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Jewell Loyd’s veteran resilience propels Storm to playoff win

(Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jewell Loyd has set a precedent against the Mystics.

She’s been dominant in each of the Storm’s three regular-season meetings with Washington this year, scoring 22 points in their final matchup on 6-for-8 shooting from the 3-point line.

But in Thursday’s first-round playoff game, Washington seemed to have her figured out.

With Seattle down five points with 4:52 to play, Loyd had yet to make a field goal. The guard had four points, making two free throws in the first quarter and two more in the third, but her usual scoring acumen was absent.

Loyd matched up against Washington's Natasha Cloud for most of the game Thursday night. (Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images)

Lest people forget Loyd’s experience level, the guard reminded the public and her teammates of it after the Storm’s 86-83 win over the Mystics in Game 1 of the first round

“(I’ve grown),” she said. “I’ve been in the league eight years, so if I haven’t grown that would be a problem.”

As Loyd, 28, finished her sentence, teammate Gabby Williams blurted out, “Oh my god. You’re so old!”

“I’m old, man,” Loyd responded with a smile. “I’m a vet.”

And a vet doesn’t let missed shots keep them down, especially not with the game on the line.

“As a rookie, you get frustrated when you’re not making shots,” she said. “You’re used to things being smooth, but when you’ve been in the league for a while, you understand the flow of the game, you understand who you are, your teammates, time, score, all those things.”

Loyd kept battling on Thursday night. She kept looking for her shot, and with less than five minutes left in a tight contest, she broke through for her first field goal, knocking down a step-back 3-pointer that cut the Mystics’ lead to 77-75.

From there, it was all Loyd. She added 10 more points down the stretch, and until Breanna Stewart hit two free throws with 14.6 seconds left, Loyd had scored all of her team’s points in the last five minutes of play.

Natasha Cloud, who spent most of the game matched up against Loyd, said the guard didn’t change anything about her game. She just stayed the course.

“Just a great player getting hot,” Cloud said. “She made tough shots down the stretch, and we knew they were going to go to her. And that’s just on me. I promise you I’m gonna be better next game.”

Loyd’s heroic run culminated with the go-ahead bucket with 38 seconds left on the clock.

As she dribbled toward the 3-point arc, she refused a screen from Stewart and continued on her line to the basket. Then, with Cloud on her right hip, Loyd took off on one-foot near the free-throw line. She used her athleticism to make a minor adjustment in the air and then fired a jumper.

It gave the Storm a one-point lead and resulted in a Washington timeout. Despite Elena Delle Donne’s 15 second-half points, and 26 overall, the Mystics came up short on their next possession and Seattle closed out the win on two Stewart free throws.

“I just stayed patient,”Lloyd said. “The second half came around and my teammates kept encouraging me, they threw it to me, and I was able to get to my spots.”

Storm coach Noelle Quinn has a unique perspective on Loyd’s game. Before joining the coaching staff in 2019, and eventually taking over as head coach last year, Quinn was Loyd’s teammate in Seattle.

Quinn says there were moments early in Loyd’s career when she started games slow and didn’t end up making the breakthrough. Since the Storm drafted her first overall in 2015, Loyd has won two WNBA championships, made four All-Star teams and earned many individual honors. Against the Mystics on Thursday, she showed that, even when things aren’t going her way in the beginning, her experience will carry her through.

“She pushed through today in a big way, in a major way,” Quinn said. “It wasn’t how she started, but how she finished. Those were big buckets down the stretch.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.