Breanna Stewart had 25 points and Jewell Loyd scored 13 to help Seattle to a 75-73 win over the Washington Mystics in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.
If this was the last WNBA game at KeyArena before its two-year, $700-million renovation — and there’s far from a guarantee it was — then the Storm gave its fans a thriller to remember.
Unlike Game 1, in which Seattle led the Washington Mystics by 27 points and cruised to a drama-free victory, neither team was up by more than five points in the second half of a game decided on the final play.
Ultimately, the Storm got a crucial defensive stop when it needed it the most and escaped with a 75-73 win on Sunday for a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five WNBA Finals.
2018 WNBA CHAMPS!
Seattle sweeps Washington 3-0
Game 3 is 5 p.m. Wednesday at George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Va.
“This is just a gritty win,” said Storm guard Sue Bird, who orchestrated some more fourth-quarter magic. “This wasn’t about execution. This was about finding a way. I don’t even have words to explain what exactly happened. It definitely did not go to plan.
“It was a tough game. It went back and forth. … It comes down to the last couple of plays. I don’t know. In these types of games, you go home knowing that in some ways you were lucky, but you also know you fought really hard to get it done.”
The All-Star guard, who is playing with a protective mask over her broken nose, banked in a desperation 35-foot three-pointer midway in the fourth to beat the shot clock and send the sold-out crowd of 14,212 into a frenzy.
“Just a prayer,” said Bird, who came up clutch in Game 2 and a decisive Game 5 in the semifinals over Phoenix.
Said Mystics coach Mike Thibault: “Tough to overcome a play like that. We played great defense on the possession, get them to take a 40-something foot shot, and it banks in, and it ends up being the difference in the game. I don’t know what you say.”
The 11-time All-Star finished with eight points, four assists and four rebounds, including a momentum-swinging basket that capped a 10-2 run and put the Storm ahead 68-63 with 6:53 left.
“We knew they weren’t going away,” Bird said. “They’re too good for that.”
Ariel Atkins and Kristi Toliver, who each scored 15 points, took over in the fourth for Washington. Toliver, a two-time All-Star guard, was particularly troublesome for the Storm late in the game.
On two occasions, Breanna Stewart canned a pair of free throws that gave the Storm a three-point lead and both times Toliver answered with midrange jumpers.
“Great players make tough shots,” Storm forward Alysha Clark said. “And she did. She made two big plays for them. … But you don’t let it affect you in any way.”
Stewart, who finished with a game-high 25 points, had a chance to put the Storm up by three once again.
The league MVP missed two free throws with 16.9 seconds left, setting up a dramatic, if not somewhat-controversial finish.
Down a point, the Mystics put the ball in Toliver’s hands. She drove by Bird on the left-side baseline. Bird tipped the ball away from Toliver, which resulted in mosh pit of players on the floor scrambling for the ball.
Officials ruled a jump ball between 6-foot-2 forward Natasha Howard and 6-3 forward Tianna Hawkins.
“I’m quick off the ground, so I knew I could direct it on the jump,” Howard said. “That turned out to be one of the biggest plays in the game and fortunately it went our way.”
Howard tipped to Jewell Loyd and five seconds expired before the Mystics fouled Clark. The Storm forward hit 1 of 2 free throws to cap a wild finish that had the Mystics furious with the officiating.
“I got fouled,” Toliver said about her turnover. “I think it was pretty blatant. It was pretty obvious. Sue is smart. She knows they have one foul to give. They wanted to foul before I could be in a shooting motion.
“I wish the officials had a little more basketball IQ like Sue does because that would have been the play instead of a jump ball.”
Bird insisted she was going for the steal.
“I’ve been doing that swipe-around-the-back thing since I was like 18 years old,” the 17-year veteran said. “I lunged out a little bit, which kind of gave her that pathway to get down the baseline, and once she went by me, I … was lucky to get a piece of the ball.”
The Storm looked as if it might sail to another comfortable win early in the second quarter after going ahead by 12 points (28-16).
The Mystics held Stewart scoreless in the second and capitalized on eight first-half turnovers to take a 40-36 lead into halftime. Seattle finished with 15 turnovers.
With Elena Delle Donne (17 points on 7-for-16 shooting) playing her best game and scoring the most since she suffered a bone bruise in Game 2 of the semifinals, Washington led by as many as five points (59-54) late in the third.
The five-time All-Star didn’t make a basket the rest of the way. Stewart led the Storm with nine points in the fourth.
“I was able to get to the free-throw line, and I would have loved to have made those last two at the end,” said Stewart, who shot 7 of 13 from the field and connected on 10 of 14 free throws. “But the majority of the game, just being aggressive, assertive and doing the plays to win the game.”
The Storm didn’t shoot particularly well from the field (41.9 percent), on three pointers (6 of 23) or free throws (17 of 26), but Seattle held Washington to 0-for-16 shooting behind the arc.
It was the first time this season the Mystics did not make a shot behind the arc.
“I didn’t know we were 0 for 16,” Toliver said. “That’s a huge factor in the game, too. As a three-point shooting team, we need some of those to go in, and we’re going home, we feel really good, we feel really positive.”
When asked about possibly playing her last game at KeyArena before the remodel begins in October, Bird cut off the question abruptly.
“I’m not talking about that,” she said smiling. “Nice try though.”