Storm: 3 Keys to Closing Out Series In 3
By Tyler Berry
After two wonderfully exciting games in Seattle, MVP Breanna Stewart and the Storm are just one win away from the WNBA Finals. However, nothing about those first two games against the Mercury were easy, and things will be even tougher as the series shifts to Phoenix on Friday night.
If Seattle wants to close things out in Game 3 and give Diana Taurasi and Co. an early start to the offseason, these are the three keys to doing so.
Limit One of the Big Three
In Game 1, Seattle grabbed a big lead in the third quarter and did so by limiting the effectiveness of Brittney Griner in the paint. While Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner had huge games, combining for 50 points, the Storm held Griner to just 13 points. Sure, the Big Three totaled 63 points, but keeping one of them under 20 should be considered a success. Since Phoenix relies so heavily on its starting lineup – the Mercury were last in the league in bench scoring – stifling the offensive output of Griner helped Seattle jump out to a big lead and led to the win even after a huge fourth-quarter run.
Game 2 was the same story for three quarters, just with a different Phoenix player. About halfway through the third quarter, the Storm jumped out to a 19-point lead. By the end of the quarter, the lead was still a comfortable 16. Much of that success through 30 minutes was due to keeping Diana Taurasi at bay -- she had just 11 points. Of course, she went crazy in the fourth, scoring 14 points and sending the game to overtime. That’s what the greats can do when facing adversity.
Despite that amazing, almost single-handed comeback in the final 1:46 of the game from Taurasi, Seattle proved that it can get out to big leads when limiting the production of one of the Big Three. If it can repeat that in Game 3, there’s a good chance they’ll sweep the series.
The Storm just can’t let Taurasi get free in the corner again …
Weather the Storm … err … Mercury
Holly Rowe brought it up to Sue Bird in ESPN’s postgame interview on Tuesday night: Seattle lost a 16-point lead in Game 1 and a 19-point lead in Game 2. Let me tell you: If you turned either of these games off before the fourth quarter, you should be kicking yourself until the exact second that Game 3 tips off.
The fourth quarters of Games 1 and 2 offered some of the best, most exciting basketball you will see. In Game 1, Phoenix steadily chipped away at Seattle’s lead, outscoring the Storm 20-12 in the final quarter. A Taurasi three cut her team’s deficit to four and then after a couple back-and-forth possessions, a Griner layup cut it to two. In the end, Seattle was able to get out of KeyBank in regulation, thanks to a big jumper from Jewell Loyd to go up 91-87 and then a couple of misses from Phoenix in the final minute.
In Game 2, oddly enough, the Storm escaped with another 91-87 win. Calling it an escape is no exaggeration, as it took a resilient effort in overtime to get the win. With a 16-point lead going into the fourth quarter – and a nine-point lead with 1:36 left – Taurasi put on a clinic, scoring 14 total points and hitting three straight threes to send the game to overtime. A bad foul by Griner in overtime ended her night early and the Storm were able to grab the lead and hold on for dear life.
Despite going up 2-0, this series is far from locked up for Seattle. Even if the Storm jump out to another double-digit lead, there’s no doubt that the Mercury can mount yet another comeback. At home, the final result could be different if such a comeback happens. The Storm will have to hold off Phoenix in order to complete the sweep.
Feed the MVP
If you watched Seattle home games this season, you undoubtedly saw fans wearing “Stewie for MVP” shirts. Well, prior to Game 2, it was announced that Breanna Stewart was indeed awarded Most Valuable Player for the 2018 season. There’s little question why, considering she had her best year yet, averaging 21.8 points and 8.4 rebounds.
Through two playoff games, Stewart has backed up that MVP award. She’s been an absolute force offensively, averaging 27.5 points, while shooting 7-for-13 from behind the arc and 47.5 percent from the field. She’s been virtually unstoppable, pulling out every trick in her arsenal to find ways to score. But what’s been extremely impressive has been her defense. She recorded three steals and three blocks in the first two games, and her active hands led to a lot of deflected passes. Another all-around performance like the first two games and she willl put Seattle in great position to take the series.