Monday, October 2, 2023

Storm vs. Mystics score, takeaways: Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird lead Seattle to two-game sweep

The Seattle Storm completed a two-game sweep of the Washington Mystics on Sunday with a 97-84 win in Game 2 of their first-round series. They will now advance to the semifinals, where they’ll face the No. 1 overall seed Las Vegas aces. 

A late first-quarter surge helped the Storm build a double-digit lead after the first break, but the Mystics battled back in the second quarter to cut the deficit to two at the half. After the two teams went back-and-forth early in the third, it seemed like we might be in for another classic. Instead, the Storm took control and rebuilt their double-digit lead. Though the Mystics wouldn’t go away, they weren’t able to truly threaten the Storm down the stretch. 

Breanna Stewart had a rough day shooting the ball, but was contributing in all aspects of the game and nearly recorded the first triple-double of her career. She finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and two steals. Sue Bird, meanwhile, had a vintage performance as she went for 18 points and 10 assists. The final member of the big three, Jewell Loyd, hit five 3-pointers en route to 19 points. As a team, the Storm shot an impressive 12-of-23 from downtown. 

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Natasha Cloud was the best player for the Mystics, finishing with 21 points, five rebounds and five assists. She was one of five different double-digit scorers, as the Mystics were generally able to score when they wanted. Their top-ranked defense was not able to get enough stops, however. 

Here are some key takeaways from the game:

Stewart just misses first triple-double

Breanna Stewart is one of the best, most versatile players in the league, and has accomplished so much in her first seven seasons. One of the few things she has not been able to do, however, is record a triple-double. She nearly got there in Game 2, but ended up falling a few assists short of a historic performance. 

But while she didn’t become the third player in WNBA history to have a triple-double in a playoff game, she still finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and two steals. Though she wasn’t able to find her shot early on — she didn’t make a field goal in the first half, which was the first time that had happened in a playoff game in her career — she was making an impact right from the opening tip.

Stewart assisted on three of the Storm’s first four possessions to help the team get out to an early lead, and was making a real impact as a playmaker. After the break, she finally found her shot and scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half to help put the game away. 

Regardless of whether she ends up winning MVP this season, this game was yet another reminder that Stewart is one of the best players we’ve ever seen. 

Vintage Sue Bird

Sue Bird’s impending retirement has been one of the main stories during this WNBA season, with tributes pouring in across the league and the broader sports landscape. Following Sunday’s win, there are, at most, 10 more opportunities for Bird to play and for us to watch. 

She made it clear in Game 2 that she’s going to make them count. She put together a vintage performance, finishing with 18 points, four rebounds, 10 assists and two steals on 6-of-10 from the field, including 4-of-6 from the 3-point line. In the process, she became the first player in their 40s to record a double-double in WNBA history. Furthermore, she tied longtime friend and rival Diana Taurasi for the all-time lead in 15-point, 10-assist playoff games with three. 

It was all about the shooting early on, as Bird drained three 3s in the first quarter to help the Storm jump out to an early lead. She shifted into playmaking mode later on, before eventually sealing the win with a defensive effort. With just over two minutes remaining, she jumped a passing lane and took off for an uncontested layup to push the Storm’s lead to 13. 

Storm’s big three continue impressive playoff record

Champions in 2018 and 2020, the only thing that has slowed the Storm down in recent years has been injuries. In particular, Achilles tendon issues for Breanna Stewart. The 2018 MVP missed all of 2019 after rupturing her left Achilles tendon, and missed the playoffs in 2021 after season-ending surgery on her right Achilles tendon. Sue Bird also missed all of 2019 after undergoing knee surgery.

This season, though, the Storm’s big three is back and fully healthy for one last run. With their two-game sweep of the Mystics, they continued their impressive playoff record. Since 2018, the Storm have not lost a series when all three of Stewart, Bird and Jewell Loyd have been healthy. Even more impressive is they are 14-2 overall during that stretch, and both of those losses came in the semifinals in 2018. They have now swept a remarkable four straight series with this historic trio healthy. 

It’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where the Storm keep that streak going and sweep the Aces in the semifinals, but they will feel they have a chance to win that series, and rightly so.

Williams leaves with concussion

Lost somewhat in the Storm’s spectacular second half that put the game away and sealed the sweep, is that starting small forward Gabby Williams left the game with a concussion in the third quarter. She obviously did not return to the game and her status for the semifinals is unclear. 

A likely All-Defensive performer, Williams is one of the best defenders in the league thanks to her athleticism, timing and ability to guard multiple positions. As the Storm prepare to play the best offense in the league next round, they will need Williams. Plus, on the offensive end, her secondary playmaking and ability to attack closeouts give the Storm an extra wrinkle. 

The semifinals won’t start until Aug. 28, so Williams will have some time to recover, but concussions affect everyone differently and there’s no telling when or if she’ll be ready to go. And, if she does play, how effective she will be. Regardless, this is a big blow for the Storm, as Williams has been a key part of their team and was playing some great basketball this series before getting hurt.

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