Seattle Storm players huddle in celebration after beating the Phoenix Mercury in a semifinal basketball playoff game Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Seattle. The Storm won 94-84 and they advance to the WNBA finals against the Washington Mystics. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Aside from reaching the WNBA Finals, the Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics shared at least one other commonality during the 2018 season — they lost to the Aces.
Las Vegas proved it could play with the best of the best in its inaugural season, and Seattle and Washington are the best in the league. Both teams feature a marquee superstar, strong guard play and depth in the frontcourt, making for what should be a fantastic series to conclude the season.
It starts Friday at 5 p.m.
Here’s some specifics.
Seattle: Storm point guard Sue Bird is synonymous with women’s basketball and is as good as ever at age 37. The floor general averaged 10.1 points and 7.1 assists during the regular season, and 11.6 points and 6.7 assists in Seattle’s five-game semifinal series against the Phoenix Mercury.
There’s still nobody better at creating offense for her teammates, and the two-time champion and 11-time all-star is more than capable of taking over a game, as evidenced by her 14-point fourth quarter in Game 5 against the Mercury.
Bird is flanked by all-star two-guard Jewell Loyd, who averaged 15.8 points per game during the regular season, but 11.o on 34.6 percent shooting while matched up against Diana Taurasi.
Rookie Jordin Canada came off the bench to provide 5.8 points per game during the regular season, but her efficiency improved against Phoenix, resulting in 8.2 points on 56.7 percent shooting.
Washington: Veteran Kristi Toliver brings championship experience to the point. She won a title with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016 and enjoyed a fine year in Washington, averaging 13.9 points and 4.4 assists this season. She’s a shot maker, converting 36 percent of her 3-point attempts, though she’s made 27.9 percent in the postseason thus far.
Rookie guard Ariel Atkins is the breakout star of this year’s postseason. She averaged 11.8 points per game in the regular season, but has improved her shooting and scoring in the playoffs. She is accounting for 15 points on 49.2 percent shooting, including 45.8 percent from 3-point range.
Natasha Cloud can play on or off the ball for the Mystics and is enjoying a strong postseason with 9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.
The Edge: Advantage, Seattle. Barely. Bird’s play-making and clutch shot-making combined with Loyd’s two-way tenacity gives the Storm a slight edge in the backcourt. The key word is slight. When Toliver is connecting from deep, good luck. But she’s has been cold during the playoffs, and Atkins has a lot to prove on the sport’s biggest stage.
Seattle: Everything the Storm does up front relies on 2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart. The 6-foot-4 forward-center used a unique inside-out skill-set for her 22 points and 8.6 rebounds during the regular season. She is known for her low-post game and her outside shooting. She averaged 24 points and 7.4 rebounds against the Mercury and blocked a team-high seven shots on the other end of the floor.
Stewart is joined by Natasha Howard, the league’s most improved player who had career-highs of 13.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks after spending the last four years as a reserve for Minnesota and Indiana.
Howard is a capable scorer in the post and in pick-and-rolls, and uses her mobility to anchor Seattle’s defense. She averaged 14 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks against the Mercury.
Alysha Clark averaged 7.5 points per game at small forward. Backups center Courtney Paris and Crystal Langhorne provide spot minutes at the center and power forward positions.
Washington: Washington counters Stewart with 2015 WNBA MVP Elena Della Donne, who possesses a similar skill-set as a scorer. She posted 21 points and 7.6 rebounds during the regular season, and is averaging 21.4 points and 12 rebounds during the postseason.
She handles, shoots from the perimeter and posts up smaller defenders to unlock the Mystics’ offense. She, too, is an excellent defender, with mobility and shot-blocking instincts to boot.
Latoya Sanders joins Della Donne up front, and averaged 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds during the regular season. She rarely ventures outside the paint on offense, and is accounting for 9.8 points and 6.5 rebounds during the postseason.
However, Sanders is one of the league’s best rim protectors, and is averaging 3.3 blocks game in the playoffs.Tianna Hawkins and Aerial Powers round out the front court rotation, and are averaging 7.5 points and 5.3 points, respectively, during the postseason.
The Edge: Advantage, Seattle. Stewart and Della Donne figure to produce equally, and Howard’s evolution in to one of the league’s best interior players tips the scale in favor of the Storm.
The Prediction: Seattle in five. The Storm is a little more talented and a little deeper than its Eastern counterparts. They have the reigning league MVP and the best big-game point guard in league history. Loyd is an all-star and Howard is on her way.
Della Donne and company won’t go down without a fight, though. The Mystics just won a Game 5 in Atlanta and feature plenty of firepower.
But the Dream aren’t the Storm, who have been the best team in the league all season.
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