Jewell Loyd scored 21 points and Natasha Howard added 17 as the Seattle Storm escaped past the Indiana Fever, 65-61, at Alaska Airlines Arena on the University of Washington campus. It was the Storm’s first game at the venue this season.
The hard-fought game had playoff intensity nearly wire-to-wire with Seattle defending its WNBA title in front of a home-court audience of 7,211, and the upstart Fever battling to match the Storm in the WNBA standings. Neither team led by more than eight in a game featuring nine lead changes and four ties.
Loyd broke the game’s final tie with a driving layin for a 63-61 lead with 24.5 seconds to play. Erica Wheeler’s off-balance jumper for Indiana missed the mark with 5.6 seconds to play and after a loose-ball rebound by Howard, she iced the game with a pair of foul shots after being fouled.
The two clubs played to a controversial 84-82 finish on June 11 in Indianapolis and Sunday’s contest was just as close, with pride and defensive pressure the theme in this one.
“We were down by eight and stayed in it,” said Fever coach Pokey Chatman. “We took the lead late and played to a one-possession finish. It was a good atmosphere. The fans got to see two teams gritting it out. It was a slugfest, blue-collar basketball.”
Seattle (7-4) won for the fourth time in its past five games and beat Indiana for the fifth straight time the past two seasons. Indiana (5-6), just 6-28 a year ago, completed a three-game road trip with its third loss in four games.
Wheeler’s floater in the lane brought Indiana within 61-59 with 1:22 to play and after the Fever forced a shot clock violation on the next possession, it was Wheeler again, attacking the basket and going to the line for two free throws to knot the score at 61, with 35.1 seconds to play to set up Seattle’s go-ahead possession.
Since midway through first quarter, neither team led by more than five until the Storm managed a 10-2 run midway through the third to push their lead to eight. But the Fever answered right back with nine straight points to regain the lead by the end of the period. After a pair of Erica Wheeler free throws brought Indiana within 48-47 with 19 seconds left in the quarter, Natalie Achonwa helped force a steal on the ensuing possession and scored the 1,000th point of her career on a fast-break layup as time expired in the quarter.
Wheeler paced Indiana with 18 points and backcourt mate Kelsey Mitchell added 13. Teaira McCowan added six points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
“I have to take accountability for my own game,” said Wheeler, the Indiana point guard who had eight of Indiana’s season-high se21 turnovers against Seattle pressure. “I can’t do that as a leader of this team. I have to be better than that.”
She continued, “We have to learn and more forward from this. It was a tough one. We were down 8, then took a lead against a really good team on the road. Those are good things, but we have to execute better.”
Added Chatman with the same theme of ‘moving forward,’ “I want to implore my team to hold our next opponent to 65 points. Then we’re going to come out on top.”
In a tightly contested first half, Seattle led by as many as 8, but the Fever used a 17-9 run to close the second quarter and lead 35-32 at intermission.
Mitchell and Wheeler hit 3-point baskets on consecutive possessions stake Indiana to its first lead since the game’s opening minutes, 29-28. After Howard’s bucket briefly regained the lead for the Storm and Loyd hit a pair of free throws, another 3-pointer by Mitchell tied it with 1:22 before halftime. Fouled on the shot, the second-year guard completed a four-point play to put Indiana back on top, and Candice Dupree closed the half with a baseline jumper for what was then the Fever’s largest lead
Indiana returns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to host the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday, its only home game in a seven-game stretch.