Seattle Storm: Three Keys To The WNBA Finals
By Tyler Berry
The final few games of the season are upon us and it’s the Seattle Storm facing off against the Washington Mystics to determine the 2018 WNBA champions. Just like in the previous series against Phoenix, the Storm host the first two games at home and are completely capable of jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
However, it won’t be easy. The Storm will have to continue doing everything it did in the Conference Finals, but this time, it’ll have to do it against the 3rd ranked defense in the league that also happens to have one of the best benches in the league.
Here’s how Seattle will grab the series lead at home.
Live by the Three…But Don’t Die by It
Seattle was lights out from behind the arc against Phoenix, with the exception of Game 3 when the team shot just 5-for-23 (21.7 percent). In the other four games, the Storm shot at least 37 percent from three. But more importantly, the players you expect to hit from the perimeter when it matters most did just that.
Breanna Stewart didn’t have her best ever series shooting from deep, but she still shot 36 percent against the Mercury. Her biggest outing was in game one, when she went 6-for-9 and helped Seattle jump out to an early lead.
However, it was veteran Sue Bird that proved to be clutch from three when it mattered most. For the series, she was 12-of-29 and went 5-for-11 in the pivotal game five, including three huge shots in the fourth quarter.
Even Natasha Howard capitalized on her limited opportunities, shooting 50 percent on 10 attempts.
What’s great – or terrifying, if you’re an opposing fan – about the Seattle Storm is that anyone in the starting lineup can hit from the outside. When the inside-out game with Boyd, Loyd, or Stewart – or even Canada off the bench – is working, it gives shooters ample opportunity to hit threes and bust a game wide open.
If Seattle attacks the Washington defense, it’ll not only find opportunities at the rim, but plenty of chances from the outside. And that brings us to the second key to victory…
Attack, Attack, Attack
If you’re a WNBA fan, you’re not happy that Washington’s Elena Delle Donne is struggling with a knee injury. Thankfully, the injury she sustained against Atlanta looked somewhat worse than it was, and she was able to get back on the court. She’s tough, and won’t miss time in the Finals, but EDD is clearly not 100 percent and that’s something Seattle is aware of.
Something that makes Washington so tough to beat is its defense. As we mentioned above, the team was 3rd in opponent’s points per game this season. A lot of that has to do with Delle Donne. Her length and quick feet make her tough to drive on her and even tougher to shoot over.
However, since she won’t be playing at full strength, Seattle has to go right at her. On pick-and-rolls, if Bird or Loyd gets the switch, they can use their quickness to drive by her and either score at the rim or dish back out the perimeter.
In this Finals series, attacking EDD can lead to wins.
Focus on Atkins and Toliver
If Seattle was up against a healthy Elena Delle Donne, this third key would look different. The power forward is a legitimate gamebreaker; a two-way player with the ability to turn the tables of a game because of her height, active hands, and shooting ability.
But unless her recovery goes much quicker than expected, she’ll be playing at 75 percent at best. Look back at Game 5 against Atlanta for evidence of that.
With her issues, it’ll be on Ariel Atkins and Kristi Toliver to lead the way for Washington. They combined for 39 points on 14-of-33 shooting in conference finals clinching Game 5.
What Seattle needs to do is focus on that duo. If EDD posts a 14-point, 11-rebound stat line, then the Storm can live with that. That is, as long as the defense doesn’t allow 40 or 45 points from Atkins and Toliver. The Dream weren’t able to shut them down – not to mention allowing Tianna Hawkins to score an absurd 17 points in 10 minutes – and it led to an early playoff exit.
With Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd, and Natasha Howard, the Storm will win its third-ever WNBA championship. But the team has to be successful in the aforementioned ways to do so.