SEATTLE — Called upon to start in place of Sue Bird just minutes before Thursday’s game against the New York Liberty, Seattle Storm reserve point guard Temeka Johnson did everything she could to help her team avoid a four-game losing streak — their longest of the season.
Her effort wasn’t enough.
Johnson finished with her first career triple-double (13 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds), but the Storm dropped an 84-80 overtime decision to the Liberty in a game that featured nine ties and 19 lead changes.
“It doesn’t really matter how you do that,” Storm head coach Brian Agler said of Johnson’s performance. “Whenever you can put those kinds of numbers together it just shows that you had a very impactful game — and she really did.”
Johnson’s triple-double is just the fifth in WNBA history and the first in Storm franchise history. Johnson joins Margo Dydek, Lisa Leslie, Deanna Nolan and Sheryl Swoopes with triple-doubles.
Bird was listed as a starter before being scratched just minutes before tip-off.
“Sue tried to warm up and came back in (the locker room) and said she couldn’t go,” Agler said.
With the Los Angeles falling to Phoenix on Thursday, a victory over New York would have pulled the Storm within one game of the Sparks for fourth place in the Western Conference. The Storm and Sparks play Saturday afternoon at KeyArena.
“I’m not worried about how many wins or losses we have right now or the playoff situation, whatever that might be,” Agler said. “My focus is on getting our team better and to keep improving. We’re starting to play the way we want to play. Now we have to sustain it.”
The Storm trail Los Angeles by two games with just eight games remaining in the regular season. The Storm would have to fend off Tulsa as well as catch and pass the Sparks, who own the regular-season tie-breaker over the Storm, to advance to the postseason for a league-record 11th consecutive season.
Seattle opened Thursday’s game with a 7-0 run and controlled the majority of the game’s opening quarter. New York took its first lead of the game less than a minute into the second quarter and the rest of the game was a slugfest.
Seattle led 45-41 at halftime and extended that lead to nine early in the third quarter before the Liberty made a run and cut the Storm lead to 63-62 after three quarters.
“There was a time where we were up a lot and we kind of let them back in the game,” Storm forward Camille Little said. “Those are the times where we’ve got to make the deficit a lot larger than we did. We’ve got to be more aggressive in those times and expand the lead.”
The Liberty continued to be aggressive early in the fourth quarter, taking the lead less than a minute into the period. It was the first of 11 lead changes in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Storm led by two late in the quarter when New York guard Cappie Pondexter came off a screen and connected on a 16-foot jump shot with 11.9 seconds remaining to tie the score at 75. The shot ultimately sent the game to overtime.
Pondexter scored 17 of her 20 points after halftime.
The Storm led by as many as three in overtime, but a 3-pointer by Alex Montgomery with 1:46 to play in the extra session and a Tina Charles putback of a Pondexter miss with 23 seconds remaining proved too much for the Storm to overcome.
Little led the Storm with 22 points. Center Crystal Langhorne added 17 and Johnson and guard Shekinna Stricklen each had 13.
“It just slipped away from us,” Little said. “It makes you mad. We played hard and we got stops. We pushed it to overtime and we just came up short.”
Despite the loss, Agler was pleased with his team’s effort.
“Throughout my years here we’ve always talked about putting yourself in a position to win games,” Agler said. “And then you try to make plays down the stretch to execute and win (the game). So from that standpoint, I can’t argue with our effort or our how we positioned ourselves or our focus and our determination to win.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.