“I think it might be the first ugly five minutes,” Becky Hammon said with a chuckle, and utterly naughty, before the Las Vegas Acces and Seattle Storm spent their first ugly five minutes shedding rust for a week to kick off the WNBA semifinals on Sunday afternoon. The score for the first game of the series stayed 13-4 for what seemed like an eternity in the first quarter; Both teams shoot poorly from three and also, for that matter, from two. The only good thing I can say about the start of the game is that everyone seems to be trying really hard.
They may have all been taking their cue from Joel Lloyd, who has shown this season that you should focus on making your best impression in the final five minutes of the game instead. When Loyd hit two long steps back on A’ja Wilson, late in the shot clock, to give Storm a three-point lead with 34 seconds left, she scored six of her team’s last six and 10 of her last. 12. In the final round, in the first game against the Mystics, Loyd went without a field goal in the first 35 minutes of play before scoring 12 consecutive points from Storm. The All-Star Ranger’s regular season ups and downs became a distant memory with her iconic playoff performance. “It keeps growing right before our eyes,” Storm manager Noel Quinn said Saturday, after Loyd put in 26 points in Storm’s 76-73 win. Later, Quinn said what has been true of Storm all season: “We won’t make it if Jewell isn’t at her best.”
This might sound like a strange thing to say about a team with Breanna Stewart, but I’ve sometimes thought Stewart’s role is to raise the floor for Storm and Loyd to raise their roof. As scoring options are number 2, you won’t find a better option in the WNBA. The 21-year-old rookie Loyd entered the league with plenty of holes in her game in 2015 – a weak three-point shot being the most obvious – and has since developed into one of the WNBA’s most dynamic guards, capable of creating elite shots, speed in the transition, And make the ball. She has shown a particular penchant for living up to the occasion, whether at Storm’s 2020, or in the absence of her most acclaimed teammates. Stewart and Sue Bird have both missed a long time due to injuries in the past three seasons.
Last year, Loyd was the best in the WNBA, inspiring some questions about what she might look like as a base option somewhere. On some nights, she clearly seemed to be able to. But there were others when the answers were less encouraging. Storm’s season ended in the second round last year, in a match in which Lloyd finished 5-24 from the ground. Watch Stewart from the sideline with a foot injury. Loyd re-signed with The Storm in February, but her regular season numbers are lower than where they were last year. Consistency has always been the issue when it comes to figuring out exactly what this player might be. In the not-too-distant future, it is possible that Loyd will be asked to take on a larger role. Sue Bird will retire at the end of the season and Stewart, who returned with Seattle on a one-year deal this year, celebrated Liberty’s last off-season. What a storm will look like in 2023 is anyone’s guess.
But why worry about that now? We’ve been through the first game of what looks like a great semi-final, and Loyd can take responsibility for making Game 1 such a thrill. A good match series needs players like her, shot-making geniuses who are at their best when they can find the moments that need to be met. There’s more than one way to be a tournament player, and Loyd meets at least one criterion: she can lead the opposing coach. “Well, I don’t know. If I had the key, I would definitely use it,” Hamon told a reporter who wanted to know Loyd’s lockout switch. “If you have any ideas, hit me up.”