The game started a few minutes after 6 p.m., as thousands of Storm fans stood and screamed for a team playing its first WNBA Finals game in eight years. The game ended about 10 seconds later.
When Seattle shooting guard Jewell Loyd found a cutting Natasha Howard at the 9:50 mark in the first quarter Friday, it signaled the start of the Storm’s most dominant performance of the playoffs, if not the season. Gone was any of the suspense that pervaded the previous series against Phoenix. Gone was any stretch of stagnation or slop.
In its 89-76 victory, the Storm didn’t beat the Mystics so much as they humiliated them. Washington didn’t have a towel to wave, but it would have appreciated a white flag.
“Basically, we got our butts kicked in every phase of the game,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said.
Don’t let the 13-point disparity fool you into thinking this could have been close had the Mystics gotten a couple of bounces or calls. The Storm was up by 11 after the first quarter, 16 by halftime and 24 at the end of the third. It made 20 of its first 28 shots and finished the game 33 of 62.
Fast-break points? Storm 18, Mystics 0. Points in the paint? Storm 50, Mystics 32.
Didn’t matter if it was speed or size, Seattle was way ahead of and heads and shoulders above Washington.
Perhaps the most striking stat was the eight turnovers the Storm forced within the first 12 minutes. Steals led to easy layups, which led to a widening lead, which led to the Mystics essentially wilting.
This was different from the Mercury series, when 20-point leads would vanish and leave the Storm contemplating how victory eluded them. The difference this time?
“We learned from our mistakes,” Loyd said. “We learned that we can’t give teams life — especially in the playoffs.”
One can’t ignore that Mystics star Elena Delle Donne hasn’t been the same since suffering a bone bruise on her knee in Game 2 of the semifinals versus Atlanta. Averaging 20.7 points, the forward was an MVP candidate for most of the regular season, but has averaged just 13 points over her past three games (10 Friday) while shooting .385 from the field.
But even with their best player hurt, the Mystics were able to stave off the Atlanta Dream and reach the Finals. So can they challenge the Storm?
Answering that with a straight “no” would be an insult to sports history. Championship teams have recovered from Game 1 drubbings and Washington is still replete with weaponry.
Plus, it’s unlikely Storm forward Howard is going to follow with a performance resembling Friday’s, in which she scored 19 points and went 8 of 9 from the field. Same goes for Loyd, who scored 23 points while shooting 9 of 12 from the field and 3 of 3 from beyond the three-point line.
But that Game 1 massacre wasn’t merely the result of a deft shooting touch — it was one team making the other look like the practice squad.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that there were 11,486 people in the building cheering for the Storm. And when you consider some of the names on site — from Macklemore to Jamal Crawford to Kam Chancellor to Nate Robinson to Washington Governor Jay Inslee — it’s safe to assume a citywide buzz.
Loyd felt it when she was getting her car washed earlier in the week and a guy yelled “I can’t wait to go to the game!’ And based on the way the Storm played in this best-of-five opener, Sunday might be the last time anyone in Seattle can see a game live this season.
There really wasn’t a weak spot for the Storm on Friday. League MVP Breanna Stewart had 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Point guard Sue Bird — fresh off her 14-point fourth quarter three days earlier — added four points and a game-high seven assists. It was a true team effort from a squad looking more and more likely to hang its third championship banner.
After the game, Stewart downplayed the blowout and said the Mystics are going to give the Storm their best shot Sunday.
“They’ll come out with even more of a fire in them,” she said.
Maybe. But any fire they had Friday was extinguished immediately.
The Storm owned the court, and are now this close to owning a title.