The logic behind resting two of its top stars for a pair of games looms as a questionable decision considering the Storm’s precipitous slide in the WNBA standings following the break for the Olympics.
That slide has resulted in a No. 4 seed for Seattle when the playoffs begin this week.
Seattle had the best record in the WNBA at 16-5 before the league suspended play for the Olympics in Tokyo.
When the regular season resumed, the Storm lost close games at Chicago and New York as All-Star forward Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird sat out to rest.
Near the end of its five-game road trip, the Storm squeezed in a trip to the White House to celebrate its 2020 WNBA title the day before traveling to Minnesota and falling in the first of three consecutive defeats.
Seattle posted a 5-6 record in its final 11 games to finish 21-11 behind No. 1 seed Connecticut (26-6), Las Vegas (24-8) and Minnesota (22-10).
The Storm begins the playoffs Sunday at Angel of the Winds Arena and will face the highest remaining seed after the first-round games.
The WNBA playoffs start Thursday with No. 5 Phoenix (19-15) meeting No. 8 New York (12-20) at home and No. 6 Chicago (16-16) at home against No. 7 Dallas (14-18). The first two rounds of the playoffs are single-elimination games.
Connecticut and Las Vegas receive coveted double-byes to the semifinals, which is extremely advantageous considering nine of the 10 teams seeded No. 1 or No. 2 since the playoffs were reformatted in 2016 have advanced to the WNBA Finals.
On the flip side, the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds are just 4-6 in second-round games since 2016, which is cause for excitement given the unpredictable nature of those matchups or a reason to bemoan a playoff format that doesn’t necessarily reward the higher seeds.
“I said this when we were first and second (seeds), the third and the fourth team should not have to play single elimination,” said Bird, who is vice president of the WNBA players union. “The way this playoffs system has unfolded, that’s shown itself and that needs to change. There were reasons why we went to this playoff system and they were valid reasons. We’ve done it. We’ve tried it. And now we see, it’s not right to play an entire season only to have one game.
“In this league, any team in a one-game scenario can beat another team. Yeah, there’s home-court advantage, but anybody can beat anybody. All of us in this league understand that and would love to see some sort of system that allows for a series, even if it’s a three-game series. I’ve been vocal from the start. I think eight teams making the playoffs is too much. Eight out of 12, that’s a lot of teams making the playoffs. I would love for it to be six and then maybe finding a way to do that. But I understand not everybody agrees with me on that.”
Seattle coach Noelle Quinn agrees with Bird.
“I feel like if you worked your way into the playoffs, then you deserve to be in a series,” Quinn said. “Am I in favor of the single-elimination game – and I’m not just saying this because we’re in it – no. But up to this point, I think the playoff format has worked to the advantage of having the teams that play the most consistent and the teams that have played the best all year are always in that championship series.”
And therein lies the problem with the Storm, which is stumbling into the playoffs and still uncertain whether Stewart will be available after missing the past two games due to a left foot injury.
Last year, Stewart missed the final two games before the postseason because of left foot tendinitis and returned to lead Seattle to the franchise’s fourth WNBA title while winning her second Finals MVP.
WNBA playoff schedule
First round (single-game elimination)
Thursday, Sept. 23
No. 7 Dallas Wings at No. 6 Chicago Sky, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
No. 8 New York Liberty at No. 5 Phoenix Mercury, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Second round (single-game elimination)
Sunday, Sept. 26
TBD at No. 3 Minnesota Lynx, TBD (TBD)
TBD at No. 4 Seattle Storm, TBD (TBD)
Semifinals (best of five)
Tuesday, Sept. 28
Game 1: TBD at No. 1 Connecticut Sun, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 1: TBD at No. 2 Las Vegas Aces, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Thursday, Sept. 30
Game 2: TBD at Connecticut Sun, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 2: TBD at Las Vegas Aces, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Sunday, Oct. 3
Game 3: Connecticut Sun at TBD, TBD (TBD)
Game 3: Las Vegas at TBD, TBD (TBD)
Wednesday, Oct 6
Game 4*: Connecticut Sun at TBD, TBD (ESPN)
Game 4*: Las Vegas Aces at TBD, TBD (ESPN)
Game 5: Friday, Oct. 8
Game 5*: TBD at Connecticut Sun, TBD (ESPN2)
Game 5*: TBD at Las Vegas Aces, TBD (ESPN2)
WNBA Finals (best of five)
Game 1: Sunday, Oct. 10, 3 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 2: Wednesday, Oct. 13, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3: Friday, Oct. 15, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 4: Sunday, Oct. 17*, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 5: Tuesday, Oct. 19*, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
* If necessary