The WNBA Finals kicked off last week, featuring the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces and the two-seed Seattle Storm. The matchup certainly highlights the best the WNBA has to offer, as the Storm and the Aces were the top two teams in both offensive and defensive rating during the regular season. Both teams posted the same league-leading regular season record of 18-4, although the Aces held the tie-breaker after eeking out a two-point victory over the Storm on the final day of the pandemic-shortened season.
Despite their shared regular season dominance, the two teams are distinguishable by a comparison of their relative struggle in the playoffs before reaching the finals. While the Storm handily swept the Minnesota Lynx in three games during their semifinal series, the Aces dropped the first and third games of their bout against the Connecticut Sun, ultimately grinding out a 16-point comeback in Game 5 to close out the series. The Aces held the Sun to only 18 second-half points, a testament to the team’s defensive prowess. While their paths may have been different, both the Aces and the Storm earned their trip to the finals.
In Game 1 of the marquee matchup between Seattle and Las Vegas, which was played on Oct. 2, the Storm notched a 93-80 victory in what was a showcase of their offensive proficiency. Storm forward and 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart looked nearly unstoppable on her way to 37 points and 15 rebounds. Guard Jewell Loyd, playing Robin to Stewart’s Batman, posted 28 points on an efficient 11-of-17 shooting. Facilitating the Storm’s masterful offense, 39-year-old Sue Bird amassed a jaw-dropping 16 assists, which set a WNBA playoff record. As for Las Vegas, the Aces felt the loss of Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the semifinals. Despite scoring 19 points, star Aces forward A’ja Wilson struggled from the field, shooting only 6 of 20. Ultimately, the best efforts of the Aces, who did have five players score in double figures, were not enough to weather the flood of buckets made by the Storm.
On Sunday, game two offered more of the same, as the Storm defeated the Aces 104-91. The Storm totaled 33 team assists, a WNBA finals record, while shooting 57 percent from the field. Three of their players scored over 20 points: Breanna Stewart (22), Alysha Clark (21) and Natasha Howard (21). The Aces only made it to the free throw line five times, the lowest in a single game since the team moved from San Antonio to Las Vegas. Despite a 34-26 rebound advantage and a strong bench performance from forward Emma Cannon (8-10 shooting), the Aces were unable to draw a winning hand.
Maintaining the momentum established in the first two games, the Storm handily completed the sweep, blowing out the Aces 92-59 on their way to winning their second WNBA championship in three years. Stewart continued her dominant streak, this time posting 26 points on 10 of 14 shooting. In addition to claiming her second championship, Stewart also earned her second Finals MVP Award, averaging 28.3 points and 7.7 rebounds over the three games. As a team, the Storm shot 47.5 percent from the field and held a commanding 42-33 advantage on the boards. The Aces, on the other hand, were not able to get much of anything going on offense, largely due to the Storm’s stifling defense. Las Vegas shot only 34.4 percent on field goals, which allowed the Storm to quickly gain control of the game and soon pull away for good.
Although the series was not as competitive as many had predicted, the Storm’s masterful offensive performances in all three games were exciting to watch. The Aces fought as hard as they could, but missing a key member in Hamby, they were unable to slow the Storm’s lofty scoring output. In any case, Seattle starkly outperformed their opponents on both sides of the ball, winning decisively in each of the three games. The Storm will return to Seattle as the 2020 WNBA champions, leaving no doubts in their wake.