Believe it or not, we are just one day away from Game One of the 2020 WNBA Finals. This year’s championship match-up will feature the top two teams in the league in the No. 1 Las Vegas Aces and No. 2 Seattle Storm. To prepare for the Finals, let’s take a look back at how we got here.
No. 1 Las Vegas Aces
The Aces have been at the top of the league standings all year, but that doesn’t mean their Finals journey was an easy one.
As the No.1 seed, Vegas clinched a two-round bye right into the Semifinals. There, they met the seventh-seeded, 10-12 Connecticut Sun. The Sun grabbed one of the last playoff spots and had to endure two single-elimination games before advancing to the semis. The pressure of win-or-go-home games didn’t faze the Sun, who won the opening rounds by a margin of 13.5 points.
Connecticut continued its’ momentum into the semifinals, taking a 2-1 game advantage over Vegas. With a trip to the Finals on the line, the Aces needed to make some magic to stay in contention. This magic would need to happen without the 2019 & 2020 Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Not only can Hamby be a shooting threat (13 ppg), but she is also one of the Aces’ main rebounders at 7.1 rebounds per game.
In times of desperation, every team needs an MVP. Luckily for Vegas, they have 2020 league MVP in A’ja Wilson. In Game Four, Wilson tallied a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds to force a final game in the best-of-five series with an 84-75 win.
The Aces also have five-time WNBA All-Star Angel McCoughtry, who contributed 29 points, six assists, and five rebounds in Game Four. Danielle Robinson and Kayla McBride also scored double-digits with 18 and 11 points, respectively.
With just 40 minutes standing between a Finals spot and a trip home, Vegas and Connecticut battled in a game of who wants it more on Tuesday.
It was all Connecticut at the start of the game, leading Vegas by as much as 16 points. But Vegas wasn’t ready to hand them the upset. Down by double-digits in the third quarter, the Aces went on a 13-0 run to close the scoring gap. The rest of the game was a back and forth battle between the two teams, but the Aces were able to hold the Sun scoreless in the final three minutes in the game to win by three, 66-63.
Wilson recorded her third straight double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds. McCoughtry and McBride tallied 20 and 10 points, respectively, to even the scoring attack. In addition to Wilson, Carolyn Swords and Robinson grabbed double-digit rebounds with 10 each. Vegas held Connecticut to just 18 points in the second half.
No. 2 Seattle Storm
Like Vegas, Seattle earned a double-bye straight into the Semifinals. They would meet the fourth-seeded Minnesota Lynx, who beat the Phoenix Mercury by just one point in the second round to advance.
Tied with under 15 seconds left in Game One, Sami Whitcomb drove to the basket but missed the layup. The ball fell into Alysha Clark’s hand, who then shot the ball up and scored just as
All five of Seattle’s starters scored in double-digits, including Jewell Loyd who led the team with 25 points. Breanna Stewart recorded a double-double for the Storm with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Clark, Sue Bird, and Natasha Howard tallied 12, 11, and 10 points, respectively.
Though the first game of this series was close, it was all Seattle the rest of the way.
Loyd was the shining star for Seattle in Game Two, leading the Storm with 20 points and five rebounds in the 89-79 win. Stewart tallied a near triple-double with 17 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. Clark (13 pts & five rbs) and Howard (11 & seven) also had impressive performances in Game Two.
Stewart went off in Game Three to sweep the series and advance to the Finals with a 92-71 win. Stewie had an impressive stat line of 31 points (career playoff-high), six rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and two blocks. Bird added 16 points and nine assists, while Mercedes Russell contributed 10 points off the bench.
While the Aces are without Hamby, the Storm will be without Sami Whitcomb, who exited the bubble to be with her wife for the birth of their first child. Coming off the bench this season, Whitcomb averaged 8.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in the regular season.
Regular Season Match-Up
Both teams had an 18-4 record during the regular season, but the Aces won the tiebreaker to capture the first seed because they defeated the Storm in both regular season match-ups.
The regular season games were close, with Vegas winning the first contest by eight points (82-74) after the Aces dominated inside and at the free throw line, with a big game from Danielle Robinson (16 pts & seven assists). The second match-up also ended in a Vegas victory (86-84), fueled by Hamby’s season-high 23 points (four 3PM).
It is important to note that Sue Bird did not play in either of those games and Stewart missed the second one. However, Bird has only played in 11 games this season. Her presence was obviously missed, but Seattle has other weapons they were able to use when Bird was out.
Questions Heading Into Finals
The MVP debate was mainly focused on Wilson versus Stewart this season. Wilson grabbed the regular season title, but will Stewart win the Finals MVP battle?
Wilson is obviously the driving force of Vegas, but how will their other players measure up against Seattle? Will Jackie Young be the X-Factor for the Aces? How will Swords, who is averaging 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 points in the playoffs, match-up against the Storm?
Like Wilson, Stewart and Bird are the faces of the Seattle franchise. What is Bill Laimbeer’s plan for containing not only Stewie and Bird but also Loyd and Clark, who are the lifeblood of the Storm this season?
Both teams endured diametrically different challenges during the semifinals. How will the Storm respond to a more physical, paint-heavy and defensively sound Las Vegas team that has made as many threes as Damiris Dantas alone? What will the Aces do to combat the well-oiled offensive machine from Seattle?
Seattle has a near-identical roster to its 2018 Championship run. Will this experience be a key difference maker during this series?
And finally, the most important question of all: Will Seattle capture its fourth championship, or will Vegas capture its first title?
Only time will tell.
Game 1 | Oct. 2nd | 7 PM ET | ESPN2
Game 2 | Oct. 4th | 3 PM ET | ABC
Game 3 | Oct. 6th | 7 PM ET | ESPN
Game 4 (if necessary) | Oct. 8th | 7 PM ET | ESPN2
Game 5 (if necessary) | Oct. 11th | 3 PM ET | ABC