(Bradenton, FL) – It’s all come down to this. The WNBA Finals tipped off Friday, October 2nd between the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces and the #2 seed Seattle Storm. Both teams dominated the regular season, with the Storm and Aces finishing 18-4 (82% winning percentage).
Las Vegas won both games in the regular season which gave them the nod as the top seed. But Jewell Loyd said after the game that the regular season is over and those games don’t matter.
And that’s certainly true at this point in the season.
The Seattle Storm won Game 1 of the WNBA Finals 93-80 over the Las Vegas Aces. They did it behind some historical performances from Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird. And another elite scoring night from Jewell Loyd.
Breanna Stewart rose to the occasion scoring 37 points and pulling down 15 rebounds. There’s never been a player in WNBA history to put up those numbers in the Finals. Stewart did it all in this game, driving to the basket, knocking down five three-pointers. She also had four blocks and had a strong defensive presence throughout the game.
A nice factoid from Storm PR is that Breanna Stewart is now the Storm’s franchise leader in total points scored in the WNBA Finals. Stewart has scored 114 points through four games averaging 28.5 PPG in the title series. That average is the highest of any player in WNBA Finals history! The best players shine on the brightest stages.
Sue Bird at just 39 years young put on a passing clinic in Bradenton. She was dropping dimes all over the place. Bird was the key to Seattle’s excellent transition offense in this game leading to 11 fastbreak points. Sue had 10 assists in the first half alone. No player had ever tossed 10 assists in a half during the WNBA playoffs before. But she wasn’t done there. Bird finished the game with a career-high 16 assists breaking her own record for most assists in a playoff game originally set back in 2004.
Seattle’s 2015 first overall pick, Jewell Loyd, wasn’t going to be left out of the conversation. She was incredible in this game as she continues to shoot the ball extremely efficiently. Loyd shot 65% (11-17) from the floor. She also went 4-4 from the foul line. Loyd led all scorers in the first half with 19 points and finished the game with 28. The 28 points were a new career-high for Loyd in the playoffs. Loyd has had tremendous scoring performances in three of Seattle’s four playoff games so far.
Meanwhile, Las Vegas was led by Angel McCoughtry who had 20 points and nine rebounds in the game. Not something I was terribly surprised by. McCoughtry, throughout her playing career, has been one of Seattle’s toughest defensive assignments. She went 5-6 (83%) from three-point range in this game. McCoughtry finished the game shooting 6-15 (40%) overall.
A’ja Wilson had a fairly strong effort with 19 points and six rebounds. But it just paled in comparison to Breanna Stewart’s performance. The current MVP really had to work for those 19 points. Seattle’s defense from Mercedes Russell, Natasha Howard, Breanna Stewart, and additional help defenders did their best to force Wilson into taking contested shots more often than not.
Wilson shot just 30% from the floor (6-20). Not surprisingly, she did have more free throw attempts than any other player going 7-8 from the foul line.
Kayla McBride, Jackie Young, and Danielle Robinson all had good games as the other three players to score in double figures. McBride finished with 13 points, Young had 12, and Robinson had 10.
Seattle held the edge 48-18 on points in the paint.
Seattle shot 50% (36-72) from the game while holding Las Vegas to just 35% (27-77). However, surprisingly, Las Vegas outshot the Storm from beyond the arc making 10-21 from deep for 48%. Seattle was 9-25 for 36% in the game.
Las Vegas held a 20-14 free throw advantage. But considering that some games this season the Aces have had around 30 free throw attempts while holding opponents to under 10 a game, I think Seattle can manage to stay competitive as long as the disparity is less than ten free throw attempts per game in this series.
Vegas held a small edge in rebounds 39 to 37. But did have an 11-3 advantage on offensive boards. Carolyn Swords had seven offensive rebounds and 12 rebounds total in the game. That’s something Seattle will need to correct in the remaining games.
The Storm had a 27-17 advantage in assists. Sue Bird had nearly as many assists in the game as the entire Aces team. Surprisingly, Seattle dominated with nine blocks while Vegas had just two in the game. Both teams took care of the basketball committing just nine turnovers apiece.
The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
The #1 picks were phenomenal. All three of them were special in their own ways. Breanna Stewart’s 37 points, 15 rebounds may have been the greatest performance in a WNBA Finals game of all time. It likely was. Stewart finished just one point shy of the all-time points record. And nobody in the history of the league has ever finished with 35+ points and 15 rebounds in a Finals game. Not Lauren Jackson, not Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles, or Elena Delle Donne. None of them accomplished what Breanna Stewart did on Friday night.
When asked about her record-setting performance Stewart responded by saying.
“I don’t think I’ve had enough time to realize what this performance meant. I didn’t know (at the time) it was anything crazy. It’s something I’ll appreciate after the season is over. I’ll just continue to do what I do. I’ll continue to make shots when I need to.”
Sue Bird’s beautiful passing ability and her vision allowed Seattle to score 90+ points for the first time this season against Las Vegas. Bird missed both regular-season games against Las Vegas, but on Friday her fingerprints were all over this game. And in her 17th season, she still managed to set new records with 10 assists in a single half and 16 in the game.
Jewell Loyd continues to be special. She’s playing with so much confidence right now. She’s knocking down her shots with greater efficiency than ever before. And she’s playing her best basketball at the right time. Her ability to create her own shot, drive to the basket, draw fouls, and knock down threes makes her one of the league’s most capable scorers.
Besides Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, only Epiphanny Prince scored in double figures for Seattle with 11 points off the bench. Her points all came in the first half; they were big for Seattle and a key component to their huge 2nd quarter run where the Storm took their 17-point half time lead. Prince needs to be a strong scorer off the bench after Seattle lost Sami Whitcomb for the rest of the season for personal reasons. Hopefully, Prince will able to continue her scoring off the bench for the rest of the series.
Outside of those players, Se
attle had poor performances from several of its key players.
Natasha Howard had just six points on 2-5 FG shooting. And she was the team’s 4th leading scorer on the night. Seattle did not have balanced scoring in this game at all and that could become a problem as the series goes on if the rest of the team doesn’t pick up their effort.
Alysha Clark may have had the worst shooting performance of her career. At one point she was just 1-11 from the floor and finished the game 2-13 (15%). Clark, normally one of the league’s best three-point shooters, went 0-5 from long range. Clark’s offense is going to be key in this series. Angel McCoughtry is likely going to give Las Vegas 20 points per game. She might even have a game or two where she’s scoring 30. Clark has to be able to counter some of that scoring. In Game 1, McCoughtry outscored Clark 20-4. I’m not expecting Alysha to match McCoughtry point for point, that will never happen. But Clark scoring at least 8-12 PPG in this series would go a long way in helping Seattle secure their 4th championship.
With Sami Whitcomb out, Jordin Canada could possibly see a lot more minutes in this series as Seattle’s depth at guard is even shorter now. But Canada only played roughly 11 minutes in this game. She was also a team-worst -18 in plus/minus stats. Canada scored just three points on two shots. She also had zero assists which was really uncharacteristic of the third-year guard out of UCLA. Canada had the 3rd best assist per game average in the WNBA this season at 5.5 APG.
Canada needs to play significantly better the rest of this series.
And while Sue Bird did a tremendous job leading the offense and distributing the ball, she scored just two points in the game on 1-5 field goal shooting. Bird went 0-3 from deep and continued to leave her shot short. Seattle got just 12 points from Bird, Clark, and Howard combined. Those three starters will need to score significantly more in the upcoming games of this series.
Mercedes Russell played very good defense against A’ja Wilson. But only scored two points in the game.
Seattle needs to get a lot more contributions from each of their players because it’s doubtful that Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd are going to combine to average 65 points per game in the Finals against Las Vegas throughout the series.
That third quarter can never happen again! The WNBA Finals are far too important to ever have a performance that abysmal. Seattle is too talented to let that happen.
Yes, it’s not the first time Seattle allowed a team to come back from a large deficit. In fact, it happened several times over the course of this season. They let Los Angeles come back after being down around 20 points in the first half. They allowed Phoenix to cut a 20 point 4th quarter lead down to three. There’s a chance it could happen again in this series. But Seattle has to do everything in their power to avoid that situation.
The Storm were outscored 27-12 in the third period after carrying a 57-40 lead at half time. If they had managed to outscore Vegas in that quarter or even play them evenly, this game is not even in question in the 4th quarter.
And while it’s true Breanna Stewart erased the sour taste in their mouths by scoring 11 straight points to begin the fourth. If it wasn’t for Stewart’s epic performance late in Friday’s game all the stories might have been about how Seattle blew a near 20 point lead and allowed Las Vegas to steal Game 1.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this and want significantly more coverage, consider checking out the Complete Edition which includes more detailed quarter by quarter breakdowns, top plays, and tons of interviews from Coach Gary Kloppenburg, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, and Jewell Loyd!