Sluggish Storm prevail, now one game away from title in 2018 WNBA Finals
The Seattle Storm narrowly survived in Game 2 of the 2018 WNBA Finals, beating the Washington Mystics 75-73 on Sunday at KeyArena.
Breanna Stewart played well, scoring a game-high 25 points and grabbing seven rebounds, but Seattle’s other stars struggled for the most part. Jewell Loyd finished with 13 points, 10 of which came in the third quarter alone. Sue Bird made just three of her 12 shots, and Natasha Howard had just eight points after the Mystics seemingly had no answer for her in Game 2.
On the other side, Elena Delle Donne had 17 points, her most since suffering her knee injury in the second game of Washington’s WNBA semifinals series with the Atlanta Dream. Kristi Toliver and Ariel Atkins chipped in with 15 points apiece as well.
Down by a point, the Mystics inbounded the ball with 16.4 seconds remaining, but Toliver turned it over and the Storm forced a jump. Subsequent replays showed Bird likely got away with a foul before Toliver lost possession.
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Seattle won the jump ball with 6.9 seconds left and iced the game away from there.
Let’s take a look at some of the takeaways from the game.
Washington might have missed its best chance to turn the tide in the series
Imagine if the Mystics had won Game 2. The Finals would be tied with the series heading to Fairfax, Virginia, giving Washington a chance to close things out on its (adopted) home court.
Instead, the Mystics need to win three straight games just to survive.
The most concerning aspect from Game 2 for Washington is that the day generally played out how head coach Mike Thibault will have hoped.
His team only turned the ball over seven times, compared to 15 for Seattle. The Mystics succeeded in keeping the pace of the game generally slow, as the final score would attest. And Washington generally held the Storm’s supporting cast in check.
And yet, it still wasn’t enough to earn the win.
The Mystics are too good to get swept, but they simply look like the inferior team in the Finals. Especially after Sunday, it’s hard to see how they can string three wins together—including a winner-take-all Game 5 in Seattle.
Breanna Stewart is Seattle’s totem
Stewart is Leonardo DiCaprio’s spinning top thingy from Inception (that’s a timely reference, right?). No matter what else is happening, you merely need to look at Stewart’s performance to know whether the Storm are in a position to win.
The rest of the team shot 38.8 percent from the field, but there’s Stewie hitting just over 50 percent of her shots and scoring at least 20 points for the sixth time this postseason.
After Game 2, Storm head coach Dan Hughes explained that much of the team’s offense revolved around feeding Stewart inside:
"One of the messages that I thought to start the game, we got second touches for Stewie in situations, and she did a good job of seeking—and they were paint touches. Those are huge. Those are huge because not only is she going to score, she’s going to distribute well. And sometimes it’s the second touch. Sometimes the congestion in the first touch doesn’t always lead to something, but if there’s a second touch in the course of—and we play with a lot of flow. Boy, your chances, your analytics for success with Breanna Stewart catching the ball twice is good, and I don’t even know the exact number, but I’ve watched enough tape to know."
Coming into the Finals, it was unclear how the Mystics would be able to counteract Stewart. They don’t have an elite rim protector such as Brittney Griner, and even that wasn’t enough to slow down the 2018 WNBA MVP too much in the semifinals.
Delle Donne—particularly with the injury—and LaToya Sanders don’t match up well with Stewart, and her 47 combined points in the Finals illustrate that fact.
To call the WNBA Finals a coming out party for Stewart would be a stretch. This is the 2018 WNBA MVP we’re talking about, a player who won four national championships and four NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Awards at Connecticut. But these playoffs will likely looked back upon as the moment Stewart started to become the league’s preeminent star.
Elena Delle Donne looked better in Game 2 but still below her best
Speaking of stars, Delle Donne ditched her bulky brace and wore a lighter weight sleeve on her injured left knee. The move seemed to have a positive impact as the five-time All-Star was a little more of the scorer fans have come to know.
In her first three games after suffering the knee injury, Delle Donne shot 38.5 percent from the field. On Sunday, she was 7-of-16 shooting (43.8 percent). Still, Delle Donne is clearly not at 100 percent and it’s a big problem for the Mystics.
It goes back to the point about Stewart.
When things aren’t going right offensively, the Storm have a player to whom they can give the ball and watch things happen. For the most part, the tactic works. Maybe Stewart creates her own shot or she finds an open teammate as the Mystics try to double team her.
The Mystics would have the exact same thing with a fully healthy Delle Donne, except she’s not fully healthy.
The alternative is Washington has to rely more heavily on Atkins and Toliver, which is risky despite how talented those two players are. Atkins looked every bit a rookie on Sunday, shooting 4-of-15 from the floor, while Toliver continues to be a streaky scorer—a trait that can be even more frustrating in a playoff series.
There’s every chance Atkins and Toliver go off in Game 3 and the Mystics blow the doors off the Storm. The likelihood they can do that three games in a row looks slimmer.