Storm dominate from start to finish to take 1-0 series lead on Mystics in 2018 WNBA Finals
The Seattle Storm built an 11-point lead to end the first quarter and didn’t look back as they defeated the Washington Mystics 89-76 on Friday night at KeyArena in Game 1 of the 2018 WNBA Finals.
Jewell Loyd led the way for Seattle, scoring 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting, while Breanna Stewart dropped in 22. The Mystics had no answer inside for Natasha Howard, who missed just one of her nine field-goal attempts en route to a 19-point effort.
On the other side, Washington’s two biggest stars struggled, as Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver combined to go 6-of-22 from the field for 15 points. Ariel Atkins had a team-high 23 points as she continues to exceed expectations in her rookie year.
Let’s take a look at some of the takeaways from the game.
A tale of two sharpshooters
Offensively, Loyd and Toliver are a lot alike. They have the potential to single-handedly take over a game with their scoring, yet they’re equally capable of laying an egg—their high volume of shot attempts often exacerbating their bad performance.
Everything was falling for Loyd on Friday night and she was especially effective from mid-range. When she can consistently hit her mid-range jumpers, Loyd is nearly unstoppable because of how that sets up the rest of her game.
Game 2 👉 Sunday, 3:30 PM ET, ABC pic.twitter.com/GtZVhGrtpv
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 8, 2018
On the other side, Toliver couldn’t buy a bucket, going 1-of-8 from three-point range. The Mystics are in trouble when they’re only getting five points from the two-time All-Star.
The thing is, nobody should be surprised if those numbers are completely flipped in Game 2—Loyd is hitting iron while Toliver goes off. Loyd had 23 points in Game 1 of the WNBA semifinals and scored just 32 points over the remainder of the series, while Toliver had averaged 13.8 points in Washington’s first six playoff games.
Should both players regress to the mean, Game 2 could look pretty different.
Howard bullies the Mystics inside
One look at Howard’s shot chart tells you all you need to know about where she had the most success Friday night.
This was a big question mark for the Mystics coming into the Finals.
According to Synergy Sports, Seattle averaged 1.087 points per possession and shot 57.4 percent in post-up situations, both of which ranked second in the WNBA. Washington, on the other hand, was worst in both defensive PPP (1.121) and opponent field-goal percentage (.594) on post-ups.
Delle Donne and LaToya Sanders are both very good defenders overall, less so when they are more stationary close to the basket. Think back to *that* up-and-under move by Howard on Sanders from Game 1.
— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) September 8, 2018
Howard was a bit hit-or-miss in the semifinals as she battled Brittney Griner inside. The Mystics don’t have a rim protector who can offer anything close to what Griner did against Howard in the semifinals.
Mike Thibault will have to get creative as he devises a game plan to stifle Howard inside.
And that’s to say nothing of Stewart, who also feasted in the restricted area.
Delle Donne doesn’t look herself
It’s not exactly a secret Delle Donne is at less than 100 percent because of her knee injury, and she openly admitted that fact after Game 1.
“Let’s talk about my knee after this series. Excuses are for losers,” she said, per ESPN Women’s Hoops. “If I wanted to be 100 percent, I wouldn’t have come back. I knew coming into this thing, I was going to have to figure out a different way to play.”
The injury is clearly affecting Delle Donne’s offense. Before getting hurt, she had averaged 26.0 points on 49.0 percent shooting in the playoffs. Since returning, she’s averaging 13.0 points on 38.4 percent shooting. Delle Donne simply lacks the explosiveness that makes her such a dynamic offensive player.
On the other end of the floor, Seattle can exploit Delle Donne defensively because of the injury. The Storm can look to get her isolated against Stewart or Howard—which presents a mismatch—or try and force her to guard the Sue Bird-orchestrated pick and roll.
A consequence of the Storm reaching the WNBA Finals is that Delle Donne lost a day of recovery after Game 1. Had the Mercury defeated Seattle, Game 1 would’ve been Thursday night, thus allowing the five-time All-Star to rest for two days ahead of Game 2. Instead, she’ll only have Saturday to recuperate before the Mystics are back at it Sunday.
It seems unlikely Delle Donne will get back to full health before the end of the Finals, so she and the coaching staff will have to find a way to work around her limitations.
Atkins the lone bright spot
At least Mystics fans can take solace in the fact Atkins continues to step up in the postseason. According to the WNBA’s official Twitter account, Atkins set a record for the most points by a rookie in the playoffs (113 and counting).
The No. 7 overall pick battled foul trouble early in the game, and Washington was a different team when she was on the bench. Although that wasn’t the decisive factor in the result, it allowed the Storm to take control in the opening frame.
As long as Atkins can avoid picking up two quick fouls again, the Mystics should be able to get off to a much better start in Game 2.