The Seattle Storm took Game 1 of the WNBA Finals against the Washington Mystics on Friday night and they did it rather easily, winning 89-76. The final score was not indicative of how the game played out. Seattle led essentially wire to wire and got out to a big lead early, up 24-13 after the first quarter. Natasha Howard played extremely well and was very athletic getting to the basket in the opening frame. Howard led all scorers with 10 points after the first quarter. Howard finished the game with 19 points, five rebounds, and two blocked shots.
In the 2nd quarter, Jewell Loyd got hot and knocked down a pair of three-pointers. Loyd led all scorers with 14 at the mid-way point as Seattle extended their lead to 16 at the break, 48-32. It was great to see Loyd get hot as the Storm are at their very best when Loyd scores 20+ points in a game. Seattle has not lost a game this season where Loyd has scored 20 points or more. Loyd finished with a game-high 23 points, five rebounds, and three steals.
Both the Storm and the Mystics had to play grueling five-game series in the Semi-Finals of the WNBA Playoffs, but it was only the Washington Mystics that looked like they had just been through a war. They were slow and sluggish on defense and did not shoot well in the game. Throughout the first three quarters, Seattle looked like the vastly superior team, much faster and athletic. Seattle got multiple steals that led to fast-break points. Seattle had nine steals for the game. Seattle held an 18-0 edge in Fast Break Points.
Seattle continued their onslaught into the 2nd half, pushing their lead to as much as 27 points at one point at 73-46 with 2:24 left in the 3rd quarter after a Natasha Howard AND1 layup and free throw. Defensively, Washington did not have an answer for Seattle in Game 1.
There were a couple of positives the Mystics can take from their Game 1 loss to Seattle. First, is that rookie Aerial Atkins is an absolute stud. Washington was panned after the 2018 draft for selecting Aerial Atkins with the 7th overall pick earlier this year. Most believed she had a 2nd round grade on her and thought Washington reached on the selection. But they clearly knew what they were doing as Atkins has been one of the three best rookies all season long. And she helped carry the Mystics to the WNBA Finals leading them in scoring in Games 5 against the Atlanta Dream. Once again, Atkins led the team in scoring and was very aggressive attacking the basket. Atkins was tied with Jewell Loyd for a game-high 23 points and more impressively shot 10-14 from the floor for nearly 72%.
The other positive is that the Mystics have proven their strong depth as their bench scored a whopping 27 points tonight in Game 1. Significantly more than Seattle’s bench which contributed 13 points, led by Crystal Langhorne’s six points in 10 minutes. The Mystics did outscore Seattle by 11 points in the 4th quarter, 23-12 after both teams played much of their bench in the final period. Of course, all the bench scoring in the world isn’t going to help you when your starters are outscored 76-49 like the Mystics were Friday night.
Before Game 1 tipped off the big match-up everyone was talking about was the current reigning MVP Breanna Stewart versus the 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne. EDD also finished 3rd place in MVP voting this season. Stewart and Delle Donne are almost mirror images of one another. Stewart is 6’4” with long arms and Delle Donne is 6’ 5” with long arms. Both are incredibly talented offensive players who can score from the low post, the paint, or all the way out to the 3-point line. They both have extremely strong ball-handling abilities for players of their size and can beat slower opponents off the dribble to the basket. They also use their size and athleticism to collect lots of rebound and they can be a force on the defensive side of the ball at times. When Stewart entered the league in 2016, her WNBA comparison was Elena Delle Donne.
With all the similarities, it’s not a surprise basketball fans were clamoring to see these two talented players go at it in the WNBA Finals. But a bone bruise injury to Delle Donne’s left knee suffered in Game 2 of the WNBA Semi-Finals against Atlanta may put a damper on this match-up, even if only slightly. Delle Donne admirably has come back from the gruesome injury after missing just one game against Atlanta. She has now played in three straight games since then and has played between 25-35 minutes each game. But it is pretty evident that she is not playing at 100%. Since her return from injury, Delle Donne has scored 15, 14, and 10 points respectively. Not terrible numbers by any means. But not MVP EDD type numbers either. During the three playoff games before the injury took place, she had put up 27, 32, and 19 points. She was held to just 10 points on 4-11 shooting in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. She is also clearly a step slow running up and down the court.
Per ESPN, when asked about her knee after the Game 1 loss, Delle Donne said, “Let’s talk about my knee after this series. Excuses are for losers. If I wanted to be 100%, I wouldn’t have come back. I knew coming into this thing, I was going to have to figure out a different way to play.”
By comparison, Breanna Stewart put up 22 points and five assists. However, she did only collect three rebounds which was a bit unusual for her. Stewie initially struggled with her shot and Delle Donne did an excellent job of using her height and length to bother Stewart. As the game went on though, Stewart got better and better and finished the night shooting 7-14 for 50%. She also got to the line for eight foul shots. Stewart’s inside and low post game have improved so much this season and it’s been really impressive to watch her mature and improve her game even more.
The Seattle Storm have never lost a WNBA Finals game at home in KeyArena. In 2004, they went 2-0, in 2010 they went 2-0, and on Sunday at 12:30pm (ABC), they will have another chance to go 2-0 in 2018. Seattle also went 3-0 at home against Phoenix in the Semi-Finals.
Keys to Game 2:
Alysha Clark did an incredible job defensively against sharp-shooter Kristi Toliver who scored just 5 points on 2-11 shooting (18%). After having to guard Diana Taurasi for five straight games, Clark did an incredible job making life difficult for Toliver. Clark’s defense on Toliver will continue to be key in this series as Seattle must continue to focus on shutting down Toliver and Delle Donne. Clark also added 8 points, five assists and five rebounds.
Jewell Loyd scores, Seattle wins. It’s as simple as that, or at least it has been this season as I believe the Storm are now 12-0 this year when Loyd scores 20 points or more. Loyd had an amazing Game 1 in the Semi-Finals against Phoenix also scoring 23 points in that game. But then Phoenix switched All-Defensive team member Briann January onto Loyd and rendered her completely ineffective the final four games of the series. If Loyd gets hot and Washington is unable to slow her down, it could become a very short series for the Mystics.
Protect Home Court - as mentioned the Storm have never lost a WNBA Finals game in Seattle (5-0). Seattle must keep that streak going as a blowout win in Game 1 would mean very little if they cough up home court advantage and allow the Mystics to steal Game 2 on Sunday. With another win on Sunday, the Storm put themselves just one win away from their third WNBA Championship.