EVERETT, Wash. -- On a night when Seattle Storm MVP candidate Natasha Howard was held to two points and WNBA 3-point percentage leader Alysha Clark made only one triple, Seattle turned to the backcourt for scoring punch in Wednesday's opening-round playoff matchup against the Minnesota Lynx. Jordin Canada and Jewell Loyd delivered, combining for 48 points as the Storm won a matchup of the past two WNBA champions 84-74 to advance to the second round.
"We got great guard play," Storm coach Dan Hughes said. "You've got to really like the guard play that we had today."
When the Storm began training camp in May, Canada was expected to back up veteran All-Star Sue Bird. That changed when the team learned days before the start of the season that Bird would undergo surgery that eventually ended her season. Thrust into the starting role, Canada rode out ups and downs to emerge as contender for the league's most improved player award.
"What she did this year enabled Seattle to get through their difficult situations in losing players, a great player like Sue Bird," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. "For Jordin to take over the team and play both ends as well at as she has ... she's just grown through the season. Her trajectory is upward."
Throughout the season, Seattle has been at its best when Canada has been a scoring threat. The Storm went 9-2 during the regular season when Canada scored in double figures. She came out aggressively Wednesday, knocking down a rare 3-pointer in the opening minute of the game -- her first since July 17, also against the Lynx -- and never looked back. Canada's 26 points were a career high, and according to ESPN Stats & Information research she set season highs for scoring in a half in both the first and second halves.
It has been a trying season for Loyd, who figured to step forward in the absence of Bird and 2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart. The Storm's third All-Star last season struggled with scoring efficiency early in the campaign, then suffered a sprain of and bone bruise to her right ankle in late June that sidelined her for nearly a month. A shadow of her All-Star self upon her return, Loyd returned to the bench for four games in August.
Since late last month, however, Loyd has been on fire beyond the arc as the Storm finished strong to secure the No. 6 seed and home-court advantage against the Lynx. She made 13 of 20 3-point attempts over the last five games of the regular season, then carried that over by knocking down all three of her first-quarter 3s on Wednesday. Loyd finished with 22 points, her first time scoring 20-plus since the injury.
"We need her to be this," said Hughes, whose guard duo outscored their Lynx counterparts 48-1. "It's her time of year. She looks ready to me. She's had to go through an injury and then come back from it, and there's lots of examples in the league where that's hard. She's really, really pivotal to us and she showed that today with her play -- especially coming out of the gate."
More than just her scoring, Loyd contributed crucial plays that helped Seattle keep Minnesota -- which never led after the first two minutes of the game -- at bay. In the second quarter, she battled through multiple Lynx opponents to secure an offensive rebound that led to a trip to the free throw line, then drew an offensive foul on Damiris Dantas. And in the fourth quarter, Loyd dove to tie up Dantas, though the Lynx forward won the ensuing jump ball. The Storm's guards controlled the game at the defensive end of the court, helping take Minnesota out of its offense. The Lynx, the league's most turnover-prone team during the regular season, committed 18 of them in this game. And Minnesota's backcourt of All-Star Odyssey Sims and Danielle Robinson could get nothing going as scorers. Neither made a field goal in only five attempts, with a Sims free throw accounting for their only contributions in the points column.
"We knew coming in that Odyssey Sims was going to be a tremendous part of their team," Canada said, "and so we talked about it in practices -- how we were going to play her, being aggressive. I think we did a great job of that tonight, no matter if it was me, AC [Alysha Clark] or Jewell. We all stuck to the game plan and tried to get her outside her comfort zone and frustrate her as much as possible."
Despite shutting down the backcourt, the Storm couldn't shake the Lynx for much of the game. When Minnesota could get the ball inside, the frontcourt of Napheesa Collier, Dantas and Sylvia Fowles proved tough to stop. Both Collier, in her playoff debut (19 points, 10 rebounds), and Fowles (14 points, 11 rebounds) posted double-doubles. Collier's strong second half helped the Lynx pull to within three early in the fourth quarter, a surge that didn't surprise the Storm.
"Sue talked about it at halftime in the locker room," Canada said. "Minnesota's a veteran team, they've been here before. They're going to go on a run, and when they go on a run we're going to have to stay poised and keep our composure."
With Canada and Loyd still resting, reserve guards Shavonte Zellous and Sami Whitcomb provided key scores early in the fourth quarter to help the Storm push the lead back to double digits. Then Seattle's guards took back over late, with Canada and Loyd combining for 12 of the team's final 13 points to cap a dominant performance.