With 30 points from Breanna Stewart, 29 from Natasha Howard and 10 from Sue Bird, the Storm swept the Washington Mystics in three games to win the 2018 WNBA title — the third in franchise history. A celebration parade is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday.
FAIRFAX, Va. — As bedlam burst and champagne poured, Breanna Stewart stood tall inside the cramped, plastic-lined visitor’s locker room and allowed herself a smile of gratification.
This was inside EagleBank Arena, a college basketball arena that hosted the WNBA Finals where the Storm won its third league championship.
The ultra-confident, steely-cool Stewart had a feeling about this game, just as she had a feeling about this series and this season.
“Way at the beginning, I said at the start, I was tired of losing,” said Stewart, the Finals and league MVP. “So to end it this way, there’s nothing better. Best feeling in the world.”
2018 WNBA CHAMPS!
Seattle sweeps Washington 3-0
The 2018 WNBA Finals will go down in history as a blowout because that’s what a 98-82 victory and a three-game sweep looks like when you look at it years from now.
But the score won’t come close to telling the true story.
This was total domination. A young Seattle team that lost in the first round of the playoffs the past two years and won just 15 games last season, obliterated Washington for its first crown since 2010.
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The Storm became the sixth team to sweep a Finals in three games — something it did eight years ago the last time Seattle won a title.
Sue Bird, the league’s oldest player at 37 who played with a mask over her broken nose, is the only holdover from the Storm’s championship teams in 2010 and 2004.
“It’s incredible to be sitting here right now,” said the 17-year veteran, who finished with 10 points and 10 assists. “This is probably going to be one of the defining moments of my career. To have played however many years I’ve been playing, to have won in all these places, but then to do it at the end in such a way that was different from all the others, it’s really incredible.”
If the Storm’s first title in 2004 was unexpected bliss and the 2010 run to a championship when Seattle won a franchise-best 28 games during the regular season before going undefeated in the playoffs was dominant, then this iteration of the Storm was a combination of the previous championship teams.
“Before the year, nobody picked us to win a title and I’m not sure if we were even thinking about that,” said Alysha Clark, the Storm’s defensive ace who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. “But we got better throughout the year. And to see it end like this, it’s a dream. It really is. It all feels so surreal. I can’t believe it.”
Aside from a narrow 75-73 win in Game 2, the Storm thoroughly dominated Washington in a lopsided series that began with a blowout 89-76 win in Game 1.
The Storm stayed true to its mantra to never look back and always focus on the next game. They forgot about their past, which included seven straight playoffs losses on the road and focused entirely on Game 3.
“Honestly, we’ve been that way all season,” said Natasha Howard, who proved to be perhaps the missing piece in the Storm’s championship puzzle. “We stayed in the moment.”
Howard was the unexpected star of Game 3, who finished with 29 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
“Sometimes teams focus so much on Stewie and that allows Tosh to take advantage,” Clark said. “The difference between really good teams at this level, can be if you’re able to get production from places that you don’t normally expect.
“And then your stars have to be who they are.”
Stewart saved her best for last and scored 30 points — a career high for the playoffs — on 11-of-22 shooting, including 4 of 5 three-pointers. She also finished with eight rebounds, three assists and two steals in 39 minutes.
“I told somebody, I’m built for this and I mean that,” said Stewart, who won four NCAA titles at the University of Connecticut. “This didn’t feel like my first trip to the Finals. I wasn’t nervous. I was calm. I was ready to take (the championship trophy) back to Seattle where it belongs.”
The Storm, which had the best record in the regular season at 26-8 and the No. 1 playoff seed, was too quick, too efficient on the perimeter offensively and just too good for No. 3 Washington.
What was billed as a battle between two of the league’s most lethal three-point shooting teams turned into a one-sided display for the Storm.
Seattle converted 13 of 26 shots behind the arc in Game 3, while Washington never found the mark behind the arc. The Mystics were 8 for 23 on Wednesday and 11 for 60 (18.3 percent) in the series.
“We shot the ball extremely well and I don’t know if it was our defense or shots just not going in for them,” coach Dan Hughes said. “Probably a combination of both. But our perimeter shooting allowed us to create some separation and then we managed the game pretty well.”
Both teams were 6 of 18 (33.3 percent) from the field in the first quarter, but the Storm finished the period ahead 20-16 because it was 4 of 9 on three-pointers while Washington was 2 of 5.
It was close at the start of the second quarter, and then it wasn’t after Stewart took over and scored nine points in the period.
The Storm outscored the Mystics 26-14 in the second to extend its lead to 46-30 heading into halftime.
Seattle led 69-53 at the start of the fourth when Washington made one last push powered by injured star Elena Delle Donne (23 points), who was playing with a painful bone bruise in her left knee, and Kristi Toliver (22 points).
Mystics guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt sank a three-pointer with 6:49 left to cut Seattle’s 16-point lead to five (72-67).
The sellout crowd of 9,164 at EagleBank Arena screamed: “De-fense, De-fense,” one last rally cry for a Washington team that faced elimination for the fourth time this season.
However, the Storm answered with a quick 8-0 spurt that included a Stewart jumper and three-pointers from backup guard Sami Whitcomb and Bird to regain a 13-point lead.
Unlike its previous fourth-quarter meltdowns during a gritty 3-2 semifinals win over Phoenix, Seattle didn’t falter at the end and outscored Washington 26-15 in the final 6 1/2 minutes.
Then the real fun started when the game ended. There were tearful hugs, celebratory high-fives and dozens of selfies with the WNBA trophy.
“I told myself I wasn’t going to cry, but I couldn’t help it,” Jewell Loyd said. “It just came out. You feel so much joy.”
They partied like little kids — Stewart wore ski goggles and Noelle Quinn donned a shower cap to protect themselves from champagne toasts — and promised each other they’d never forget this moment.
And the celebrations will rage on for a few days, concluding in Seattle with a championship parade 1 p.m. Sunday at the Seattle Center and a rally at KeyArena.
“There was a moment at the end with like a minute or so left, I think it was the last timeout when we had a chance to huddle and I said, ‘Guys we did this. We won this thing.” Bird said. “That’s when I knew it was over. We were champions again.”