The Seattle Storm felt the absence of Breanna Stewart on Sunday night in an 81-53 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks.
Stewart, who ranks third in the WNBA in scoring (20.3 points per game), fourth in rebounds (9.5) and third in blocks (1.8), sat out with a left foot injury that will keep her sidelined for the remainder of the regular season.
Without the former league MVP, the Storm didn’t come close to their season scoring average of 84.5 points per game.
“You put Stewie on the floor, obviously defenses do things differently,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said after the game. “You put her on the floor defensively and she’s able to block shots and do things, rebounding. In general, her presence creates the offense, creates the possessions, creates the feel and the swag and the everything.
“We can talk X’s and O’s and we can talk 20 and 10, but when you have Stewie on the floor, there’s just a level of confidence that our team plays with and other teams respect that.”
Seattle trailed the Sparks 24-13 after going 4 of 16 from the field in the first quarter. It was the Storm’s lowest output in a period this season.
Te’a Cooper led the way for the Sparks with 19 points, two rebounds and two assists. Erica Wheeler, who drew headlines for her crossover of Sue Bird in the first quarter, contributed 17 points, four assists and two rebounds in the win. Nneka Ogwumike had 17 points and seven rebounds, while Brittney Sykes recorded 15 points and 10 rebounds as the fourth Sparks player to finish in double digits.
In all, the Sparks put together a team effort to overwhelm the Stewart-less Storm.
Epiphanny Prince was the only Storm player to score in double digits, finishing the game 12 points and one rebound. No other Seattle player scored more than seven points. Bird, playing in her first game without Stewart since 2016, contributed just three points and went without an assist for the first time since 2012.
“All year, L.A. has been a great defensive team with their physicality,” Quinn said. “That’s how you get to us, I think. We like to play freely. We like to move the ball. We like to play with some pace and some flow. To muck things up, you have to be physical with us and I just don’t think we turned the corner in the game against their physicality.”
Now, the Storm will have to rebound in time for the postseason. Currently in fourth place in the WNBA standings, they can finish no higher than third and will have to play a knockout game in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Sparks kept their postseason chances alive, sitting one game out of the eighth and final playoff spot.