Breanna Stewart's brilliance and the Storm's dominant perimeter defense have been major story lines of the WNBA Finals. But the series shifts back east where the Washington Mystics look to hold home court.
The Storm is one victory from winning the 2018 WNBA title and claiming the third championship in franchise history.
Here are three impressions as the WNBA Finals heads to Game 3 on Wednesday at George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Va.
Will the Storm close it out in 3?
2018 WNBA CHAMPS!
Seattle sweeps Washington 3-0
In the previous round, the Storm went up 2-0 over Phoenix before losing two games on the road. Seattle didn’t put up much of a fight in an 86-66 Game 3 loss and fell apart late during an 86-84 defeat in Game 4 that forced a pivotal Game 5 in Seattle. (And we all know how that turned out.)
Since the WNBA Finals switched to a best-of-five format in 2005, five teams have started 2-0 and went on to win the title in a sweep.
The Mystics return home believing the Storm did what it had to do by winning at home and now Washington hopes to hold home court.
Still, the Mystics will no doubt consider Sunday’s defeat a missed opportunity to even the series at 1-1, but Washington players will take solace in the fact they played 10 times better than in the Finals opener. Despite shooting 0 for 16 on three-pointers (more on that later), Washington contained a potent Seattle offense by forcing 15 turnovers. The Mystics had a chance to win at the end if not for a Kristi Toliver turnover with 6.9 seconds left.
“Anything we did today was going to be better than what we did in the last game,” said Elena Delle Donne, who led the Mystics with 17 points. “We came out and we were ourselves. We applied ball pressure. We had some people come in who really stepped up for us, and, yeah, I mean, that’s how we play. That was us.
“So, obviously, it’s really frustrating to not come away with the win, but we were able to see a lot of things, and we get to build on it for these next three games.”
Next three games?
To close out the Mystics, the Storm needs to remember the lessons learned from its semifinal battle with Phoenix.
“It’s going to take all of us to win this,” forward Natasha Howard said. “We can’t relax. Not now. We know they’re going home and they’ll feel good about being at home in front of their fans. But we can’t take our foot off the pedal. That got us before. We went through that and now I think we’ll handle it much better.”
Game 4 (if necessary) is Friday in Virginia and Game 5 (also if necessary) is Sunday in Seattle.
Perimeter defense shines
The Mystics finished third in the regular season behind Seattle and Phoenix with 277 three-pointers. Washington shot 35.8 percent behind the arc, which was fifth-best over the 34-game schedule.
But the Storm has shut down the Mystic’s perimeter game.
In Game 1, Washington connected on 3 of 21 shots from long range. And in Game 2, the Mystics were 0 for 16 — the first time it hasn’t made a three-pointer this season. Add it up and that’s 3 of 37 (8.1 percent) from downtown — yikes!
If that trend continues, then the Storm will have a short trip back east.
Credit Alysha Clark for Seattle’s defensive dominance on the perimeter. The defensive ace has handcuffed Toliver, a two-time All-Star, in the series. Toliver was 1 for 8 on three-pointers in Game 1 and 0 for 6 in Game 2.
“As a three-point shooting team, we need some of those to go in,” Toliver said. “We’re going home. We feel really good. We feel really positive. … We’re going to be better when we get home, and we’re going to knock down shots.”
It remains to be seen if returning home will improve the Mystics’ shooting accuracy because both teams will be playing their first game at EagleBank Arena, a 10,000-seat venue located about 20 miles outside of downtown Washington.
Capital One Arena, where the Mystics played during the regular season, is undergoing renovations and Charles E. Smith Center on the George Washington campus in D.C., which hosted the Mystics in the playoffs this season, was unavailable.
Stewart winning battle of MVPs
So far, league MVP Breanna Stewart is outplaying Delle Donne, the 2015 MVP.
Of course, it’s an unfair battle considering the Mystics star is playing with a bone-bruise injury on her left knee that occurred in Game 2 of the semifinals. Admittedly, the 6-foot-5 forward is not at her best, which is troublesome for the Mystics.
Delle Donne, who is averaging 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds, complained Washington’s offense bogged down in the fourth quarter Sunday when it was outscored 17-12. She played the final 10 minutes, but attempted just one shot early and didn’t get the ball in the final five minutes.
At the opposite end, Stewart is averaging is 23.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals.
At this stage of the season — Wednesday will be the 42nd game of the season, not including the exhibition — the Storm has a clear understanding of its identity on both ends of the floor. Meanwhile, the Mystics are 2-2 with Delle Donne since her injury.