By Tyler Berry
The Seattle Storm are your 2018 WNBA champions. Through 42 regular season and postseason games, the Storm showed that it takes consistency on both ends of the floor to be successful in this league. Every member of the team bought into coach Dan Hughes’ system – fast-paced offense and high-pressure defense – and it paid off in the biggest way. Let’s recap:
Before game 3, I wrote about how vital the other three starters – Alysha Clark, Jewell Loyd, and Natasha Howard – outside of Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart were in these WNBA Finals. Without their consistency on both sides of the ball, there was a good chance the Mystics would send this series to game four and, perhaps, beyond.
Sure enough though, the starting five, as a whole, brought it on Wednesday night. While Jewell Loyd struggled from the field, shooting just 2-for-11 from the field for six points, Howard and Clark each had their best games of the playoffs.
Howard finished with a career-high double-double (regular season or playoffs) of 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting and 14 rebounds. After an early first-quarter scare when she tripped over her own player and came up limping, Howard put on a clinic in the paint and even added two threes early on that helped the Storm open the flood gates.
Clark was equally impressive in her supplemental role, again coming up with huge offensive rebounds (four of them) which helped give her team some crucial second-chance opportunities. It was clear she came to play after a first-quarter offensive rebound that led to an open three-pointer for her. She knocked it down and quieted the Washington crowd. Clark finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, and four assists in 38:31.
Of course, MVP (and now Finals MVP) Stewart and veteran point guard Bird were brilliant, leading the way to this championship. Stewart finished with 30 points and eight rebounds, while Bird had an impressive double-double that included 10 points and 10 assists. The two Seattle leaders combined for 40 points, including 6-of-10 from behind the arc and really made it impossible for Washington to find any rhythm defensively for most of the game.
Even after the Mystics cut the lead to five in the final quarter, Seattle fought back – led by Stewart and Bird – and went on an 8-0 run that all but put the game on ice, as the newly-crowned champs outscored Washington 26-15 in the final six-and-a-half minutes.
It wasn’t just lights-out scoring from Stewart or the fact that Seattle shot 50 percent from the perimeter. It was also the defense that helped keep a comeback out of reach for Washington. In the first half, especially, Seattle was brilliant, holding the Mystics to just 30 points and not allowing a single player to get into double-figures.
That stifling defense gave Seattle the opportunity to jump out to a 17-point lead, one that it never relinquished.
It also helped that, for the third straight game in these WNBA Finals, the Seattle Storm held the Mystics under 45 percent shooting from the field, while also outrebounding them by double digits for the second straight game.
Even more important than that? Seattle continued to affect the Mystics’ perimeter shooters, as Washington shot 8-of-23 (34.8 percent). That put the team at a collective 11-of-60 from behind the arc for the series. In all three games, Seattle defended the outside extremely well, thanks to quick closeouts and the length of its starting five.
What the Seattle Storm did in game 42 to win the championship is exactly what the team did in throughout the season. Look back at early games like the May 29 matchup against Washington. After holding Delle Donne and the Mystics to 77 points to grab the win, it was clear that this wasn’t the same Seattle team from a year ago.
The final outcome – this championship – couldn’t prove that more.