Storm beat Shock to keep faint playoff hopes alive

SEATTLE — It may prove to be too little too late, but the Seattle Storm are giving their fans something to cheer about as the WNBA’s regular season winds down.

After losing seven consecutive games and seemingly falling out of contention in the Western Conference playoff hunt, the Storm won their third consecutive game on Sunday with a 74-68 victory over the Tulsa Shock to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.

Seattle must win its final two games and have San Antonio lose its final two games. If that happens the two teams would finish with identical records, but the Storm would win the regular-season tiebreaker by winning the season series 3-1. Tulsa could also play a role in a tiebreaker scenario should it win its final two games.

“We know that we have no room for error,” Storm point guard Sue Bird said. “Even beyond that, we have to hope another team loses as well. In a way, there’s not really any pressure. We just go out there and play.”

It looked as though the Storm’s playoff hopes would end on Sunday, when they trailed by 13 at halftime, but an inspired effort in the final two quarters got them back into the game.

“We were not really aggressive in the first half,” Bird said. “Every 50-50 ball they got. Every loose ball they got. We just didn’t have much energy. Then we came out in the second half, and I think each person in this room stepped it up a little bit because collectively we just played better.”

Seattle turned the ball over 10 times in the first two quarters, but turned it over just three times in the second half. With the offense taking better care of the basketball and converting opportunities to score, Seattle outscored the Shock 24-12 in the third quarter, including a 17-5 run to end the period and trailed by one entering the final quarter.

Bird scored 22 points, 10 of which came in the final quarter to help Seattle fend off the Shock. Her two free throws with 8:58 to play in the fourth quarter gave Seattle its first lead of the game.

Tulsa never led again.

“We played with a lot more energy,” Storm head coach Brian Agler said of the second half. “It took us a little bit to get it going, but then we got some flow and hit a couple of 3-point shots.

“The two main things are, we didn’t give up too many points in the paint. That completely changed from the first (half) to the second. And then, we didn’t turn the ball over.”

Seattle had an opportunity to correct its first-half struggles, but the Shock couldn’t correct what ailed them after halftime. Missed free throws proved to be an Achilles heel for the Shock, who finished 7-for-15 (46.7 percent) from the foul line for the game.

Seattle grabbed a seven-point lead, its biggest of the game, on a Bird free throw with 31.9 seconds to go. Second-year guard Skylar Diggins cut that lead to four with a 3-pointer second later, but that’s as close as the game would get in the final moments.

Forward Camille Little scored 16 points to go along with Bird’s 22 and center Crystal Langhorne chipped in 12 for the Storm.

Diggins led the Shock, who got just three points from their bench, with 23 points.

The Storm face Los Angeles on Friday as they look to remain alive for an 11th consecutive playoff berth.

Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at alommers@heraldnet.com.

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