Professional Basketball

Seattle Sweeps Washington, Wins WNBA Championship

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The Seattle Storm used a 15-4 run late in the fourth quarter to defeat the Washington Mystics 98-82 in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals at EagleBank Arena on the campus of George Washington University in Fairfax, Va., Wednesday night in front of an announced crowd of 9,164. Seattle swept the best-of-five series 3-0 and took home the 2018 WNBA Championship trophy in the process. This is the first time since 2014 that the series has lasted only three games.

The Washington Mystics, knowing that they faced elimination, came out of the opening tip off strong, but had quickly proven to be no match for the Storm. With the game tied 10-10 halfway through the opening period, Seattle went on an 8-0 run to gain separation early. It ended when Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne scored on a pull up jump shot with 2:26 left on the clock. The first quarter ended with Seattle leading 20-16.

Toliver: Mystics guard Kristi Toliver scored 22 points and dished five assists during Game 3 of the WNBA Finals Wednesday night, but her team fell short in the effort. File photo by Chuckarelei/Sports Page Magazine.

The momentum the Storm built in the first quarter continued into the second quarter as they extended their lead to 15 points when forward Breanna Stewart, the league’s regular season MVP, hit a three-pointer to give them a 42-27 lead. Seattle led 46-30 at halftime and the officials hit Mystics head coach Mike Thibault with a technical foul as the teams were leaving the court. Seattle outscored Washington 27-14 in the second quarter.

The Mystics began to battle back with a 6-0 run of their own which brought them back to a 10 point deficit, but the Storm went on a 10-2 run of their own after head coach Dan Hughes was called for a technical foul, and took a 69-53 lead after three.

Washington had one final quarter to find success and it looked good for them at first. They came out of the quarter break on an 11-1 run and cut the deficit to six, and then a three pointer by guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt made it a 72-67 game with 6:49 remaining.

Seattle then went on a 15-4 run to take a commanding 87-73 lead with 3:08 remaining in the contest. The Mystics were now facing the tough defense of the Storm and the dwindling clock. Thibault pulled his starters, giving his bench an opportunity to play one last time in front of the home crowd with 1:09 on the clock. There would be no forthcoming Game 4 as Seattle took the 98-82 road victory to seal the championship.

“I want to congratulate the Washington Mystics in several ways. The team that we played in their own way are champions. You watch those two that were just hear, I mean, they embody this league in the most positive ways, and they’re coached by the winningest coach, and to me a guy that every year does an exceptional job,” said Storm coach Dan Hughes. “But I also want to recognize, I think this was our year. I think that this team that I came into was a very, very special group. All year you could just kind of see the escalation.” Thibault congratulated the Storm in his remarks.

“First of all, the very most important thing is to congratulate Seattle on an unbelievable season. They clearly were the best team from start to finish, in my opinion. Their experience showed in this playoff series. Their time together showed. Congratulations to Dan Hughes and his staff. They were well prepared,” said Thibault.

Seattle Storm center Natasha Howard and Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne battle for a rebound in the WNBA Finals Game 2. Howard scored 29 points and pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds in Game 3. Delle Donne had 23 points, five rebounds and four assists in the effort. File photo by Chuckarelei/Sports Page Magazine

The key to the game for the Storm was the play of center Natasha Howard. The 2018 WNBA Most Improved Player scored 29 points and 14 rebounds to set the pace for Seattle. Stewart added 30 points and eight rebounds and was named the Finals most valuable player. Guard Sue Bird pitched in for 10 points and 10 assists.

“You know, we knew at halftime when we were up whatever it was, 16, 15, whatever it was, that they were going to make a run, they were going to make a push,” said Stewart. “They’re not in the Finals for no reason. Obviously D.C. is a great team, and what they have going is going to be exciting for them in the future. But when it got to eight, we kind of – we were calm. We had a calm presence about us. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

The Mystics were led by 23 points, five rebounds and four assists from forward Elena Delle Donne, and 22 points, five rebounds and four assists from guard Kristi Toliver.

“You can’t be unsuccessful if you’re in the Finals. You have to think big picture, and this team made a lot of great strides from last year into this year. We showed a lot of character this year, a lot of resiliency coming off after the All-Star break playing really well and then obviously to make the Finals against a really great team,” said Toliver. “It didn’t go our way, but you’ve got to keep things in perspective. Everybody else in the league wishes that they were playing tonight, and so we’re very aware of that and thankful that we were here. We know we can improve. And so we will.”

Seattle held a 39-28 rebounding advantage during the game, led by Howard’s 14. This was Howard’s fourth consecutive WNBA Finals series having played for the Indiana Fever in 2015 and Minnesota Lynx in 2016 and 2017.

“The opportunity that I had with Minnesota playing behind great players, learning behind some Olympians, and bringing it over to Seattle helped our team a lot,” said Howard. “With my experience being in the Final Four the past four years, winning a championship last year, it’s just amazing. It’s just a special group.”

For Thibault’s Mystics, it’s a matter of continuing the process of building a championship team that started when he arrived in Washington in 2013.

“I posted on the board for my team in training camp one of the preseason predictions that was put out there, I don’t know if it was putting us seventh or eighth, I can’t remember, and our team took a look at that and said, hell, no,” said Thibault. “We’d like to have taken that one last step, but the window for us is open right now. We have a relatively young team. We have only played together with this core group basically for two years, and we have some reinforcements coming next year. And so we’re poised to get better.”

For Hughes, it is a matter of enjoying the moment. He was coached the Charlotte Sting to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1999; the Cleveland Rockers to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000; the San Antonio Stars to the Western Conference Finals 2007 and the WNBA Finals in 2008, but fell short of a championship each time. He finally was able to coach a team that won a championship.

“It makes it incredibly special. You feel very blessed. You feel like you got an extra period to play that you didn’t expect. I’m still trying to find the right words, and I’m a guy that can usually find the right words,” said Hughes. “But this is a very special moment that I’m a part of this special group, and I think I’m just realizing how special they really were. I’m going to tell you what, they were special in November, January, and when we started April 29th, and they’re special tonight.”

The 2018 WNBA Champions will hold a parade and rally on Sunday in Seattle. The parade will begin at 1 p.m. PT and will end at KeyArena. The team will hold their rally at KeyArena, hosted by play-by-play announcer Dick Fain and color analyst Elise Woodward. The rally is open to the public.

 

 

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