Things have gone according to plan for the Seattle Storm thus far in the 2020 WNBA season, even if the season was shortened and very unique due to the pandemic.
The WNBA Finals between Seattle and Las Vegas will be a battle between the league’s top two teams that finished the regular season tied for the best record at 18-4.
This year’s Finals will also feature the top players in league with the 2018 MVP, Seattle forward Breanna Stewart facing Las Vegas forward and the 2020 WNBA MVP, A'ja Wilson.
Stewart says she appreciates winning and playing basketball even more now that she has the opportunity to be back on the court.
Stewart missed all of last season because of an Achilles tendon injury.
But now, she’s ready for this moment once again.
Having the chance to play overseas this past spring was extremely helpful in her developing her rhythm on the court once again and getting back into game shape.
“I was still working off stiffness and soreness,” Stewart explained on how valuable it was playing in Europe before the WNBA season tipped off. “Coming to the WNBA, I felt great. I feel great, just continuing to do what I do. Obviously, getting the chemistry back with the team -- but that didn’t take too long.”
Here’s what you need to know about the Storm-Aces Finals matchup:
Tempo and defense will be key for Seattle
The Storm have been relying on their defense all season and having Alysha Clark, a unanimous first-team all-defensive player selection, surely helps.
Not to mention, having Stewart down low, who earned second team All-Defense this year, and Natasha Howard, who was last season's defensive player of the year, the three help anchor Seattle’s D.
“Being mentally strong” is something Clark believes will be key in this series especially when the Aces make their run.
This season, the Aces won the regular season series between the two.
Game 1 of the series was back on Aug. 22 which ended up being an 82-74 victory for Las Vegas, while the second matchup was a 86-84 Aces' win in the last game of the regular season on Sept. 13.
Seattle’s veteran point guard Sue Bird didn't play in either of those games as she was dealing with a knee injury.
Stewart believes that making sure they are all on the same page defensively will be a big component to winning.
Stewart has found her groove lately. She averaged 23.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists in the Storm's three semifinal games versus Minnesota.
She also mentioned that they’ll need to continue to move the ball, which Seattle has proven to be one of the best teams to share the wealth. It helps with a team captain like point guard Sue Bird who has averaged 5.6 assists per game for her career.
Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg agreed with his players:
It’s all about the tempo.
Both teams will be without key bench players
Seattle announced on Tuesday that Sami Whitcomb will not be with the team for the Finals.
Whitcomb has left Bradenton, FL to return to Australia to be with her wife for the birth of their first child. Whitcomb, who has played in each of the Storm’s 25 games this year, will miss the remainder of the season.
Whitcomb was a big part of the Storm's 2018 championship team. This year, she played in all 25 games for Seattle coming off the bench, averaging 8.1 points, 2.3 rebounds.
“I’m just really happy for Sami,” Coach Kloppenburg said after practice Wednesday. “We feel like we have a lot of depth to try and make up for some of the things that she does for us. Obviously, we’re gonna miss her, but I think we have some depth coming off the bench and that next person is just ready to step in and contribute.”
One such player will be veteran guard Epiphanny Prince.
For Las Vegas, the Aces will be without their spark plug off the bench Dearica Hamby. Hamby suffered a right knee injury in the Semifinals against the Connecticut Sun.
Hamby has won the WNBA's Sixth Woman of the Year for the past two seasons. She is also one of the Aces' top defenders, while averaging 13.0 points per game on the other end.
Offensive player to watch
Seattle guard Jewell Loyd has been efficient and consistent for the Storm on the offensive end. She has been one of the most lethal scoring guards in the league this season.
Through the first two playoff games for Seattle, Loyd had only missed five shots.
During the regular season she averaged 15.5 points and has averaged 17.3 points per game in the playoffs.
Despite the Aces being the No. 1 seed, the Storm were the preseason favorite to win it all this year.
Seattle will look to its experience having just won a title two years ago.
A fourth WNBA Championship is on the line for the Storm, while the Aces are looking for their first title.
This marks the first trip to the Finals for the Aces in that franchise's third season in Las Vegas.
Seattle and Vegas tip-off Game 1 Friday at 4:00 p.m. PST on ESPN2.