Storm offense hits high gear in dominating, drama-free Game 1 win

SEATTLE -- After so much drama in their recent outings, maybe it was inevitable that the WNBA Finals opener between Seattle and Washington didn't sustain the same feeling. The Storm didn't allow it.

The game was a dream for Seattle and a dud for Washington, an 89-76 Storm victory that the fans at KeyArena thoroughly enjoyed because it didn't give them heart palpitations, like both Game 5s of the WNBA semifinals. In fact, if you were a Storm fan, this game was downright relaxing.

Seattle led 48-32 at halftime, and by the third quarter, the Mystics looked as if they were already in the mental space of trying to get ready for Sunday's Game 2.

"When you're in it, you never feel like you're safe," Seattle's Sue Bird said. "We were constantly on high alert. But ... we were able to cause some turnovers, to get some transition going -- which is what we love to do -- and that set the tone.

"Once we get going, like any team, you start to feel comfortable, the basket gets bigger, you get a little more aggressive. And that's kind of what happened."

The rim seemed huge for guard Jewell Loyd, who struggled a bit during the semifinals, and center Natasha Howard. And they took advantage of that, going a combined 17 of 21 from the field. Loyd led Seattle in scoring with 23 points. As good as the Mystics' defense can be -- even though we didn't see it Friday -- it's still a bit of a relief for Loyd that she's not still facing a defender as pesky as Phoenix's Briann January.

"I need to be able to shoot and just have short-term memory," Loyd said. "But it helps when you're playing with people who are unselfish, that set you up and keep giving you the ball. And that's what makes this team special. Everyone is willing to make the extra pass."

Howard had 19 points, and MVP Breanna Stewart had 22.

"It felt good that we were in control of the game the whole time," Howard said.

Seattle definitely looked the part of the No. 1 seed. But No. 3 Washington looked weary -- the Mystics also were on the road in Game 5 of their semifinal series with Atlanta -- and lacking answers.

The good thing is, it's only one game in what could still be a compelling series. Or maybe it set the tone for Seattle getting an upper hand that it won't let go.

The Mystics have not had such a poor game since before the All-Star Game on July 28. Coach Mike Thibault unloaded his bench Friday trying to find some kind of spark. But none was found. Rookie Ariel Atkins had 23 points and was really the only bright spot for the Mystics.

"I don't know if it was getting caught up in the moment, Game 1 nerves, or whatever," Mystics center LaToya Sanders said. "As bad as we played, and as well as Seattle played, it still only counts as one loss. When one or two people are hot and playing well, people feed off that. They got a little bit of momentum, and their crowd was in it from the beginning. And then everybody who came in for them contributed."

The Storm led by as much as 27 in the third quarter. If this wasn't their best offensive game on display, it was -- at the very least -- indicative of how potent a team Seattle is when things are working. Which has been the case most of this season.

"When you talk from an identity standpoint, tonight we played to our identity," said Bird, who had seven assists but didn't need the big scoring effort she had Tuesday against Phoenix. "This is how we like to play, this is where we thrive.

"We just have a very mobile, athletic team that can show itself defensively and then how we flow from our defense to our offense. We try to play at a pace that, hopefully, wears teams down."

Since it looked as if the Mystics were already a little worn, it made the Storm appear to be all the more a steamroller. It was essentially exactly the kind of game the Storm were hoping for.

The Mystics, by contrast have to convince themselves that what we saw Friday was their worst.

"We have to get back to who we are," Mystics guard Kristi Toliver said. "We're better defensively. We just never got ourselves together [Friday]. Watching film will help; we have to study it and commit to being better.

"We're going to find a way, because we have the right pieces. It's a matter of getting ourselves in better position and figuring out what we can counter."