The defending champion Seattle Storm took the expected fall that came with a pair of devastating preseason injuries, going a mere 18-16 in 2019 after dominating the league with a 26-8 record last year. But even without reigning MVP Breanna Stewart or living legend Sue Bird, the Storm managed to sneak into the playoffs, and on Wednesday, they took the first step towards winning back-to-back titles by dispatching the Minnesota Lynx, 84-74, in a game they led almost wire to wire.
Without almost any scoring from their best player—Natasha Howard—it was the Storm’s guards who can take almost all the credit for this win. Jewell Loyd, who saw her numbers dip this year because of an ankle injury, notched 22 points, and even more dominantly, second-year point guard Jordin Canada exploded for 26. The 5-foot-6 replacement for Bird got into the paint seemingly at will against taller defenders, using speed and cunning to get counterintuitive lay-ins. The performances of Loyd and Canada absolutely embarrassed their direct opponents on the Lynx, as starting Minnesota backcourt Danielle Robinson and Odyssey Sims put up a baffling one (1) point in 38 combined minutes.
Here’s the play of the night, where Canada used a nifty hesitation crossover to incapacitate the 6-foot veteran Seimone Augustus and get the two points. It may not look like the easiest way to score when you’re that short, but it appears to be her favorite.
Canada, a 24-year-old who came off the bench for the Storm last year, hasn’t quite played at Sue Bird’s level as her team leader remains out with a knee injury—she averaged 9.8 points and 5.2 assists on the year. And compared to her perennial all-star teammate, Canada much prefers driving inside to scoring from the arc. But in saving her best performance of the year for when it matters most, the youngster calls to mind Bird’s career-defining rampage from an elimination game against the Mercury last season, which sent the Storm to the WNBA Finals. There was plenty of reasonably placed doubt at the start of this season that Canada could manage to fill the shoes of Bird, but even if she’s not a 1:1 copy, the fact that Canada has now proven she can carry her team through a must-win game silences any questions about her inexperience. More than anything, she gives the Storm some hope that they can defeat the 22-12 LA Sparks in a winner-take-all game on Sunday.