewarded by a win,” Quinn said. “It’s not just the win but the how during the game. I’m super happy for this group — how we fought, how we stayed together and never wavered through our efforts.”

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