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Postgame Notes & Quotes: Storm Win 3rd Championship In Franchise History

Postgame Notes

FAIRFAX, Va. – With a 98-82 win over the Washington Mystics on Wednesday night, the Seattle Storm completed the series sweep and clinched its third WNBA Championship in franchise history at EagleBank Arena on the campus of George Mason University.

2018 WNBA Most Improved Player Natasha Howard led the way offensively with 29 points and 14 rebounds, while All-WNBA First Team selection Breanna Stewart added 30 points. This marks the third WNBA championship in franchise history, as the Storm took home the title in both 2004 and 2010.

With the win, Seattle extended its league-record WNBA Finals winning streak to eight games and sealed its first postseason road win since Sept, 16, 2010, when the team defeated Atlanta (87-84) to earn its second title. After eliminating Phoenix in a thrilling five-game series in the 2018 WNBA Semifinals, the Storm collected two triumphs in the Emerald City against Washington (89-76 on Sept. 7; 75-73 on Sept. 9) before defeating the Mystics on Wednesday to complete the sweep.

The Storm’s 2018 WNBA Championship Parade will take place on Sunday, Sept. 16. The parade will begin at 1 p.m. and will end at KeyArena. The team will then make its way into KeyArena for a rally, hosted by Seattle play-by-play talent Dick Fain and color analyst Elise Woodward. The rally is open to the public, and fans are asked to enter through the West Doors, located on the West Plaza of KeyArena.

Stewart, the 2018 WNBA MVP, directed Seattle to its second-best record (26-8) in franchise history and the top seed in the WNBA Playoffs. The 6-4 forward averaged a career-best 21.8 points per game, ranking second in the league, to go along with 8.4 boards per affair. In addition to setting the franchise single-season record for points (742) and field goals (270), Stewart broke her own single-season franchise record for 20-plus point games, boasting 22 on the year.

Sixteen-year veteran Sue Bird led the Storm with a career-best 7.1 assists per game this season, while fourth-year guard Jewell Loyd finished second on the team in scoring with 15.5 points per affair. The 2018 Most Improved Player, Natasha Howard added another dimension to the Storm this season, recording career-high averages of 13.2 points, 6.4 boards and 2.0 blocks per outing.

As a team, the Storm set a franchise record for road wins (13) and became the fifth squad in league history to go without back-to-back losses in the regular season. First-year coach Dan Hughes notched the biggest turnaround in franchise history, and the Storm set single-season records for points (2,966) and assists (721), as well as a WNBA record for three’s made (307).

MYSTICS NOTES

  • The Washington Mystics (4-5) were defeated, 98-82, by the Seattle Storm (6-2) Wednesday night at EagleBank Arena. With the win, Seattle wins the 20118 WNBA Finals, 3-0.
  • Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne led Washington with 23 points, shooting 9-18 from the field, and a perfect  4-4 from the free throw line to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Delle Donne hit a driving layup with 4:47 left in the fourth quarter to surpass 500 career playoff points.
  • Mystics guard Kristi Toliver scored 22 points on 8-15shooting to go along with five assists. Toliver’s 22 points tie her highest scoring output this postseason. A 3-pointer with 3:42 left in the third quarter gave Toliver 500 points in her playoff career.
  • Mystics rookie guard Ariel Atkins finished the postseason with a WNBA rookie record 137 points scored, including nine in Game Three against Seattle. Atkins scored 15+ points in six-of-nine games this postseason.
  • Washington won a franchise-record four games this postseason.
  • Washington set a number of single game franchise playoff records this postseason, including points scored (97; vs. ATL – 9/2/18) and largest win margin (32; vs. LA – 8/23/18) and set a WNBA record for fewest turnovers in a game (4; at ATL – 8/26/18).
  • The Mystics set a number of individual single game playoff records this postseason. Delle Donne tied the team’s all-time mark of 32 points scored in Atlanta on August 26. Atkins and Delle Donne tied the franchise playoff record with 10 field goals made. Against Atlanta on August 28, Mystics center Latoya Sanders set a franchise playoff record with six blocks.

MYSTICS LEADERS:
POINTS: Elena Delle Donne – 23
REBOUNDS: Delle Donne — 5

ASSISTS: Kristi Toliver – 5

STEALS: Tierra Ruffin-Pratt – 2

STORM LEADERS:
POINTS:
Breanna Stewart – 30
REBOUNDS:
Natasha Howard – 14

ASSISTS: Sue Bird – 10

STEALS: Stewart, Sami Whitcomb – 2

Washington Mystics Quotes

Mike Thibault

MIKE THIBAULT: 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.

Obviously tonight their front line was dominant in 19 points between Stewart and Howard, and it seemed like every time we would get a stop, they would get an offensive rebound.  The turnovers were low for both teams, but our turnovers were live ball turnovers that they turned into 18 points, which that’s a big difference between 18 and 5 points.

Congratulations to Dan Hughes and his staff.  They were well prepared.

And then the last thing is regardless of the game, 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.

You know, it’s been a great season for our organization, for our players, and we had a lot of growth.  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.

Now, the whole league is good, and it’s not easy to get back here, but that’s the goal for our team now. They’ve seen what this is like.  Last year we got swept in the semifinals, didn’t like the experience, learned from it, and got here and just didn’t play well enough, didn’t shoot the ball well enough.  My hats off to Seattle for being better than us.

Q: You’ve spoken about how this was in many ways you being here a year ahead of schedule. I’m wondering, given Elena’s limitations in this series how hard it was to take out of this what you need to do to take that final step next year.

MIKE THIBAULT: I don’t think so.  I think we know a lot about ourselves.  You know, we’ve got to be in a position — I think one of the things that Seattle has better than everybody else in the league right now is that they can always have a lineup on the floor with five scorers that put the fear of God in you.  We have to get to that point, too.

The league has gotten to the point with great scorers.  I think that’s part of it.  We have a chance to add Emma Meesseman back in next year, we have another draft pick, I don’t know where free agency will be or anything like that, but our players see — we spent a lot of our time this year relying on a rookie player to be our third scorer, and what she did this year was ahead of schedule for us.  And so that’s — you’re talking about the different optimisms, I see a whole bunch of things that we can do, but we’ve got to get a rhythm playing together, and it took us a lot of experimenting together throughout the year to really find our best groove, and we didn’t really get it until the All-Star break and it carried over into the Playoffs.  The one thing we can do a little better is to be better earlier in the season. Hopefully for us in our new building we’ll have normal dates that we can control and not be on the road for a month and all those things.

But I don’t think we can use Elena’s injury as an excuse.  It also, I think, for our team points out how fragile you can be as a team if you can’t kind of take care of those things in place of her when she’s hurt.  I think every team is in that vulnerable position if one of their best players gets hurt, but that’s not why we lost the series.

Q: Sanders went down early in the second when you guys were fighting back. What does that do to the team, and just how do you feel like you responded?

MIKE THIBAULT: I mean, you know, you’re taking a starter out of the lineup who was playing pretty well, had a good start to the second half.  She turned her ankle pretty good stepping off the edge of the floor going for the loose ball.  I thought Myisha Hines-Allen did a pretty good job as another rookie coming in in a playoff Finals.  But there’s a difference in the experience between the two.

It certainly didn’t help us, but those things happen.  I don’t dwell on that right now.  You know, I’m already on — to be honest with you, I walked into our locker room, and we already talked about the things that we should be proud of and the things we can do to get better, and the rest of that stuff is just stuff that happened, and it’s already now in the past, and we’re already on to the next thing.

Q: What made Breanna Stewart and Natasha Howard so hard to deal with in this game?

MIKE THIBAULT: They’re really good players.  I mean, I don’t have any better answer than that.  I think Natasha Howard is the biggest difference between their team last year and this year on the court, and I think Dan Hughes made a big difference off the court.  I thought he did a terrific coaching job.  Defensively they had a better identity this year.  But I think Natasha is just so active.  She was the perfect complement to Breanna Stewart.  The two of them learned how to play off each other.  They’re both active and mobile, and Natasha Howard has a will about her to get on the boards and to move and cut.  I got a chance to see her kind of up close in college when my daughter was working at Florida State, and you could just see how athletic she could be, it was just how long it was going to take her to figure out her role in the pro game, and she’s figured it out really well right now.

Q: I don’t know if you’ve had any time in the locker room with the players after the loss was just a few minutes ago, but if you have talked to them

MIKE THIBAULT: Yeah, I did.

Q: What did you tell them?

MIKE THIBAULT: That’s what I was just saying one minute ago.  I talked to them about how proud I was of them and the things that we could do — briefly that we could do to get better, and where we were picked and where we ended up they should be excited about, and they should be excited about the future.  We’ll have a team meeting tomorrow and talk about a few more things, but over the next couple months I’ll meet with our players individually.  We aren’t going to do a lot of exit interviews right away when it’s all this fresh.  We’ll do it with the young players, but I’m just so excited for where they got.  I’m sorry for our fans that they didn’t get to witness one more final game here, but for those fans who have waited 20 something years, they should be excited about what they have going forward with this team.

You know, when I took this job six years ago, you always think something is easier than it is, and we walked in and you said, well, this team was 5-29, can’t be all that bad.  It was all.  We don’t have very many people left from that first year.  And all these players have bought in.  They’re trying to do the right things, and we’ve come a long way.

Q: With Jewell and Stewie being 24, Natasha 27, obviously Sue’s 37, but do you see this as a team even beyond this series that everyone needs to shoot for

MIKE THIBAULT: Yeah, A, they’re the defending champs now, they’re young, they’re really talented, they’re smart, and they know how to play with each other.  Teams are going to have to figure out some ways to match up and have as much fire power as they do because even on the nights that you play pretty good defense, they still — they just have so many weapons to put the ball in the basket.  They have so many unsung — everybody talks about Stewie, everybody talks about Sue, but when you look at the series that Natasha and Alysha Clark and the game that Jewell had the one game, you have so many weapons, and then they bring somebody like Sami Whitcomb off the bench, and she had an impact on the game today.

Q: You talked a lot this year about how you saw key role players grow, people like Tianna and Natasha. Does that fortify your sense of the team’s attitude and how they feel about the future, how much they’re looking forward to growing?

MIKE THIBAULT: Yeah, I think so.  Obviously they’re very disappointed in the locker room, but I think they know that what they did this year was special.  It’s hard to say that sometimes when everybody talks about who the champion is, but again, from where we came at the start of the year to where we are now, they have to turn around and look and say, boy, we did so many good things.  And the other part of it is, but there’s the champ, and it’s a motivation or a carrot in front of them to say, hey, we’ve got to work this much harder, we’ve got to improve in these areas if we’re going to compete with them and try to win a championship.

Elena Delle Donne & Kristi Toliver

Q: Elena, when you came here it was with the goal of winning a championship, and you are now two years in. I’m wondering where you see the state of the team, how close you think you are, and whether you can see how to get there from here.

ELENA DELLE DONNE: Yeah, I mean, we had a great season.  I’m super proud of the way we bounced back from a lot of adversity that we faced all season long. Obviously this Finals didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but I think the great thing is that we can still improve. We don’t feel like we’ve peaked and this was it for us. We feel like we’ve got a lot of young, great talent, and obviously this isn’t how we wanted it to end, but it’s an experience that we can grow from.  So hopefully everybody goes off to wherever they’re going this offseason but continues to improve, get better, and then come back and regroup and build off of this season.

Q: Kristi, kind of a similar question. When you look back at the season and the big picture, where do you see it and kind of your thoughts on just the season overall, not just the series.

KRISTI TOLIVER: A successful one.  I mean, 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.  It didn’t go our way, but you’ve got to keep things in perspective, and 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, and we know we can improve.  And so we will.

That Seattle core has been together for a while, outside of Howard.  To me it kind of reminds me of Minnesota and how they had their core together when they made those runs.  We’re still new.  We’re still getting to learn one another.  We’ll have another year next year, and we’ll continue to get better and see if we can get back.

Q: Coach told us that he talked to you guys briefly, saying that he was proud of you and just what you guys can also improve on. Being the captains, being kind of the veteran leaders, was there anything that you two told the team in the locker room just now?

KRISTI TOLIVER: No.  I mean, I think this is a time that you just reflect.  We all know that we’re happy and we’re proud of where we were at, but we want to be better, and I don’t think you have to say that.  I think everybody knows.  We’re going to meet tomorrow, and I’m sure we’ll all say what we want to say.  But for right now, we’re just kind of soaking in what happened.

Q: I know it’s been tough going to different venues for all these games, but really good crowds and really sort of maybe gives you a preview of what you’re looking forward to next year in a real true home-court advantage. Is that something that you guys can maybe sort of feed off of and are really looking forward to as like a day-to-day thing next year?

ELENA DELLE DONNE: Yeah, that’ll be great, having a home that we can’t get kicked out of, hopefully.  But both Kristi and I have talked about it.  We’ve seen such a growth in our fan base these past two years.  Not going to lie, it was a little quiet when we first came out for our first game, and now look at it.  Which obviously winning helps, but we can really create something here, and I think we’ve really grown this fan base, and they’re behind us.  They’re proud of us, and they know we’re not satisfied, and we want to do more.

But I think it’ll be huge having our own home, our fans will have a consistent place to show up and watch us play.  It’s a smaller arena, so it’ll be loud, crowded, and kind of have that playoff atmosphere all year long.

Q: Elena, you guys started off just getting to know each other as a roster last year. Can you give us a sense of now two full seasons later how close you guys have become?

ELENA DELLE DONNE: Yeah, there’s been a huge transformation in the culture of this team.  Last year we were brand new.  We didn’t know — I mean, I didn’t even know her favorite beer, and that’s a pretty important thing to know about Panda.  Now I can go to the bar, order her everything she needs, know what I need to –

KRISTI TOLIVER: I’m going to need a lot tonight.

ELENA DELLE DONNE: To get her — trust me, I know, I’ve got you, Panda.  But just even certain things like that, knowing people’s favorite musicians, things outside of basketball.  Obviously the basketball stuff, like knowing she likes a dribble hand-off, knowing she’s not a huge fan of the flares, all that stuff.

KRISTI TOLIVER: Quit telling the secrets.

ELENA DELLE DONNE: Everybody knows this.  They still can’t guard you.  So yeah, she loves flares, hates dribble hand-offs.  But no, certain things like that on court is huge, but I think the stuff off court is even bigger, knowing each other’s families, dogs, all of that. Wrigley writes her messages on Instagram all the time. Things like that.  That’s what it’s all about.  That’s where the fun comes, the camaraderie.  We’re only out there on the court a little bit of time together, but the moments that we spend hanging out in the airport, playing “would you rather,” hanging out, getting dinner together, those are the moments that are so special, and what we’re actually probably going to miss the most now that this season has ended.

Q: Elena, now that the series is over, can you discuss how you were affected by the knee injury?

ELENA DELLE DONNE: I mean, it was different.  I unfortunately wasn’t able to practice a lot in the moments that we had off, so I was kind of trying to figure out my go-to moves as games were going on and just trying to get comfortable finding different ways. I’m a very left-footed player.  I like to push off one leg, and floaters, step-backs, all that off my left leg, so just trying to find a different way to get it done.  I felt more and more uncomfortable as we kept going.

Q: On one hand from the franchise side it’s building yourselves to be that fierce fighting machine. But this year the league kind of was setting records for setting records every night, and it just seemed like night after night was a challenge, just how much tougher it is now to go out there and play a full schedule.

ELENA DELLE DONNE: Yeah, this league is so talented.  I mean, next year there’s going to be teams that were super young this year that grew so much throughout the season, and so many teams were knocking on that door just to even get into Playoffs.  It’s going to be grueling.  Even more grueling next year than this year.  So we know how great the teams are and how much better we have to be.  We’re not just going to be satisfied that we got here this season.  We know we’ve got to improve because everybody else is.

Seattle Storm Quotes

Dan Hughes

DAN HUGHES: Well, first, 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 here, 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.  Great fans here, so I want to give credit there.

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.

But I think everything they did from the time I met them was culminated tonight.  I mean, nothing that we did satisfied them until tonight.  You know, and I think that’s a very special group that feels that way.

When I got the job in October and I talked to them, I could sense it.  When I saw them in the off-season wherever they were, I felt it.  They continued to believe in themselves and improve themselves and use the year as a gauge to get here.  And this particular game tonight, you could just see all kinds of little plays.

A coach when he’s coaching a game, there’s a couple times you either see your team make a play or you see the other team make a play, and you say to yourself, you know what, we’re going to win this game or we’re in trouble.  But there were several of those plays today.

And I’ll tell you one that probably nobody here noticed. Sue Bird is out on the wing guarding.  Ariel Atkins put the ball down.  She literally ran to the edge of the lane to get that, and I said to myself, you know what, when you’ve got your leader making that play, there’s probably going to be a good result before this thing’s over.  But so many people to point to.

Sue obviously, but Stewie was just amazing.  She truly was the MVP of this league, she truly was the MVP of these Finals.  God blessed me with an opportunity to coach her, and I will be forever grateful, because she is just a very special player in so many ways.

But there’s some untold stories here.  Alysha Clark to me embodied Seattle basketball, the way she guarded, the way she went to the boards, the relentless nature with an intelligence about her.  Amazing.  And Sami Whitcomb.  Sami Whitcomb battles, battled, battled, moved up the ladder in the Playoffs, and really, really impacted this basketball team in a big way.

Jewell Loyd turned her game from a scorer into a complete player.  She helped us in so many ways in just different things that we did.  So many others, but this was a very special team.  This was a special night for them, and I just couldn’t be happier for the result of their hard work.

Q: I remember a conversation we had just after the lottery when you did not get Breanna Stewart. Obviously that was a long time ago and it was also not so long ago. I wondered how often you’ve sort of thought back to the many things that had to happen for you to go from that just about three years ago to today?

DAN HUGHES: Boy, I’ve thought about it a lot.  I mean, you get to a point in life where you think you know what’s in the future, and then sometimes you have no earthly idea what’s about to happen.  The one thing I will always treasure is when this opportunity started to develop, I looked at my wife, and she looked back at me, and her words were, you’ve got to do this, and boy, that was profound beyond belief, because being a part of this team, being a part — and I’m so happy — one of the first things I said to Sue Bird was I want to give you — be a part of a team that gives you another chance to win a championship.  I remember when I took the job, I flew to see Jewell Loyd, I flew to see Stewie, and you could see the three of them had a bond that was going to develop, and develop it did.

To coach Stewie is just — I have been blessed to coach.  Some of the players I coached through the years contacted me today, and somehow I hope they feel a little bit of this, too, because I’ve had so many players give me so much heart, so much work, and this moment I will cherish, but I will also cherish the relationships of those players in all these years that I’ve coached.

Q: You’d mentioned earlier about a play here and there you think we’re going to win or we’re in trouble. But they closed it to single digits and then Stewie gets that three-point play and then Natasha gets the bucket and you’re up 10. Can you address that sequence?  Was that the point you thought you were going to win the game?

DAN HUGHES: I did.  You know, they’re a quality team, and they’re going to come at you.  Then the question is what are we going to do with it.  But Stewie has immense talent, but the toughness, that’s the part that I absolutely cherish.  And Natasha Howard, what an incredible story to me, and the way she realized that opportunity and what she did and how she blended with this basketball team, because a lot of this team was the same.  I come in, Natasha comes in, but the way that she just blended with it, such a huge part of this result was Natasha Howard.

Q: My question is in regard to the first half especially with the front court when Natasha Howard, Breanna Stewart and Alysha Clark. Their three-point game was on point. I think it was eight of nine threes that they were making.  Could you give your thoughts on how they played in the first half to break the lead open tonight?

DAN HUGHES: It’s interesting because if you watch the evolution of this team they kind of went from, okay, we’ve got some talent, so okay, we’re a pretty good team, so okay, now we’re in first place, and now there’s going to be some tough games down the stretch.  What are we learning?  I went right back to the last series we had because that series with Phoenix was really important for us, really important for us in a lot of ways. We won the two home games, went on the road, last two, and I remember saying to the team maybe there was a reason we had to go on this journey to understand how tough it’s going to be and what we’re going to do, and when we got to that moment, I thought, okay, here’s the chance.  Did we learn something.  Are we going to play to our strengths.  And they did.  And they did.

We had learned something.  And this was a team that constantly was looking to learn something that could help them be a champion, and a champion they are.

Q: Breanna Stewart was dominant all series long. She had 30 points, eight rebounds in this game. Natasha Howard had a double-double with 29-14, Alysha Clark 15-9. All three of them were dominant, they’re a young front court unit. Looks like this team might have the makings of a dynasty.

DAN HUGHES: Well, I think we’ve got some work to do, but if you’re asking me have we hit a ceiling, no. There’s still growth in this team.  And they’re within -now, we were very fortunate health-wise, and I think — I remember talking to Gregg Popovich, and I tried to pick his mind about championships, and one of the things he said, you’ve got to be lucky.  You’ve got to be healthy.  And you’ve got to have your players that you need at that point.  And we were.  We were blessed to be a healthy team in a lot of ways.  But yes, I think you haven’t hit — this team still has potential, I think, to stay or even greater from where they are.

Q: Specific to Stewie, to have someone — she seemed throughout the night like she had been here before, which in many ways she has, though not specifically WNBA Finals, but to win her first at 24 and to be in place, it seems like there’s an inflection point in the league here, the likes of which we haven’t really seen since Maya won her first. Do you see it that way and do you see us at the cusp of something significant here?

DAN HUGHES: It’s interesting you say that because in the course of the game, I happened to look down the other side and just down a little bit, and all of a sudden there’s CD and Geno sitting, and I knew how well she was coached, and I knew she had not only been coached but had been in these moments, and that wasn’t lost on me, trust me.  That was not lost on me.

But I think they put a lot of work in to get here.  If they continue to work in a way to get themselves ready to do it again, they’re going to be a team that has a lot of potential to be in the group, and if we can stay healthy, we’ll be one of the teams that will have a chance to do this again.

Q: The bench and the starters get a lot of attention, you get a lot of attention as the head coach. Can you talk about your connection and the importance of the assistant coaches in this championship?

DAN HUGHES: Absolutely.  Gary Kloppenburg, defensively all year, when I came in I asked him to stay with me, and I said, I want you to do the defense and we’ll work with it.  And I want to tell you, and I love the fact his father — they share a similar philosophy, and I had read his father’s book, but Gary had so much to do with the defensive end.  He had so much to do with bringing a presence to me that made us better, and whatever — and I watched all year because we were a team that offense had some gifts, but defensively we got better, we got better, we got better, we got better.  It was a gradual thing.  But that’s when I knew we were going to be a special team.  But please know, everything defensively that we accomplished and did, it was highlighted by him.

Crystal Robinson I asked to come with us.  I had played against Crystal, and Crystal brought — what I think this team got was some grit and some toughness, she brought that, and the players’ relationship.

And our player development coach, Ryan, an incredible job.  I mean, right up to yesterday, I’m watching him out on the court squeezing every moment he had from them.  Amazing staff.  Trust me, and I delegate a lot. That was my posture where I’m at in my career, so they absolutely share in this moment, and they were — we’re not here without them, okay.  We’re not here.

Q: You’ve been around the league for the whole. In the early years the league was like a lot of college conferences these days. You don’t have to do a lot in certain places to win it, and that’s what it was like back then.  This year it was night after night. How special does it make it?

DAN HUGHES: 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.  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.

Thank you very much.

Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart & Natasha Howard

Q: Sue, this is the third time you’ve done this. What is it like at this age to have done this, and how does it compare with your earlier ones?

SUE BIRD: There’s probably no comparison to be honest.  Obviously each is special in its own way, but this one is probably going to have — I don’t know, just a different meaning for me because so many reasons that we already know, right, like I didn’t know if I’d even be playing at this point.  Our team went through a rebuild, and yes, I decided to stay, and once we got Jewell and Stewie, we knew we would get on the other side, but how do you know you’re going to get on the other side this fast.  We had some great additions along the way, obviously one sitting to my left.  So it’s incredible to be sitting here right now, I was just saying this earlier, I really believe it just came to me.  This is probably going to be one of the defining moments of my career, to have played however many years I’ve been playing, to have won in all these places, but then to do it at the end in such a way that was different from all the others, it’s really incredible.

I mean, Stewie and I joke, I don’t know if I should even say this, but at the start of the season we lost to Phoenix at home, and we were like, oh, crap, what kind of year is this going to be, because it didn’t — we hadn’t clicked yet.  But pretty quickly, like a week later, we turned it right back around, and then onward and upward from there.  You just never know.  So to be here is incredible.  Such a fun team to be around, such a fun team to play with, and I don’t know, we did it the right way, and it just feels really good to be sitting here right now.

Q: Stewie, it seemed like you were playing as if you had been there before, even though this is your first close-out WNBA Finals game. I’m wondering whether it felt that way to you, and how much you think what you’ve done leading up to it is why they felt that way.

BREANNA STEWART: Honestly, it didn’t feel like my first WNBA Finals close-out game.  I think the way I looked at it was just another game.  One game leads us to what we’ve been working for for four months, and just having that mindset.  Obviously we went on our run, we were up early, we were up at halftime, but we knew D.C. was going to come back.  Obviously playing on their home court, they were going to make some shots, do some things, but it was how we countered that, when things got close, when things got to eight. Sami hit some big threes, Sue hit big threes, Tash was all over the place, and that’s what separated us again.

Q :Sue, as someone who has seen the ebbs and flows in this league, for Stewie to come in and do this just after turning 24, all the experience that she’s had, do you feel like this is sort of an inflection point for the history of the league?

SUE BIRD: What do you mean?

Q: To have someone as young as she is already be as accomplished as she is and now to have that championship under her belt.

SUE BIRD: Well, yes, it says a lot about Stewie.  I think coming into this season, she really just changed her mindset.  She had goals, specific goals, and yeah, she had some individual ones, but I think she knew those individual goals, winning MVP, being dominant, or as dominant as possible, that was going to impact the team positively and probably lead us to where we are now.  So I think it just speaks to Stewie.  Obviously the kid knows how to win.  Even though it hadn’t been the WNBA yet, she clearly knows what it takes, and sometimes it just takes a couple of years to really figure out yourself in this league because it’s a very tough league to play in, and now here she is.  She’s figured it out.  It’s probably going to get a little harder from here to be honest, but I think she’s ready for it.

Q: Natasha, you’re actually celebrating a championship the second year in a row, this year as a starter and a huge contributor. Can you just talk about that and the opportunity that you’ve had coming to Seattle?

NATASHA HOWARD: You know, the opportunity that I had with Minnesota playing behind great players, as well, learning behind some Olympians and bringing it over to Seattle, as well, it helped our team a lot with my experience being in the Final Four the past four years and also winning a championship last year, helping our teammate out and also with Sue, she had the experience, as well.  It’s just amazing.  It’s just a special group.

Q :Natasha, kind of playing off that, Kristi Toliver said that this group here reminded her what Minnesota had when they started their run and created their dynasty. Is that what you see going forward? Coach Hughes said you haven’t hit the ceiling as far as accomplishments for this team.

NATASHA HOWARD: You know, I’m not going to compare it to Minnesota.  We’re the Seattle Storm.  But yeah, like we just — like I said before, we’re special, and we still have a lot going for our next season, as well.  During the off-season we know we’re all going to put in the work and constantly keep developing our game and just keep growing as an individual.

Q: Stewie, how much — you were jump started with USA Basketball, so you were playing with these guys before you were playing with these guys. How much did that really help? Last time we saw you win something as a youngster you made a couple guarantees. Do you want to make any other statements?

BREANNA STEWART: I think playing USA Basketball at a young age, being part of the national team when I was still in college, that was huge.  Obviously being able to learn from the vets like Sue and Dee and the rest of them and kind of just showing me the ropes of things made me aware of what was going on in the league before I was actually in the league and kind of what I needed to do, especially my senior year, to make sure I was ready to go to the league and make an impact.

Second question, we’re just going to enjoy this one right now, and we’ll talk again come next season as far as expectations and goals?

Q: Who’s the first person on the team who’s going to be calling you guys up early in the morning saying, hey, let’s hit the court and get ready for next year?

BREANNA STEWART: Can I get some days off first?

Q: Stewie, from the second you’ve entered this league, you got to learn from one of the greatest minds sitting next to you in Sue. What have you been able to pick from her brain over the past couple years that’s gotten you to this point so quick?

BREANNA STEWART: Yeah, I think when people ask me that question, what I’ve gotten from Sue, I say everything, and it’s honestly true.  On-the-court stuff, off-the-court stuff, the way she’s — her basketball IQ is like no other, but the fact that what she does for her body, and I’ve kind of just tried to mimic that, especially this past year, working with the same person as her and really focusing in on how can I make sure that I’m prepared every single day, whether it’s practice or games or that type of thing, and now doing that, it makes you want to win with her.  Obviously when I came here as a rookie, I wanted to win a championship with her, but it’s easy to say that.  It’s not as easy to do it and do it at the level that she was at.

Q: Breanna, you guys had a big lead for a good chunk of the game. They got it to single digits, then you were able to push back eight straight points and get the lead back up. What turned for you guys at that point and what did it say about your mindset that, hey, this is over, we’re going to put this away?

BREANNA STEWART: 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.  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.  Sue told us in the huddle that it wasn’t going to be easy basically, and it was just how we reacted, how we countered that, and we knew — we got to this point for a reason, also, and it was Game 3 of the Finals, and we were going home with a championship.

Q: Sue, for everybody back home in Seattle, the crazies are going wild right now, they’re ready to party, have a parade. Just some thoughts on what the city of Seattle has meant to you in this run. It’s been a pretty incredible run the last few weeks.

SUE BIRD: Yeah, man, they’ve been everything.  I think the best way to sum it up is when we made the Playoffs and we knew we were going to have home-court advantage, I didn’t realize it at the time, but all of a sudden I was like, oh, my God, we haven’t had a home playoff game since 2012, and then I was like, wait a minute, we had to play in Tacoma in — yeah, 2013.  I was like, we had to play in Tacoma.  That doesn’t even count.  So we haven’t had a home playoff game in KeyArena since 2012, and what did I say, I was like, guys, I’m so excited for you that you’re going to be able to experience a Seattle home playoff game.  And the fans didn’t disappoint.  The semis was amazing.  Our first two games in the Finals was amazing.  Just their support, the numbers.  You had some big names come out and support us, as well, in the community.  I don’t know, just everything on social media, just everything about the way Seattle embraces us, the way they support us, it really allows us to play our best when we’re at home.  And that was evident.

I mean, Game 5 especially, who knows if we win that game if we’re not at home.  So I don’t know.  It’s been an incredible journey in Seattle, and they deserve this. The fans deserve this.