Good day, hoop-heads! As some of you may know, the WNBA Playoffs are in full swing. The semi-finals just wrapped up, with both series’ reaching decisive Game 5’s, and on September 7th, the WNBA Finals will pit the Washington Mystics and the Seattle Storm in a battle for league supremacy. Both teams had to face tough semi-finals opponents, with the Mystics beating the wounded, but stout defense of the Atlanta Dream and the Storm beating the star-studded Phoenix Mercury. Both bring MVP’s to the table, including this years MVP, Breanna Stewart, and both come with stars battling injury. But before we break down the matchup, let’s break down each individual team.
The Storm come into this Finals at the top of the league, going 26-8 and earning the top seed, a story that is new for this team. As recently as 2016, due to bad seasons, they were the owners of two straight #1 picks, resulting in Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart. But, much like the last time they got two consecutive #1 picks (Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird), they were able to complete a successful rebuild within years.
Another big change that has set forth this rebuild has been the coaching change Seattle made this season, signing long time San Antonio Stars coach Dan Hughes, who hadn’t coached since 2016. Hughes took the blueprint the NBA has set out for success and applied it to his team, and it has worked with flying colors. They space the ball out, with three of their top four scorers taking a combined 13.9 three-pointers a game.
Taking a lot of shots doesn’t work unless you make them though, and the Storm did exactly that. They shot 37.6% on 24 shots per game, both of which led the WNBA. This spacing has left adequate room for post scorers like Breanna Stewart and Most Improved Player Natasha Howard to work efficiently on the inside and score. This, combined with solid playmakers off the bench like Alysha Clark and Jordin Canada, and Bird still being efficient and effective in her 16th season makes them a tough nut for defenses to crack.
Their weakness, however, is much like the weakness of the NBA teams they have mapped their game plan after. A game plan focused on the three-point shot can lead to long stretches of time where the team is cold from beyond the arc. In their recent series against the Phoenix Mercury, the Mercury were able to come back from multiple double-digit deficits while the Storm hit a cold streak. Moreover, when the Storm are struggling from the outside, defenses are allowed to focus more inside the paint, thus making it harder to string baskets together inside.
Seattle is also damaged by their youth, as aside from Bird and Howard, they are very young and inexperienced when it comes to playoff scenarios like this. That has also come in to play during those stretches where they lose the lead and begin to play in panic mode. They will get nerves, but the leadership of Bird and Howard, who have succeeded in moments like these, will shine through in their performance
This Mystics team just two years ago were a 13-21 team that failed to make the playoffs for the first time in three years. They then used the pick they got that season to trade for 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne, putting them in the conversation ever since. Although losing in the Semi-Finals to the Minnesota Lynx last year, this year, they broke through and made it to the first WNBA Finals in team history. Yet, in their trip to the Finals, a serious issue came up that hindered their chances. In Game 2, Delle Donne suffered a bone bruise in her knee driving to the hoop, and it was unsure whether she would actually play again in the playoffs. After a hellish journey of recovery, she came back for game four, albeit not the domineering force she had been up to that point.
Game three showed off the most glaring issue that exists within their roster. Despite having All Star talent like Kristi Tolliver and solid youth in Natasha Cloud and rookie Ariel Atkins, the lack of a superstar who can handle the bulk of the scoring and attention caused them to struggle, inducing their worst shooting percentage of the season.
However, even an injured Delle Donne attracts attention, and that attention helps the offense flow better. They were able to put up 86 points on one of the top defenses in the league, and Tolliver started to break out of her shooting slump. Their shooters benefit from the lack of attention, and the spacing allows for their playmakers to have more leeway. Much like their counterpart in the Storm, they’re a solid shooting team who will shoot a lot of threes. They’re a very talented team, and players like Delle Donne will be able to capitalize on mistakes the young players on the Storm may make.
A key issue to mention in this series is that the Mystics home games are “home” only in name. Their arena, the Capital One Arena is going under construction, and they will be playing games three and four at George Mason University in Virginia, 43 minutes away from Capital One. This change isn’t a drastic one, but could affect the turnout the Mystics receive. The Storm will still have their games at the Key Arena, which houses a rowdy crowd that helps propel the young stars of the Storm through tough streaks. They won all three of their home games this postseason against a tough Phoenix Mercury team.
The series provides a lot of interesting matchups including a battle of former MVPs as well as All Stars like Tolliver and Loyd matched up against one other. Both teams have little Finals experience, so there may be some early mistakes. Yet, it’s safe to say that these games will be a shootout featuring some of the best basketball the league has to offer.
Prediction: Storm in 5