- In just one season, the Seattle Storm dramatically changed course, capturing the franchise's third WNBA Championship on Wednesday night.
Oh the difference a year makes.
A year ago, we were wondering if anyone could possibly break up the stranglehold that the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks held on the WNBA championship and, if so, who would that team be?
The answer has shown itself to be the Seattle Storm and they don’t seem to be going anywhere after sweeping the Washington Mystics in the WNBA Finals, capping off their impressive playoff run by fending off a fourth quarter comeback and taking an end-to-end victory over Washington, 98-82, Wednesday night.
“Seattle deserves to have this trophy back and to show how hard we worked this year,” Breanna Stewart said during the ESPN on-court interview after the game. “I can’t wait to bring it home.”
The Storm’s coach, Dan Hughes, wasn’t even coaching a year ago. Hughes—who had retired from coaching in 2016 after an 11-year stint in San Antonio—returned to the sidelines to coach a Seattle team that went 15-19 in 2017 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Phoenix Mercury.
At the beginning of 2018, many people wondered how much longer Sue Bird would stick around, especially if the Storm couldn’t put together a better regular season and make a deeper playoff run with a team that included her, Stewart and Jewell Loyd. Now Bird could retire on the heels of her third WNBA championship.
Last season, Stewart was the second leading scorer in the league and looked poised for a major breakout coming into 2018 with a new frontcourt partner in Natasha Howard—who stole the show in Game 3 with an eye-opening 29 points, her career high—and a budding partnership with Alysha Clark. This year, Stewart won MVP honors after averaging 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game.
The Storm went from a team in the league’s basement in 2014 to earning the No. 1 overall seed this season with two of the best players in the league in Bird and Stewart, while trotting out a historic three-point shooting offense.
A year has made a big difference, indeed, but now the Storm face a bevy of questions going into next year.
If Bird decides to retire, it will leave a void in the Seattle roster—not only at point guard, where the Storm currently don’t have much cover, but in the leadership department. Stewart is a terrific team leader but her tandem with Bird and Loyd is what appeared to make the Storm tick.
“Sue has been everything for me,” Stewart said. “She’s helped me get to this point and … if there was one person on this team that I wanted to win it with, it was her. And I hope we can do it many, many more times over again.”
Losing a leader like that has an impact on even the best teams, and will likely be a huge talking point until Bird announces her plans for next season. But all of that hardly matters now.
Seattle can celebrate its third championship in franchise history and has plenty of youth—hello Jordin Canada, Stewart, Loyd and Howard—to rely on for years to come.
Things get a bit stickier for the Mystics.
This is the second time Elena Delle Donne has gotten to the WNBA Finals only to see another team hoist the trophy. Although many Washington fans will decry that Delle Donne’s knee injury significantly affected their chances at winning a WNBA championship, the truth is that the Storm outclassed Washington in just about every area.
Kristi Toliver failed to make a significant impact on this series, Washington seemed prone to defensive lapses and often caught its players making lazy or ill-advised passes. And no one on the Mystics’ roster could find a way to slow down Stewart.
How the Mystics bounce back from that next season is imperative. With teams like the Las Vegas Aces and Dallas Wings rising—depending on if Liz Cambage decides to return—it will only get harder to rise to the top.
This was the most competitive year that the WNBA has seen in quite some time, and it doesn’t look like that level is going down anytime soon.
But then again, a lot can change in a year.