Queens of the Court! Storm claim 4th WNBA championship in 92-59 rout
Seattle dominated Game 3, 92-59 to sweep the Las Vegas Aces 3-0.
(Bradenton, FL) Your Seattle Storm are the 2020 WNBA Champions!!!! Boy does that feel good to write. In what will go down as the most unique and challenging WNBA season in the history of the league, the Seattle Storm stand tall as the best team in the world after sweeping the Las Vegas Aces 3-0. The Storm left no doubt with a 92-59 beatdown of the top-seeded Aces.
Seattle was simply too good, too talented, too experienced, and too determined to do anything but leave the WNBA Wubble with the franchise’s 4th WNBA Championship.
They were projected to be the champions at the start of the season, but that’s so much easier said than done. A lot of things have to go right for a team to win a single championship, much less four of them. But that’s what Seattle has now accomplished.
The Seattle Storm have climbed back to the mountain top in 2020 after devastating injuries took Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird out of the 2019 season. The 2019 team never got to truly defend their championship with their complete team, but they got that opportunity in 2020 and wow did they deliver!
The 2020 Seattle Storm finished 18-4 in the regular season (82% win percentage) and went 6-0 in the WNBA Playoffs sweeping away the Minnesota Lynx and Las Vegas Aces. This squad will likely match the 2010 team as the greatest Seattle Storm team in franchise history.
Breanna Stewart, returning from her torn Achilles injury, was named the WNBA Finals MVP for the second time in her career. Stewart averaged 28.3 PPG and 8 RPG over the three games. Stewart has now won two WNBA titles in back to back seasons that she has played in (2018, 2020). She is famously known for winning four NCAA National Championships at UConn between 2013-2016. Stewart has now won championships in 6 of the last 8 years that she has played basketball. That is beyond incredible. Stewart is in the process of becoming an All-Time great!
Stewart talked after the game about winning her 2nd title and winning Finals MVP after tearing her Achilles in 2019.
“I remember where I was last year during the WNBA Finals, and I was in North Carolina with my family, and it was hard for me not to be upset because I wanted to be a part of the league.
Obviously, I wanted to be with my team and have the opportunity to be back and defend our title. To be able to be here, to get through all that we've gone through as a team obviously individually, it's an amazing feeling. There's so much of an unknown that you don't know after rupturing my Achilles, but I'm super -- I don't know if I'm proud of myself but, you know, proud of what I've done. I think it's hard to see it because it was so close but really proud of just being able to be back,” Stewart said.
And the challenges of winning a championship in a bubble environment.
“I was talking to Sue about it before we finished. I talked to Cathy [Engelbert] about it before my Podcast. To be able to be the 2020 WNBA champs, it's a huge gold star next to that.
This season wasn't easy, and it wasn't easy in a whole bunch of different areas, with the coronavirus, with the social injustices going on in this country and the day-to-day being stuck here in the bubble.
But our team is resilient. We continued to keep going, no matter what's going on, and I'm super proud to kind of be a part of this and this one is different than 2018, but it was harder and it means more,” Stewart added.
Ageless wonder, Sue Bird, has now won her 4th WNBA Championship in three separate decades (2004, 2010, 2018, 2020). She is the only WNBA player that can make that claim and only the third player in NBA/WNBA history joining Tim Duncan and John Salley. She also breaks her own record as being the WNBA player to have the largest gap in between her first and most recent championship. She previously held the record at 14 years between 2004 and 2018. She now holds the new record at 16 years between 2004 and 2020. Bird is the most successful Seattle Sports athlete of all time carrying an 11-1 record in the WNBA Finals to go along with her four titles.
And the best part of it is that Sue Bird is still playing at an elite level. Yes, there are more injuries, and maybe that’s a topic for another article down the road. But Bird set a new WNBA playoff record and her own personal best in the 17th year of her career by tossing out 16 assists in Game 1 of the Finals. She followed that up with an impressive double-double of 16 points and 10 assists in Game 2. Bird finished Game 3 with a game-high seven assists which set another record (33 assists total in a Finals) because of course, she did! She’s Sue FREAKING Bird.
Coach Gary Kloppenburg praised Stewart and Bird after the game to the media.
“Stewie is just one of those players, a generational player that comes through once in a while that can face adversity and even get stronger because of it. I think that's what we saw with her. She really missed that whole year and she came back as a better player in pretty much every category, on both sides of the ball. Pretty incredible testament to her work ethic and her desire to be such a great player and such a great teammate. She wouldn't care if she scored zero as long as we won. That's the way she is.
And I think Sue is another generational player. She's been through, I don't know how many years for her, but it's pretty incredible what she accomplished. It's her leadership on the court, but also how she's developed as a leader off the court in standing up for a lot of things that have to be done and standing up for a lot of progress that we have to make in this country. She's on the cutting edge and she's a leader of this league. This league is a league of leaders that's trying to move the needle toward justice. I think both on and off the court, what a tremendous example for our youth, both those players,” he said.
I spoke with Sue after the game about the team drafting Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart in back-to-back years after a couple of tough seasons. And just to see them grow up and develop the way they have. I felt like they were even better this year than in 2018 and I wanted to get Bird’s perspective on that.
“Yeah, I think they were, to be honest. You know, I've always said it. When your physical ability starts to peak as your experience and your mentality surrounding the game, that's when the special games and the special moments and the special seasons really start to show themselves.
With Stewie and Jewell, their talent is really insane. I mean, when you think about it, the things they can do on the basketball court, they are the next generation. I mean, they are the now generation, but they are also the next generation for the next five, ten, fifteen, who knows how many years.
So now what you're seeing is that talent, like I said, start to peak with their experience and their talent on how they approach things. They don't make the mistakes they made two years ago. They are way more prepared from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint than they were two years ago.
So it's kind of scary when you think about it because they are still so young,” Bird said.
Bird then went on to talk to media about her accomplishments and winning four titles now with the same franchise over nearly 20 years and three decades.
“I think the fact that I've been able to do it in different decades, with the same franchise, not many people can say that. And to your point, there are core groups that have anywhere from a two- to four- to six- to maybe a ten-year run, but I've been here for technically 19 seasons, 17 that I've played, and to kind of be able to recreate that magic with different groups -- two obviously with Lauren and we were the core and two have been Stewie and Jewell, a core, and you can throw AC in there, as well.
To recreate it over time and stay at a high level over time is definitely something I'm proud of because it hasn't been easy. These last -- I had surgery like May of 2019 and it's been a little over a year. It's been hard. This is the one time I'm not going to sugarcoat it. It's been hard. A lot of ups, a lot of downs.
I think the hardest part about being an older player is when there's that down physically, you start to question whether you can do it anymore. You start to question why you're doing it. You start to question if it's worth it because it can be hard.
I think I'm having this in-shock moment because it doesn't really feel real that we just won, and that I was able to contribute in the way that I did, but it is 100 percent something that when it's all said and done, I will be incredibly proud of that from 2002 to 2020, I was able to win four times with the same franchise,” Bird added.
But the beauty of this Storm team is that it’s not all about Breanna Stewart or Sue Bird. Jewell Loyd was extremely special in these playoffs, playing the best basketball of her career. She scored 28 points in Game 1 and 19 points in the deciding Game 3. Loyd also led the team in rebounding with nine and added four assists. Loyd’s ability to knock down clutch shots and drive to the basket aggressively were critical in Seattle claiming the franchise’s 4th title.
Loyd gave an emotional interview after the game, dedicating this championship to Kobe Bryant, Gigi Bryant, and Breonna Taylor.
Alysha Clark was huge in this series, having to guard Angel McCoughtry and Kayla McBride throughout the entire series; the Aces two best perimeter players. Clark scored 21 points in Game 2 knocking down several key shots that were critical to the Storm’s 2nd victory in the series. She also scored 10 points in Game 3 and actually outscored Angel McCoughtry in Games 2 and 3 of the Finals. Not exactly something many of us would have predicted, but Clark more than carried her weight in these Finals.
Clark was asked after the game if this team who has now won two titles in the past three seasons if they can become the next great dynasty.
“When you have the caliber of players that we have and the confidence that we have, anything is possible. The unselfishness of this team, 1 through 12, anything is possible. For us right now, we are just trying to be in the moment and enjoy this, and we'll see what next season brings. But right now, we are going to enjoy this with one another. We are going to freaking celebrate this because this was hard. This was by far harder than the first championship that we won. And we are just going to be in this moment. But hopefully you'll see us all back again next year and we're going to try to compete for this. Last year, we didn't get to compete for our 2018 championship, so hopefully next year everybody will be back healthy and ready to do that,” Clark said
Jordin Canada was the fourth Storm player to score in double figures in Game 3, having her best game of the series with 15 points on a very efficient 7-12 (58%) from the floor. Canada also came up big in Game 2 scoring eight of her ten points in the 4th quarter that helped push Seattle’s lead to double digits.
And something that will go unlooked was the incredible defense that Mercedes Russell helped play on A’ja Wilson throughout the Finals. Russell at 6’ 6” is big, strong, and physical and did a very good job of limiting Wilson’s ability to get deep into the low post. She forced Wilson into taking a lot of tough contested midrange jumpers with a hand in her face. I’m not sure if Mercedes will ever get the credit she deserves, but it was super important for me to bring it up to you guys because a box score rarely tells everything about a basketball game. Russell’s stats won’t stand out as one of the best players on the team. She scored six points and had five rebounds in Game 3. But her ability to defend Wilson, with the help of her teammates may have been the biggest factor in the Storm sweeping the Las Vegas Aces.
The Las Vegas Aces really struggled in this final game of the season. Maybe it was the fact that they had to play the Connecticut Sun in a grueling five-game series. Maybe it’s because they had to face an uptempo Seattle Storm team three times in five days. Whatever it was, they looked terrible in this game after the first quarter. Once their shots stopped falling they fell apart.
No surprise, A’ja Wilson was the Aces’ best player in this game. But once against Breanna Stewart outplayed her. Wilson finished with 18 points, six rebounds, and four assists. However, Wilson also started the first quarter scorching hot scoring 14 of her 18 points in the game. She only scored four points over the final 22 minutes she played.
Angel McCoughtry’s record in the WNBA Finals is now 0-12 after she was swept in the championship round for the 4th time in her illustrious career. McCoughtry finished this game with just seven points on 2-7 FG shooting. She also got into early foul trouble in the 2nd half that limited her minutes.
The only other Aces player to score in double figures was Jackie Young. Young scored 11 points but achieved that through a terrible shooting performance, 3-12 (25%) field goal shooting. Young also had three turnovers.
Turnovers were a big topic for the Aces all series long. Seattle’s defense flustered them and I think their inexperience hurt them. Lindsay Allen had so many turnovers in the 2nd quarter of this game I was starting to think she had money on the Storm to sweep. Allen committed four turnovers in the 2nd period and five total in the game. The Aces finished the game with 19 turnovers compared to just 8 for Seattle.
“I thought our defense was resilient all the way through. We started out a little bit soft, I think, on Wilson. But as we got going, I thought our intensity and our energy and our disruption really picked up. That kind of broke it in that second quarter. I think we held them to 13 points, and got a little bit of separation. I think the way we came out for the third was just tremendous. Sort of took their will away. Wanted to come out and really take their confidence away in that third quarter, and I think we did a really good job of that,” Coach Kloppenburg said.
Seattle outshot Las Vegas 48% (38-80) to 34% (22-64). The Storm’s excellent defense prevented Las Vegas from getting easy shots. The Storm were constantly sending two people at A’ja Wilson, rotating and getting their hands up, and collapsing the paint anytime any of the Vegas players attempted to penetrate.
Not shocking, the Aces got 18 free throw attempts in this game, knocking down 12 of them. While Seattle went 9-12 from the foul line. Vegas only attempted five three-pointers in the game knocking down two of them. The Storm weren’t great from long range in this game going 7-26 (27%). But a lot of those misses came in the 4th quarter where they shot 1-10 while Crystal Langhorne and Morgan Tuck were launching up threes at the end of the game with Seattle up 30+ points. Through three quarters, Seattle shot 6-16 (38%) from deep.
The Aces scored three more points than Seattle at the free throw line, while the Storm scored 15 more points than Vegas from the three-point line. That’s a WIN for the analytics people out there.
Bill Laimbeer’s strategy of relying on free throws and not having good shooters didn’t really work out for him like it did in the regular season. Once the Aces were matched up with a veteran team, who was excellent defensively and stayed disciplined most of the time, Las Vegas really got into some trouble.
Seattle won Game 1 by 13 points, Game 2 by 13 points, and Game 3 by 33 points. The Las Vegas Aces did not provide the challenge to the 2020 WNBA Champions that many predicted they would.
Coach Kloppenburg talked about winning the title after Seattle was the heavy favorites entering this season.
“It felt like a lot of pressure because the expectations were there but these are all such good teams here from top to bottom that every game you have to get prepared, and really for each team in our league, it's such a high level of basketball. I'm just really proud of our group. They just stayed together through a lot of weird stuff. Just kind of weird playing a season in a bubble, but it's been historic for our team and the league,” Kloppenburg added.
The first quarter was Las Vegas playing their very best. At least for the first three minutes of the game where they exploded out of the gates with an 11-2 run. But as Seattle has done all season long, they kept battling and quickly erased the nine-point deficit. Vegas also got Seattle into foul trouble early in this game with Natasha Howard picking up two quick fouls and having to go to the bench just two minutes into the game.
A’ja Wilson was absolutely dominant in the opening period. Wilson scored 14 of her team-high 18 points in the first quarter.
When the Storm got down big early and got into foul trouble. I figured if they could just keep the deficit into the single digits entering the 2nd quarter, they would have a great chance to wear the Aces down and take the lead by half time.
To my surprise, they didn’t even need that much time. After being down 11-2, Seattle would finish the first quarter on a 21-10 run. The Storm led 23-21 after one. And that’s when I knew Las Vegas was in trouble because Seattle did not play great in that opening quarter and still managed to be up by two.
Seattle shot 58% (11-19) in the first period while holding Las Vegas to 47% (8-17) from the floor. Breanna Stewart led Seattle with 11 points in the opening quarter.
I talked to Coach after the game about his team’s resiliency.
“I asked Noelle [Quinn], are we actually up? Seemed like we got off late. We just kind of stayed with it. I thought they did a really good job early on getting the ball to Wilson and we got kind of disconnected from her. I think this team just stays with it. We have a good system defensively and offensively and I think they know just stay with it, stay with it. Good things will happen, and that's what we saw in the second quarter. Turned them over a couple times, came down, scored. Even though I didn't think we were shooting the three that well early in the game. I think that's what you want is players that buy in at both ends of the floor, defensively and offensively. Stay with it and at some point you're going to get some pretty good runs going, as we did tonight,” Gary Kloppenburg said.
The 2nd quarter is really when the wheels started to fall off for Las Vegas. Seattle held Vegas to just 13 points on 33% (5-15) shooting. But it wasn’t just the bad shooting from Vegas that doomed them. It was their turnovers. The Aces committed seven turnovers in the period including at least two or three in consecutive possessions.
Lindsay Allen, who started most of the season for Las Vegas at Point Guard but was then benched in favor of Danielle Robinson in the playoffs struggled more than any other player. Her lack of playing time in the playoffs was evident as she was completely out of sync with her teammates and threw the ball away several times.
The Storm didn’t have a particularly strong quarter in the 2nd, but their defense was good that they still managed to outscore Las Vegas 20-13. Seattle shot just 40% (8-12) and 1-5 (20%) from three-point range.
The biggest storyline of the first half for Seattle was that after a dominant opening quarter by Breanna Stewart, she had to ride the bench for the final seven minutes of the 2nd period. Stewart picked up two ticky-tack fouls early in the quarter and was forced to sit the rest of the way. Impressively, the Storm outscored Las Vegas 16-9 over the final seven minutes after Stewart went to the bench.
Seattle led Las Vegas by nine points at the half, 43-34. The Storm shot 49% (19-39) through the first two quarters while the Aces shot 41% (13-32). Breanna Stewart led the Storm with 11 points while Jewell Loyd added 10 for Seattle.
If the wheels were falling off for Vegas in the 2nd quarter then the entire car was on fire in the third period.
The third quarter was the determining factor in this game and the final nail in the coffin for the Aces’ season. The Storm outscored Las Vegas 32-14. Seattle’s three-ball came alive as they knocked down 4-6 (67%) from beyond the arc.
Seattle used a 12-2 run out of the gate to take a 19 point lead at 55-36 about three minutes into the 2nd half. After both teams exchanged a couple of baskets the Storm finished the quarter on a 13-4 run.
They led 75-48 after three quarters as the confetti and champagne bottles were being prepped.
Both teams cleared their benches for most of the fourth quarter. A’ja Wilson played for less than three minutes before Bill Laimbeer waved the white flag, pulling the MVP for the rest of the game.
Every player, except Sami Whitcomb who had to leave the team before the Finals, got to play in this game. Morgan Tuck and Crystal Langhorne who didn’t get off the bench in the first two games of the Finals were able to play the majority of the 4th quarter. Tuck scored two points and Langhorne grabbed two rebounds to contribute to the win. Jordin Canada led the team in the 4th scoring six points.
Seattle outscored Las Vegas 17-11 in the final period with both teams just counting down the seconds until the game finally ended.
And when it did, the Seattle Storm were crowned WNBA Champions for the 4th time!
The players from both teams will leave the Bubble in Florida soon. Probably within the next couple of days. Unfortunately, I don’t expect a big parade to happen in Seattle as we had in 2018 due to the COVID19 pandemic. But maybe they’ll do something nice for the fans, maybe make some video messages. And hopefully, fans will be able to go to the brand new arena at Seattle Center in 2021 to see the 4th Championship banner hung to the rafters.
For me and this blog. I just want to thank everyone again who subscribed in this first year. I’m incredibly proud of my coverage and I really hope you’ve enjoyed it this season or my writing in general since I started covering the team in 2015. Obviously, the stories will die down for a little bit. But we’ll have an exciting off-season to look forward to. The Storm will pick 12th in the 2021 WNBA Draft. I’ll be doing draft previews like I’ve done the past couple of seasons. Free agency will likely begin in the early part of next year. And the Storm may have some tough decisions ahead. I’m not 100% certain they’ll be able to afford to keep all of the following players: Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark, Sami Whitcomb. Assuming Sue Bird returns, and Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd get max contracts. Will other players like Crystal Langhorne decide to retire?
There will still be more to talk about. And after a short break, I do plan to still work on more articles even after the season is over.
Thanks again for your support, please let other Storm fans know if you’re enjoying the newsletter. And I hope everyone stays Happy and Healthy while we deal with these troubling times. Oh and please VOTE!