With one more win, the Storm returns to the WNBA Finals for the second time in three years.
It’s an enviable position for the No. 2 seed Storm, which holds a commanding 2-0 lead over No. 4 Minnesota in the best-of-five semifinals heading into Game 3 on Sunday.
However, the Storm has been in this situation before and knows better than anyone how quickly momentum can swing.
Two years ago, the Storm had the No. 1 seed and posted identical 91-87 wins in Games 1 and 2 against No. 5 Phoenix at KeyArena.
Three days later, the series shifted to Arizona where the Mercury captured a 20-point blowout in Game 3 and claimed an 86-84 victory in Game 4, a contest in which Sue Bird broke her nose.
Facing elimination and embarrassment of becoming the first WNBA team to blow a 2-0 lead, the Storm pulled away at the end thanks to Bird’s fourth-quarter heroics for a dramatic series-clinching 94-84 win.
The near playoff pratfall in 2018 serves as a reminder for the Storm as it looks to finish off Minnesota.
But then, during a postgame Zoom call after Thursday’s win, Jewell Loyd noted: “They don’t have DT. So thank God for that.”
DT, as in Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer. But truth be told, the Phoenix star had a string of pedestrian performances in three elimination games versus the Storm.
Back then, the Mercury’s supporting cast, particularly DeWanna Bonner and Yvonne Turner, was the catalyst for the shift in a series that the Storm seemingly had under control.
Loyd cautioned the Storm needs to shore up its perimeter defense, which has allowed Minnesota to shoot 45.8 percent behind the arc, including 14 and 13 three-pointers respectively in each of past two games
“For us, it’s going back to the drawing board and really getting a solid plan for the defensive side,” Loyd said. “We know that we can score and get what we want when we’re patient. So now it’s just figuring out little things, so they don’t magnify into bigger things.”
Since the WNBA implemented the five-game series format into the playoffs in 2005, 13 teams have held 2-0 leads.
Two of those series ended in four games while 10 teams went on to capture the sweep, including Seattle, which beat Washington in three straight games to collect the 2018 WNBA title. No team has rallied back to win a series after trailing 2-0.
It’s uncertain if past history is a reliable indicator for what lies ahead considering the unusual aspects of this season where every game is played inside the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s no fans,” Storm forward Breanna Stewart said. “But still I know Minny is going to come out to keep their season alive. We’re not taking them lightly. We know that we’ve been in Game 3 before in 2018 when we lost to Phoenix. We know it’s tough and we’ll be ready.”
Minnesota is the WNBA’s version of the Kardiac Kids considering it has posted six double-digit comeback wins this season.
Still, climbing out of a 0-2 hole to win would be unprecedented.
“We’ve got one more crack at this,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It’s not a 200-minute series unless you are winning a couple of those 40 minutes. We’ve got a 40-minute game, and the mindset is we have to win a game. Sunday will be that day.”
The Storm has posted eight straight wins against Minnesota dating back to last season while outscoring the Lynx by an average of 10.9 points.
Without All-Star center Sylvia Fowles (calf), Minnesota played a near-perfect game Tuesday and still lost on a buzzer-beating putback by Alysha Clark. On Thursday, the Storm built a 21-point lead in the third quarter and held off a late Lynx rally for a 10-point victory.
Despite advantages in star power and bench production heading into Sunday’s game, the Storm isn’t making any early reservations for the next round.
“The third one is the toughest to try to close a team out,” coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “They’re desperate. They don’t want to go home. They’re going to come out with a lot of energy. You can’t let down.
“You almost have to trick yourself in thinking that you’re down two. That’s the kind of mindset you have to go in to have the sense of urgency to close a team out in that third game.”
Storm in the driver’s seat
No. 2 seed Seattle has a 2-0 lead over No. 4 Minnesota in the WNBA semifinals heading into Sunday’s closeout Game 3. No team has ever blown a 2-0 lead since the league began best-of-five series in 2005. Here’s a look.
Year Team Opponent Result Round
2020 Seattle Minnesota ??? Semis
2019 Washington Las Vegas 3-1 Semis
2019 Connecticut Los Angeles 3-0 Semis
2018 Seattle Washington 3-0 Finals
2018 Seattle Phoenix 3-2 Semis
2017 Minnesota Washington 3-0 Semis
2017 Los Angeles Phoenix 3-0 Semis
2016 Minnesota Phoenix 3-0 Semis
2016 Los Angeles Chicago 3-1 Semis
2014 Phoenix Chicago 3-0 Finals
2013 Minnesota Atlanta 3-0 Finals
2011 Minnesota Atlanta 3-0 Finals
2010 Seattle Atlanta 3-0 Finals
2008 Detroit San Antonio 3-0 Finals