Saturday night ended with a rare loss for the Storm, who had been soaring before stumbling in the fourth quarter and falling 85-77 against the Los Angeles Sparks.
“Not the effort that we needed in order to win against a team that played hard,” coach Noelle Quinn said. “Just didn’t sustain and didn’t execute well on both ends of the floor.”
But the day wasn’t a total disappointment for Seattle.
Hours before the game, Tina Charles agreed to a mutual split from the Phoenix Mercury and the eight-time WNBA All-Star is reportedly finalizing a deal with the Storm.
Adding the 6-foot-4 center, who led the league in scoring last year, for the second half of the season significantly enhances the Storm’s playoff aspirations.
In 16 games, Charles averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, which is just slightly below her career averages.
Conceivably, the 11-year veteran, who has started in each of the 373 games she’s played in the WNBA dating to her rookie year with the Connecticut Sun in 2010, will join the Storm starting lineup that includes WNBA All-Stars Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart as well as Gabby Williams.
Seattle needs frontcourt help considering center Mercedes Russell has missed 12 games due to a recurrent headache.
On Friday, Seattle waived forward Reshanda Gray clearing about $39,000 in salary-cap space and reducing the roster to 10 players.
Adding Charles would also potentially send promising center Ezi Magbegor to the bench and possibly add firepower to a second unit in dire need of a scoring punch.
Before Saturday’s game, Quinn declined to confirm if the Storm has contacted Charles.
“Our focus is right now and my focus right now is on the game,” Quinn said. “I don’t really have a comment about Tina.”
Still, the Storm could have used Charles on Saturday to help negate a 41-26 rebounding disparity that favored the Sparks.
“They had 31 defensive rebounds and we had 21,” Stewart said. “And they didn’t shoot amazing. We should have got rebounds.”
Los Angeles (7-10) entered Saturday’s game with four losses in its past five games, including a 23-point defeat in its previous outing, but the short-handed Sparks — who played without guards Jordin Canada and Chennedy Carter due to non-COVID illness — gave Seattle fits all night.
“You can’t be mediocre and expect to win in this league,” Quinn said. “It doesn’t matter who you play against, 1-12 everybody is skilled and professionals. We have to come out with the mindset of a sense of urgency and understand that it doesn’t matter what records show.
“These teams are hungry. They’re fighting and they’re playing hard and we have to come out with the same sense of urgency.”
The Storm built an early 12-point lead (19-7), but the Sparks recovered and were up 49-43 at halftime.
With the score tied at 68 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Storm were outscored 17-9 in the final frame. Seattle converted 4 of 16 shots, but missed all seven three-pointers in the period while Los Angeles was 8 for 15 and 0 for 4 behind the arc.
“Basically, they were scoring and we were missing,” said Stewart, who scored just five of her game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter.
At the other end, the Storm had no answer for Nneka Ogwumike who tallied a team-high 24 points on 12-for-18 shooting, including eight points in the fourth.
“We can’t win scoring nine points,” Quinn said. “I didn’t feel like we were getting stops. Nneka went to work and isolated in spots. They ran the same play and we couldn’t get stops defensively in order to run. The shots that we did take I feel like they were rushed and contested.”
The score was knotted at 75 when the Sparks finished the game on a 10-2 run. Ogwumike began the spurt when she muscled in a driving layup over Stewart and Magbegor for a layup that quieted the “Beat LA” chant from the 9,955 at Climate Pledge Arena and put the Sparks up for good.
“I wanted to challenge our post players to play (Ogwumike) one-on-one and be aggressive with her,” Quinn said. “For the most part, they were in her space. She took tough shots and made them. She’s a great player. Sending bodies to her and being aggressive that was the game plan. I didn’t want to trap her because it opens up a world of everything else.”
Seattle also had difficulty slowing former Storm forward Katie Lou Samuelson (17 points), Brittney Sykes (15 points and eight rebounds) and Kristi Toliver (11 points).
The Storm received 16 points, four rebounds and three blocks from Magbegor while Williams chipped in 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Still, Seattle couldn’t overcome a combined 3-for-17 shooting performance and nine points from Loyd and Bird.
At the midpoint of the season, Seattle (11-7) is fourth in the WNBA standings and 2½ games out of first place with 18 to play.
“We’re at this point of our season where the inconsistency of play can’t happen,” Quinn said. “We’re trying to make it to the end of the season, make it to the playoffs and hopefully win a championship.
“This is not how you play and show up to work and do your job. This is not it. We have to have a mindset about us and our team, a grit about us all the time. Just reminding our team that needs to happen every single night.”