Lauren Jackson, Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart. Three players that have often been compared to one another as they've entered and played in the WNBA. After Seattle spent Friday, walloping the Washington Mystics and honoring the legendary Lauren Jackson with her jersey retirement. Sunday brought us another extremely interesting matchup. As the Seattle Storm would host the Chicago Sky. This was the first ever match up between the reigning MVP, Elena Delle Donne and the two time rookie of the month winner (and four time Most Outstanding Player in NCAA Final Four) Breanna Stewart. Something WNBA and basketball purists had been wanting to see for a long time. The performance by both players did not disappoint. And neither did the game. But it did not always look like it was going to be that way.
Chicago got out to an insanely hot start, led by Cheyenne Parker and Elena Delle Donne, who each had four points very early on the Sky quickly built up an 8-2 lead over Seattle. Once Delle Donne made her first two baskets, it appeared there was no stopping her. She dominated from wire to wire and really looked to be in an incredible shooting groove. EDD had 11 points in the first quarter alone on 5-5 shooting and would help Chicago get out to what looked like an insurmountable lead up 36-14 after the first period. Chicago shot 70% from the field in the first quarter and Seattle shot just 25%.
Elena Delle Donne would continue to dominate in the second quarter and finish the first half with 19 points and 9 rebounds. She would go on to finish the game with 35 points, none more important than the final three pointer she would nail in Breanna Stewart's face with less than a second to play. She also added 11 rebounds, and two blocked shots.
While Breanna Stewart did not start the game off strong. She would end up having a really great game in her own right. Stewie finished with 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and five blocked shots! Her most impressive play in my opinion is when she crossed over one defender up near the three point line, then drove to the basket and maneuvered her body in between two defenders mid-air (one of them being Delle Donne) and laid the ball up. That was a play that made me just stop and say "Wow!"
Seattle would play pretty evenly in the 2nd quarter, but were still outscored 20-18, and would go down 24 points at half-time, 56-32. Chicago scored 36 points in the first quarter, and Seattle didn't even score that much in the entire first half! Although interestingly enough, Seattle played much, much better in the second half of this game. Seattle held Chicago to under 36 points in the entire 2nd half, giving up just 35 points and outscoring the Sky 56-35.
One big reason for this, besides the obvious of Stewart and Sue Bird scoring more in the 2nd half. It was the substitution change with Krystal playing a lot of minutes for Crystal. Krystal Thomas, who was signed mid-way through this season after the team decided to cut Markeisha Gatling, played her best game of the season by far. Thomas logged 17 minutes and scored a season high seven points, grabbed six rebounds including three key offensive rebounds (half of the team's total!) and also got three blocked shots. She also played excellent help defense on Elena Delle Donne and defense in general against Chicago's other bigs.
Crystal Langhorne, who is Seattle's normal starting Center, but is playing out of position at just 6'2" was getting dominated by the much taller Chicago front-line. Cheyenne Parker was having her way against Langhorne, getting easy post baskets and several rebounds early on the game. Parker would end the game with career highs in points (15) and rebounds (10).
Seattle led a fierce comeback behind Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart. The team had five players in double-figures. Four of the starters (Bird, Clark, Loyd, and Stewart) and one off the bench (Kaleena-Mosqueda Lewis). KML continues to provide a good offensive spark off the bench in these games and she had 12 points for the second consecutive game. Sue Bird led the Storm with 24 points, four assists, and three steals. But she was incredibly clutch late in the game, making several baskets. Including a three pointer over the out-stretched arms of Elena Delle Donne to tie the game at 88-88. Seattle had been down by as many as 25 points earlier in the game, had tied the game back up with just under 19 seconds to play. All they needed was one more defensive stop and they would send the game into overtime.
Unfortunately, the Chicago Sky have the MVP of the league. And there's a reason why she's the MVP. EDD hit several key shots late in this game as well over Breanna Stewart. And Stewart was playing very solid defense. Delle Donne's offense was just better. And on that final possession she was able to jab fake and get Stewart to back up just enough to create separation and give Elena an open look at a three pointer, that she buried with 0.9 seconds left in the game. The Storm worked so hard to tie this game back up. But Delle Donne was not going to allow her team to lose on this night and that's what reigning MVPs do. They will their team to victory. The Elena Delle Domination was just too much for Seattle.
After the game, I got to interview Elena Delle Donne and talk to her about the comparisons between Lauren Jackson, Breanna Stewart and herself.
She had this to say about Lauren, "I've always looked up to her as a player. Her versatility was something that I admired so I would say that's our similarity right there - being tall, but also being able to shoot the ball and having some guard skills. Differences ... I would say she was a little bit more of a post and I'm a little bit more outside. It was definitely an incredible career and I was excited for her to get her jersey retired - seems like a no-brainer. But she's an amazing player and truly someone who inspired me."
And then she talked about Stewie, the comparisons and motivation to play against her, "It's funny, everybody wants to compare the versatile players - Candace Parker, Lauren Jackson, myself, Stewie - all incredible players and all different in our own ways. It's really great for the league and fun to watch. This game, more than anything, we just needed a win. We're trying to get to .500 before the Olympic break so I was really motivated to come in here. They have a great crowd and we knew they were going to go on a run, but we needed to come away with a win."
Coach Jenny Boucek on changes made in the 2nd half:
"We didn't change a single thing technically and I told them at half time I couldn't even adjust anything technically until we started getting the energy that we needed to play with. We started the game really flat and let them get comfortable, let them get hot, and then we had a huge hole that we had to try to dig our way out of and I was pleased with the effort on the comeback, it was a heck of a comeback but we were unfortunately in a huge hole because of our anemic start, in particular defensively."
On her perspective of Chicago's final play:
"Isolation for Delle Donne. We were ready to run at her on any one-on-one penetration but she just rocked Stewart back and pulled. But Stewart will learn from that, she doesn't usually let something happen twice and I think she'll learn a lot from that. But it wasn't about that play. When you're at the end of a close game it comes down to players making plays, that's just what it comes down to. If we had taken care of our business early the way that we needed to, then I don't know that it would have come down to one shot."
Seattle plays an early game on Wednesday in Seattle, as they host the San Antonio Stars at 12:00pm.