Jewell Loyd continued her red-hot scoring streak, and Stephanie Talbot buried host Atlanta beneath an offensive flurry in the fourth quarter as the Storm pulled away for a 95-71 victory on Wednesday night at Gateway Center Arena.
“Our bench was clutch tonight,” said Loyd, who finished with a team-high 18 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals in 25 minutes. “We changed our defensive schemes a little bit too and made adjustments.
“But our bench was huge. They came in with a lot of energy. We executed our game plan on defense and got some rebounds that we weren’t getting in the first half.”
Loyd, who scored 13 points in the first quarter, did most of her damage at the start while Talbot saved her best for the end and scored all 13 of her points in the fourth.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit when we go to our bench,” said Talbot who connected on 5 of 6 field goals, including three three-pointers. “Moving forward, I think that’s going to be a goal of ours if our bench can come in and increase on what the starters are doing. That’s going to be big for us.”
Following last Friday’s last-second defeat that snapped a six-game winning streak, coach Noelle Quinn tinkered with the lineup and rotations in hopes of generating more scoring balance between the starters and backups.
Seattle’s Big 3 of Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Loyd combined for 52 points while the backups added just 12 points during a 68-67 loss to Dallas.
It was the Storm’s sixth lineup in 10 games and the strategy worked in part as Katie Lou Samuelson, who averaged nine points as a starter and two points as a reserve, was reinserted into the starting lineup — with Talbot moving to the bench — and finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
“Before Katie Lou went to 3×3, she had a very good game and she started for us,” Quinn said, referring to Samuelson, who started the first two games and missed the next five while playing with Team USA in an Olympic 3×3 qualifying tournament. “While she was gone, Steph filled in her role and did an amazing job.
“The one thing that Steph had brought consistently was energy and the one thing we had lacked coming off the bench was that. So that flip was putting the pieces back together before that time period where Lou left and giving her some familiarity with that first group, which she already had. Obviously, Steph is the consummate professional and just staying ready. She had an amazing game.”
There was something for everyone Wednesday night for the Storm, which had six players score in double figures.
Breanna Stewart tallied 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists while Sue Bird added 11 points and six rebounds and Mercedes Russell chipped in 11 points.
In addition to Talbot, Jordin Canada played a significant role off the bench and finished with seven assists. Seattle’s reserves outscored their counterparts 30-19.
“It’s super important that people understand their roles, their jobs and their value on this team,” Loyd said. “We saw that today where everyone can chip in and everyone is confident in what they can do. We want to see more of that.”
There was even something for the Storm coaching staff to stew about following a 24-point blowout – Seattle’s most lopsided win of the season.
Quinn lamented a 42-32 rebounding disparity, which will be a point of emphasis before Seattle faces Atlanta again on Friday. The Dream (4-5) also outscored the Storm 46-28 in the paint.
“One thing we do give up a lot when we’re flying around and trapping is we become vulnerable in that rebounding spot,” Quinn said. “We’re consistently driving it home that we need to finish plays off and we’ll continue to get better at that.
“What Lou can bring and help out and even Steph can bring is the ability to go rebound as guards. We’re not the biggest, but it’s about effort and going to get the balls. … It’s a team effort with rebounds. As our defense improves and we get a little more solid with one another, hopefully our rebounding improves as well.”
In the second half, the Storm used a defensive zone for extended minutes for the first time this season to slow Tiffany Hayes, who scored 16 of her game-high 22 points before the break.
After Seattle’s halftime adjustments, Atlanta shot 25.6% from the field and converted just 1 of 13 three-pointers.
Meanwhile, Seattle drained 12 of 22 attempts from downtown during the game and outscored Atlanta 36-9 behind the arc.
Loyd, the reigning Western Conference player of the week, led the Storm to a 28-23 lead in the first quarter and Seattle was up 45-42 at halftime.
The Dream took its first lead at 51-49 early in third when Seattle answered with a 14-3 run to regain control and go up 63-54 with 2:19 left in the third.
The Storm led 69-61 to start the fourth, which was similar to its last two outings when the reserves surrendered leads early in the period and the games were decided on the final play.
This time, Seattle was able to rest most of its starters down the stretch thanks to Talbot, who began the fourth with eight straight points, including two three-pointers for a 77-63 lead.
“That’s been a big emphasis over the last few days, figuring out how we can get our bench going,” Talbot said. “We got five games in (eight) days and our starters can’t play 35 minutes. Today was a good start. It’s what we need to bring every game so we can get rest to our big-minute players.”