WNBA Finals have plot lines aplenty

Who predicted that the Seattle Storm would face the Washington Mystics in this year’s WNBA Finals?

Well, nobody.

But after a pair of epic semifinal series, the No. 1 Storm and the No. 3 Mystics begin their best-of-five series tonight at KeyArena in Seattle. And with the momentum each team has, along with the potential player match ups, it could be a Finals for the ages.

On display will be some of the best players in the league, from veterans to newcomers. Also featured are two franchises with vastly different histories, as the Storm aches for a third title after a long drought, while the Mystics are in their first Finals in the 20-year history of the franchise.

Here are some key plot lines of the Finals:

2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart has had a dominating season. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart has had a dominating season. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Breanna Stewart vs. Elena Delle Donne – battle of the MVP’s

In one corner, you have Stewart, a fire-breathing dragon who routinely destroyed opponents on the offensive end. The 2018 WNBA MVP in just her third season, “Stewie” averaged 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and shot 52.9 percent from the field. But her stats don’t tell the story of her value on the court:

  • She’s won every freaking award, ever. This may seem hyperbolic, and I guess technically it is, but quite frankly not by that much. Stewart was the WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2016, and was a four-time NCAA champion at UConn from 2013-2016, a four-time NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, a three-time College National Player of the Year, the Gatorade National Player of the Year and Naismith Prep Player of the Year in 2012, and the USA Basketball Athlete of the Year in 2011 and 2013. So for those keeping track at home, that’s the equivalent of eight MVPs and four national championships in eight years. She just needs a WNBA Championship to add to her collection.
  • A 6-4 forward with a 7-1 wingspan, Stewart has been great since entering the WNBA. But this year she added an improved three-point shot, giving defenses an impossible task of deciding whether to play her close and let her back them down or give her space and let her hit from behind the arc.
  • Her wingspan is longer than NBA stars Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. The average wingspan is roughly equivalent to a person’s height, which makes Stewart an anomaly.

In the other corner we have Elena Delle Donne, the former Delaware standout and 2015 MVP. Delle Donne has been great the entire season, averaging 20.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. But she has been on a tear in the postseason, recording a double-double every game. She has yet to miss a free throw, despite taking 23 of them. Some have been under pressure: with the Mystics up one point with 11.5 seconds left in Game 5, the Atlanta Dream fouled Delle Donne, forcing potentially the best free throw shooter in basketball history -she’s shot an absurd 93.4 percent from the line, better than any NBA or WNBA player – to the stripe with a trip to the Finals on the line. Unsurprisingly, she coolly hit them both.

Delle Donne is also recovering from a nasty injury she suffered in Game 2. But thanks to a lot of mental strength, she returned the next game and is now on the precipice of a WNBA championshi

Sue Bird drives in the semifinals. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Sue Bird drives in the semifinals. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Sue Bird

Sue Bird is a legend. You can look here, here and here and they will all say the same thing: Sue Bird is a legend. Bird is a two-time WNBA champion, 11-time WNBA All-Star, five-time All-WNBA First Team and was named a top 15 player in WNBA history in 2011 and a top 20 player of all time in 2016. She also won two national championships at UConn, and was the Naismith Award Player of the Year her senior year.

Bird proved again why she is a legend during Game 5. She entered the fourth quarter with only eight points, going 0-for-8 during the second and third quarters. She scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and 22 overall, but even that doesn’t show the greatness. She scored those 14 points in just five minutes. To put it another way: Bird checked in with 6:41 left in the game with Seattle was down four. From that point on, the Storm outscored the Mercury 28-14, with Bird scoring 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Her points alone were the difference the last seven minutes of the game.

And Bird pulled off this feat after sustaining the fifth broken nose of her career in Game 4.

Kristi Toliver and Elena Delle Donne have made a formidable combination this season. NBAE via Getty Images photo.
Kristi Toliver and Elena Delle Donne have made a formidable combination this season. NBAE via Getty Images photo.

Kristi Toliver

First, you must forgive me because I love Kristi Toliver and probably won’t be objective when it comes to anything Kristi Toliver. My love for Washington’s point guard started 12 years ago, as a fourth grader worried about finding my lost copy of “The Secret Garden.” Toliver was a baby-faced freshman at Maryland, and the starting point guard for my beloved Terrapins. Despite being one of the youngest teams in the nation, with four underclassmen starting and only two seniors on the entire roster, the Terps made a run to the National Championship, where they faced off against Duke. Down three with 14 seconds left, Toliver got the ball in her hands, faced up 6-7 Alison Bales of Duke, and fired. Buckets. Maryland won in overtime, but Toliver won my heart with that shot.

Fast forward to today and Toliver was named to her second All-Star team this year, two years after coming to the Mystics in free agency. A fearless shooter, she fires whether she’s missed five in a row or made five in a row: if she gets the ball and even a sliver of space, she’s firing. Any time the ball is in her hands the defense has to step out and respect her shooting prowess. And no matter where she is on the court, the defense better have their hands up. Because if not, well, Alison Bales can tell them what happens.

History of the franchises

The histories of the Storm and Mystics are polar opposites.

Seattle has won two WNBA Championships, in 2004 and 2010. Washington is making their first Finals appearance. The Storm has had some of the league’s best players on its roster, from Bird to Lauren Jackson to Katie Smith to Tina Thompson. The Mystics have had fine athletes pass through, but none have stayed very long. Seattle is 2-0 in the WNBA Finals, beating the Connecticut Sun in 2004 and the Atlanta Dream in 2010, and they have made the playoffs 12 times in their 18-year history. The Mystics are the last team in the league to claim a Finals berth. They were remarkably bad in the league’s early days, racking up losing records and running through 10 coaches in 11 years.

Deja vu

Coincidences abound in this match up.

The Storm’s Crystal Langhorne played for the Mystics from 2008-2013, while teammate Noelle Quinn suited up for them in 2012. The Mystics’ Tianna Hawkins played for the Storm in 2013, and Krystal Thomas was on the roster there in 2011 and 2016.

In Washington’s semifinal win over the Dream, coach Mike Thibault became the third coach in the history of the WNBA to guide two different franchises to the Finals. Just two hours later, Seattle coach Dan Hughes became the fourth.

With two star-studded rosters, led by determined road-warrior veterans in Bird and Delle Donne, this Finals series should be epic.

Sue Favor contributed to this report.