How Seattle’s 18-0 Run Changed Game One

The first quarter of Game One of the 2020 WNBA Finals was a back-and-forth affair. The Las Vegas Aces opened the game up by making a pair of threes to take a 6-0 lead, a fairly shocking thing for a shot-averse team.

But Seattle blew the doors off in the second quarter, going on an 18-0 run that ultimately gave them a 17 point lead at the half. And while the Aces went on a run of their own in the third, Seattle hung on thanks to the huge buffer they’d created, ultimately emerging victorious 93-80.

So, how did they manage to make this huge run? Let’s look at some highlights from that second quarter.

How The Offense Scored 18 Points

Let’s just start at the beginning, with the Jewell Loyd bucket that began the run:

First, before we even discuss this play, let’s talk about how we were halfway through the second quarter at this point and this play resulted in Sue Bird’s eighth assist of the game. She was on her way to setting the playoff record for assists in a quarter, then in the second half set the Finals record for assists, and then broke her own record (which she shared with Courtney Vandersloot) for assists in a playoff game. Bird’s passing was on point in this game.

We see that on this particular play. Bird’s up top with Danielle Robinson on her. Breanna Stewart sets the off-ball screen on the left wing. Jewell Loyd comes off that screen and is met by a perfectly thrown Bird pass. Then, you get Loyd going downhill with a step on Kayla McBride and A’ja Wilson in front of her. You normally don’t want Wilson in front of you, but Loyd makes a great adjustment as she’s driving, cutting to the left to get the space she needs. Open look. Two points. Aces lead cut to one.

Seattle did a really good job getting into the paint in this one, winning the points in the paint battle 48-18. Vegas just didn’t have what it took on this night to halt these Seattle drives.

Transition was also a key part of this run:

As I mention in the tweet, Seattle’s regular season transition play was misleading because they only got 11 games of Sue Bird. A healthy Storm team with both Bird and Stewart has been elite in transition in the past because you have this superb combination of a top passer leading the break and Stewart finishing it here. Even with the Achilles injury she suffered in 2019, Stewart is still an explosive player. Get her running full steam down the floor and she’s able to get great position at the hoop and then score like this.

Seattle also made a pair of threes during the run, including this one that came in transition:

This is one of my favorite things in basketball: the trailing big in transition who gets the ball at the top of the arc and connects on the three.

Stewart’s ability to score at every level is a big part of why she’s one of the best players in this league, and with Vegas playing bigs who aren’t great at defending the perimeter, Stewart stretching things out like this really put a strain on the Aces. We saw her make multiple threes in the second half with Carolyn Swords on her out at the three-point line. The Aces need to adjust somehow, or Stewart will just keep doing this.

How The Defense Allowed Zero Points

Of course, an 18-0 run isn’t just about offense. You have to get some stops.

Like here, where the combination of Stewart and Natasha Howard just make it impossible on Vegas on the inside.

This play starts with A’ja Wilson driving. Seattle forces her to go right, where she’s not quite as effective, and Howard forces the off-balance attempt. Carolyn Swords is there for the rebound, but she’s also got Stewart standing directly over her, which is the worst possible scenario for Swords. Her first putback attempt is blocked back into her hands. Her second is blocked too.

A potential issue for Vegas in this series is that they’re at their best when they can score in the paint, but they’re facing a Seattle team that allowed the fewest points in the paint in the regular season and the fourth-fewest second-chance points. This is a key matchup in this series and a spot where the Aces really, really miss the versatility that Dearica Hamby would be bringing.

There’s also the whole “Alysha Clark” thing.

Clark, who many thought should be Defensive Player of the Year, does some good work here. The Aces set an off-ball screen to try opening up room for Angel McCoughtry to essentially do what Jewell Loyd did in the first clip. But Clark is able to get through the screen and stick with McCoughtry, which cuts off Angel’s ability to drive to the hoop. Clark — whose offense never really materialized on Friday — has a hand in McCoughtry’s face right away, and without room to drive, McCoughtry lifts up for a contest midrange shot. She misses.

The Storm allowed McCoughtry to score 20 points, but 15 of those came from three and three came from the line. She was just 1-for-9 inside the arc because the Storm’s forwards are just incredibly good at limiting everything.

In fact, it seems like the Storm didn’t mind letting the Aces beat them from three because the Aces don’t use the three. Sure, they were 10-for-21 in this game, but they rarely take or make that many, and the non-McCoughtry players were only 5-for-15 from deep. Jordin Canada — the best guard defender on this team — played just 10 minutes. Seattle shut things down so effectively inside that the Aces could shoot 47.6 percent from deep and still lose by double digits.

Overall, this 18-0 run was emblematic of what Seattle does well, and why they won this game. Vegas made second half adjustments, but Seattle’s ability to go on these huge runs is why they’re the favorites to win this year’s title.

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