SEATTLE — Jewell Loyd was unselfish in the deciding game of the WNBA semifinals, giving up her spot on the floor and choosing not to mess with what was going right for the Seattle Storm at the time.
Her decision appeared to be rewarded in Game 1 of the Finals.
“It’s amazing how many times when you’re thinking right like she [is], and you’re unselfish like she was in Game 5, how you are rewarded the next time,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said.
Loyd shot 9-for-12 and scored 23 points, league MVP Breanna Stewart added 20 points, and the Storm opened the Finals with an 89-76 victory over the Washington Mystics on Friday night.
The first WNBA Finals game in Seattle in eight years was a dominant performance by the home team, led by the guard who watched most of the fourth quarter of Seattle’s Game 5 win over Phoenix in the semifinals. Loyd made the suggestion to Hughes not to change Seattle’s lineup during that fourth quarter against Phoenix, which meant she stayed on the bench.
And instead of sulking about her struggles for most of the semifinal series, Loyd became the leader of an efficient offensive performance from the top team in the league during the regular season.
“It helps when you’re playing with people who are unselfish and set you up and keep giving you the ball. That’s what makes this team special. Everyone is willing to make that extra pass regardless if you miss 100 shots and make the next 70, this team is going to give you the ball.”
Loyd scored 10 straight points during the second quarter when Seattle took control thanks to a 16-4 run, and combined with Stewart to score 20 of Seattle’s first 22 points of the third quarter. Seattle led by 27 in the third quarter and 26 early in the fourth quarter.
Seattle shot 53 percent, outscored Washington 46-28 in the paint and had 21 assists on 33 field goals. Sue Bird, the hero of Game 5, scored just four points, but her points weren’t needed on this night. Natasha Howard added 17 points, shooting 7-for-8.
Game 2 is Sunday.
“We were a step behind — they looked quicker than us,” Washington coach Mike Thibault said. “They made us pay for every defensive mistake for a stretch, and we made enough of them to help them.”
Washington’s first Finals game in franchise history was mostly forgettable. Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver both struggled shooting. Ariel Atkins led the Mystics with 23 points, but no other Washington player scored more than Natasha Cloud’s 11 points.
Still dealing with a bone bruise in her left knee that forced her to miss one game of the semifinals, Delle Donne was 4-for-11, finishing with 10 points and didn’t play the fourth quarter. Toliver scored just five points and shot 2-for-11, continuing to be either really hot or very cold with her shot in the postseason.
“I think our whole offense was a little bit stagnant. Instead of getting the ball and moving it side to side, we were hanging on to it on one side and staring at each other,” Delle Donne said. “We need to move a little bit more and make them chase it around like they were doing to us. As a whole, we were way too stagnant.”
Seattle led by 16 at halftime and yet was able to build the lead with minimal contributions from Stewart and Bird offensively. Stewart didn’t make a field goal for the first 15 minutes. Bird had one field goal and three assists in the first half. The Storm didn’t make a three-pointer until Sami Whitcomb’s corner three nearly halfway through the second quarter.
While Loyd was making everything in the first half, Washington’s two standouts were struggling. Toliver and Delle Donne were a combined 3-for-12 in the first half with eight points and four turnovers. Delle Donne was hounded anytime she caught the ball in the post and Toliver was careless with the ball on the perimeter.
Notes & quotes: Seattle took two of three from Washington in the regular season but the Mystics won the final matchup, 100-77, late in the regular season ... Before Game 1, Bird and Toliver were the only two players on either team to have played in the Finals ... Among those in attendance were Jamal Crawford, Dejounte Murray, Nate Robinson, hip-hop star Macklemore and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.