SEATTLE -- After going without a field goal for the first 35 minutes of Thursday's Game 1 of the Seattle Storm's playoff series against the Washington Mystics, All-Star guard Jewell Loyd took over late, scoring 12 consecutive Storm points as they came from behind to win 86-83.
"She went from four to 16 in a hurry," Washington coach Mike Thibault said.
Twice in the last three minutes, Loyd's scores got Seattle within one before her final bucket -- a pull-up jumper after teammate Tina Charles rebounded Loyd's only miss in the stretch -- produced the game's 15th and final lead change with 38.1 seconds remaining.
Following a Mystics turnover, Loyd added two more free throws to help seal the victory.
"I'm very proud of her because it shows a lot of growth," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. "Especially being here with her as her teammate and knowing in playoff situations that she's been in these and maybe hasn't pushed through. She pushed through today in a major way. It wasn't how she started but how she finished. Those were big buckets down the stretch."
Quinn was playing alongside Loyd in 2018 when these teams met in the WNBA Finals. During that series, Loyd played just two minutes in the fourth quarter of Game 3, giving way to backup Sami Whitcomb as Seattle completed a 3-0 sweep. Loyd also spent the fourth quarter of the Storm's deciding win in the 2018 semifinals against the Phoenix Mercury on the bench.
Four years later, Loyd has become a different, more indispensable player.
"I'm eight years in," she said, asked about Quinn's comment. "If I haven't grown, that's a problem. I'm old. I'm a vet.
"That's the player I'm trying to grow into, the person I want to be. That's just growth."
On a team with two-time Finals MVP Breanna Stewart, named the AP's WNBA Player of the Year earlier this week, it's Loyd who often has the ball in her hands late in games to create shots. That partnership worked to perfection Thursday as Stewart dominated in the third quarter, scoring 12 of her 23 points, before Loyd starred down the stretch.
"Jewell was clutch big-time down the stretch, and she just continued to stick with it," Stewart said. "It doesn't matter if shots don't go in. She has to continue to keep shooting them because eventually the tide is going to even out, and it did, and she's clutch."
Seattle saw the other side of that equation during the team's final regular-season game at home, a loss to the Las Vegas Aces in front of a sellout crowd of 18,000-plus. Loyd was held without a field goal, attempting just six shots and scoring her only point on a technical free throw. A week later, as the Storm closed the regular season in Las Vegas, Loyd scored a career-high 38 points.
It's that kind of ability to put up points in bunches that led Quinn to remind Loyd going into a timeout to "keep it and be aggressive."
"It definitely helps when your teammates and coaches are telling you come get the ball and encouraging me," Loyd said. "The spots in the fourth I like. I was able to get there -- great screens. They were going in. I felt good even in the first half, the shots I was taking, but I think getting to the free throw line early in the second half, too, allowed me to get a little bit of rhythm."
On the other side, Washington could only lament a missed opportunity to steal Game 1 of the series on the road and force Seattle to win a deciding Game 3 in D.C. to advance. Behind 26 points from Elena Delle Donne, playing her first playoff game since helping them win the 2019 WNBA championship, the Mystics led by five midway through the fourth quarter.
Washington scored just four points in a span of more than five and a half minutes before Myisha Hines-Allen made two free throws in the closing seconds with the Mystics down five. Natasha Cloud's turnover after Loyd's go-ahead shot was costly, while Delle Donne missed a 3-pointer that could have tied the score with 16.1 seconds remaining.
Needing a win in Sunday's Game 2 to avoid elimination, Washington vowed to do better.
"Great player getting hot," said Cloud, the primary defender on Loyd. "She made tough shots down the stretch. We knew they were going to go to her. That's on me. I promise I'll be better next game."