Storm Secure Third WNBA Title With Sweep Of Mystics
By Dorothy J. Gentry
Following a 98-82 victory in Game 3, the Seattle Storm swept the Washington Mystics to win their third WNBA title in franchise history (2004, 2010).
The sweep is the first for a WNBA team in the “new” playoff format. The Storm are also the sixth franchise in league history to win at least three championships. They finished the regular season with a league-best 26-8 record.
Breanna Stewart, the league MVP, was named Finals MVP after a 30-point, 8-rebound performance. This is the 24-year-old’s first title.
Natasha Howard who was traded to the Storm in February of this year, won her second WNBA Championship (2017, Lynx). She finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds for the Storm. Although she didn’t hit a field goal until the fourth quarter, point guard Sue Bird – who at age 37 is the oldest player in the league - finished with a double-double as well with 10 points and 10 assists.
Howard and Stewart led the way with scoring for the Storm. Howard’s 29 points was a career high. Also a surprise and key contributor was Alysha Clark.
The power forward scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Game 3. In the Game 1 win she had eight points, five rebounds and five assists (89-76. In Game 2, Clark – a member of the Storm since 2012 - had nine points and six rebounds in 36 minutes of action. This season, she averaged 7.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists while being one of the league's best defenders.
Head coach Dan Hughes called her one of the “untold stories here.”
“Alysha Clark to me embodied Seattle basketball, the way she guarded, the way she went to the boards, the relentless nature with an intelligence about her. Amazing,” he said.
Of the dynamic, young front court unit of Stewart, Howard and Clark and whether it’s the makings of a dynasty, Hughes said: “Well, I think we've got some work to do, but if you're asking me have we hit a ceiling, no. There's still growth in this team.”
Bird, who won her third title, said “It's incredible to be sitting here right now, I was just saying this earlier, I really believe it just came to me. This is probably going to be one of the defining moments of my career, to have played however many years I've been playing, to have won in all these places, but then to do it at the end in such a way that was different from all the others, it's really incredible.”
“I mean, Stewie and I joke, I don't know if I should even say this, but at the start of the season we lost to Phoenix at home, and we were like, oh, crap, what kind of year is this going to be, because it didn't -- we hadn't clicked yet,” she revealed. “But pretty quickly, like a week later, we turned it right back around, and then onward and upward from there.
“You just never know. So to be here is incredible. Such a fun team to be around, such a fun team to play with, and I don't know, we did it the right way, and it just feels really good to be sitting here right now.”
In a feel-good story, Hughes won his first WNBA title after 17 years in the league. He retired a couple of years ago but came back to coach the Storm.
“I think this was our year,” he said. “I think that this team that I came into was a very, very special group. All year you could just kind of see the escalation.
“But I think everything they did from the time I met them was culminated tonight. I mean, nothing that we did satisfied them until tonight,” he said. “You know, and I think that's a very special group that feels that way.
“When I got the job in October and I talked to them, I could sense it. When I saw them in the off-season wherever they were, I felt it. They continued to believe in themselves and improve themselves and use the year as a gauge to get here,” Hughes continued. “And this particular game tonight, you could just see all kinds of little plays.”
Game 3 wasn’t as big a blowout as Game 1. It was mostly back and forth with a few nail-biting moments but it was all Seattle until the Mystics went on a 16-3 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to cut their deficit to five.
But the Storm didn’t flinch and promptly went on an 8-0 run in less than 2 minutes that sealed the deal.
“You know, we knew at halftime when we were up whatever it was, 16, 15, whatever it was, that they were going to make a run, they were going to make a push,” Stewart said. “They're not in the Finals for no reason. Obviously D.C. is a great team, and what they have going is going to be exciting for them in the future.
“But when it got to eight, we kind of -- we were calm,” she said. “We had a calm presence about us. We knew it wasn't going to be easy. Sue told us in the huddle that it wasn't going to be easy basically, and it was just how we reacted, how we countered that, and we knew -- we got to this point for a reason, also, and it was Game 3 of the Finals, and we were going home with a championship.”
Elena Delle Donne, who finished with 23 points and 5 rebounds said despite the sweep, the Mystics had a great season.
"I'm super proud of the way we bounced back from a lot of adversity that we faced all season long. Obviously this Finals didn't go the way we wanted it to, but I think the great thing is that we can still improve.
We don't feel like we've peaked and this was it for us. We feel like we've got a lot of young, great talent, and obviously this isn't how we wanted it to end, but it's an experience that we can grow from. So hopefully everybody goes off to wherever they're going this offseason but continues to improve, get better, and then come back and regroup and build off of this season."