Having clinched the No. 1 seed to the WNBA playoffs and seemingly secured her first MVP trophy, Breanna Stewart didn’t need to play in Sunday’s regular-season finale.
But she was the first to trot on the KeyArena court when the PA announcer introduced the Storm starters for what appeared to be a meaningless game against Dallas, which was locked into the No. 8 seed.
“I was trying to decide to play or not play because there wasn’t much on the line for us as far as the playoffs and that type of thing,” Stewart said after leading Seattle an 84-68 victory. “For me, I wanted to have a good rhythm going in (to the playoffs), and I didn’t want to have more than a week off between games.
“And we knew we had a great fan support coming so I wanted to go out and put on a show for them.”
The league’s presumptive MVP played sparingly in the first half and staked the Storm to a double-digit halftime lead that set up a drama-free second half.
From the sidelines, Stewart and the starters joined a boisterous crowd of 12,574 — the fifth straight sellout and the largest of the season — as the Seattle reserves cruised to a celebratory romp on Fan Appreciation Night.
“To watch the bench go out and really be all over the court — Sami (Whitcomb) was getting her name chanted — that was awesome,” Stewart said. “It was a lot of fun. And they deserved it.”
Despite playing a career-low 12 minutes, Stewart finished with a team-high-tying 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 3 of 3 on three-pointers.
In a record-setting performance, the third-year Storm star broke the franchise mark for points in a season that was held by two-time MVP Lauren Jackson. Stewart finishes with 742 and Jackson 739 tallied in 2007 — her seventh season.
“Anytime I’m able to break a record and break one that Lauren Jackson created is huge,” Stewart said. “Obviously, she was one of the best who has ever play the game especially with her versatility and kind of creating that point-forward position.
“This is only my third year in the league, but I know what I want to do. I know the type of player I want to turn into, and I’m kind of making that happen sooner than later.”
Stewart also outshined Liz Cambage, perhaps her closest competitor for the MVP award.
The Dallas center won the league’s scoring title, but Stewart finished the regular season with more points (742 compared to 737).
Seattle launched a battalion of post players including Stewart, Natasha Howard, Crystal Langhorne, Courtney Paris and Mercedes Russell at the 6-foot-8 behemoth, who connected on 5 of 13 shots for just 11 points — less than half of her 23.0 scoring average and her second lowest outing this season.
“These are hard games for coaches,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “When you’re not playing for something, they’re not the easiest games that a coach has.
“You wanted to get something out of it. … People made the best of opportunities, they made best of the minutes they got and they did something that made today better.”
Seattle entered the regular-season finale with a 2-4 record when there’s a disruption in the starting lineup, but the Storm had little difficulty with a makeshift lineup that didn’t include a point guard Sue Bird.
Citing a need for rest, the 37-year-old star missed her third game of the season and was replaced in the lineup by rookie Jordin Canada. None of Seattle’s regular starters played more than 12 minutes.
“I wanted to give them a little bit of a game feel, but at the same time not overdo it,” Hughes said. “And I did want to get extended minutes for some people so they could have that feel going into the playoffs.”
The Storm (26-8), which set a WNBA record for three-pointers in a season, once again relied on its perimeter game.
Seattle converted 11 of 22 three-pointers, while Dallas was 4 of 22 from downtown.
The Storm led 57-45 at the break and with the exception of Canada, the starters didn’t play in the second half.
Led by Langhorne, who scored eight of her season-high 15 points in the third quarter, Seattle pulled away in the third and outscored Dallas 22-9.
The Wings, which received a game-high 16 points from backup guard Glory Johnson, trailed 79-54 heading into the fourth and never got closer than 16 points the rest of the way.
“Going down the stretch and into the final games, we are going to need everybody,” Langhorne said. “We have a great starting five, but they are going to need us too.”
The Storm will bypass the first two rounds of the postseason while Dallas (15-19) heads to Phoenix for a single-elimination playoff matchup on Tuesday after losing 10 of its final 11 regular-season games.
Seattle begins the playoffs with a 2 p.m. Sunday semifinal opener at KeyArena.
“Now we have a week off to rest our bodies, focus on us and see what happens around the league,” Stewart said. “We’ll be ready for whoever we get.”
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