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Five Takeaways from Game 1 of the 2020 WNBA Finals presented by YouTube TV

The Seattle Storm lost their first ever WNBA Finals game back on Oct. 8, 2004. They have not lost a Finals game since.

After dropping Game 1 of the best-of-three to Connecticut in 2004, the Storm won Games 2 and 3 to win their first title. In 2010, they swept the Atlanta Dream in three games. In 2018, they swept the Washington Mystics in three games.

And on Friday, they took a 1-0 lead over the Las Vegas Aces in Game 1 of the 2020 WNBA Finals presented by YouTube TV behind record-breaking performances from Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.

Here are five key takeaways from Seattle’s Game 1 win.

Bird Dropping Dimes

After the Aces opened the game with an 8-0 spurt, the Storm responded with a 13-3 run to take their first lead with 3:22 remaining and Sue Bird assisting on Seattle’s first six made baskets of the night.

Bird was just getting started as she set a WNBA Finals record with 10 assists in the first half alone and was just two shy of breaking the Finals record of 11. She picked up those two assists in the first three minutes of the second half as Jewell Loyd’s 3-pointer with 7:19 to play in the third gave Bird a dozen dimes and a new Finals record.

While Finals records are great, Playoff records are even better. Bird already owned a share of the WNBA Playoff assist record with 14 dimes from back in 2004. Courtney Vandersloot tied the mark with 14 assists in 2015.

Now there is a new mark for players to chase as Bird finished with 16 assists and continued to feed Breanna Stewart in the fourth quarter to put the Storm back in front with a comfortable lead. The record-breaker came on a Stewart turnaround jumper with 6:49 to play and the 16th came a minute later on a perfect feed again to Stewart for a layup. Bird finished the game with 2 points, 5 rebounds, 16 assists and only 3 turnovers in 31 minutes.

Stewie Makes History

Unless someone told you and showed you the video/pictures of Breanna Stewart tearing her Achilles in April 2019, there would be no way to know that the 2018 regular season and Finals MVP missed all of 2019 recovering from one of the most devastating injuries any basketball player can suffer.

Stewart was simply spectacular in Game 1 as she won the first round in the battle of the MVPs between her and the 2020 winner A’ja Wilson. Stewart became the first player in WNBA history to have at least 35 points and 15 rebounds in a Finals game. Stewart finished with 37 points on 15-24 FG (5-8 3P and 2-2 FT), 15 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 assists in 37 minutes.

After the Aces had clawed their way back into the game in the third quarter (more on that below), Stewart took it upon herself to put the Storm back in control of Game 1. She scored the first 11 points of the fourth quarter herself to turn Seattle’s two-point lead into a 13-point lead and essentially extinguish the Aces hopes of their second straight comeback victory in these playoffs.

Stewart had all facets of her game working at maximum level. She stretched the floor with the 3-point shot. She snagged defensive rebounds and pushed the ball upcourt, essentially becoming a one-woman fast break. She faced up on the perimeter and beat defenders off the dribble for layups and runners in the lane. She made perfectly-timed cuts so Bird could find her with a pocket pass. She was a nightmare for Las Vegas all night long and will have to be the focal point when it comes to defensive adjustment for Game 2.

Stewart entered Game 1 with the highest scoring average in WNBA Playoffs history among players that have played at least 10 games at 23.7 points per game. Las Vegas’ Angel McCoughtry ranked third at 21.9 points. With her 37-point effort in Game 1, Stewart’s playoff averaged jumped to 24.6 points in her 14 career playoff games.

Stewart’s 37 points are the second-most ever scored in a WNBA Finals game, trailing only McCoughtry, who had 38 back in 2011 as a member of the Atlanta Dream. It must be noted that McCoughtry has been involved in the five single-greatest scoring performances in WNBA Finals history – either as the one doing the scoring (3x) or on the opposing team.

38: Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta at Minnesota, Oct. 5, 2011
37: Breanna Stewart, Seattle vs. Las Vegas, Oct. 2, 2020
36: Seimone Augustus, Minnesota vs. Atlanta, Oct. 7, 2011
35: Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta vs. Seattle, Sept. 16, 2010
33: Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta at Minnesota, Oct. 2, 2011

Aces for 3?!

One of the key items on the Las Vegas Aces scouting report is that they are not a 3-point shooting team. The Aces have ranked last in 3-pointers made and 3-pointers attempted per game in each of the past three regular seasons. In 2020, they averaged 4.2 3-pointers made on just 11.5 attempts per game.

In their epic five-game semifinal series against Connecticut, the Aces made a total of five 3-pointers on 20 attempts (20%). In Game 1 of The Finals, the Aces shot 4-6 from beyond the arc in the first quarter alone, and Angel McCoughtry added two more in the first 90 seconds of the second quarter.

In 11:30 minutes against Seattle, the Aces had more 3-pointers made (6) than they did in the entire five-game series against the Sun (5). It helped the Angel McCoughty could not miss from deep. She made her first five treys and finished 5-6 from distance for 20 points.

Las Vegas finished the game shooting 10-21 (47.6%) from 3-point range, matching their season-high in 3-pointers made (Sept. 10 at Minnesota). Will the Aces continue to utilize the long ball in this series or was Game 1 an aberration?

Comeback Kids

In their Game 5 win over Connecticut to advance to the WNBA Finals, the Aces overcame a 16-point second-quarter deficit as they outscored the Sun 33-14 over a 14:27 span to take a 3-point lead. It was nip and tuck from that point on as the Aces prevailed behind a big fourth quarter from A’ja Wilson drawing fouls and knocking down free throws.

The Aces tried to replicate that effort in Game 1 as they trailed by as many as 19 points and found themselves down 16 with 6:31 left to play in the third quarter. The Aces used an 18-2 run to tie the game at 67-67 with 27 seconds left in the quarter.

The Aces were playing at full throttle on both ends of the court as they scrambled on defense, ran on offense and looked like the 18-4 team that dominated most opponents all season long. But after expending a ton of energy to get themselves back in contention, the Storm hit back with a 13-0 run of their own, including 11 straight points from Breanna Stewart to open the fourth quarter to push the Storm lead back to double digits.

The Aces cut the lead to eight, but could get no closer down the stretch as Stewart and the Storm had an answer for every push the Aces tried to make.

Loyd Stays Hot

While Bird and Stewart will garner much of the attention with their record-breaking performances, we can’t overlook the playoff career-high 28 points on 11-17 FG (2-5 3P, 4-4 FT) shooting from Jewell Loyd in Game 1. The Storm outscored the Aces by 31 points in Loyd’s 31 minutes on the court – the top plus/minus of the game.

This was the third time in four playoff games that Loyd has scored at least 20 point for Seattle. In the postseason, Loyd is shooting 60.9% (28-46) from the field, 50% (10-20) from three, and 93.3% (14-15) from the free throw line. She’s averaging 20 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists and is posting 61-50-93 shooting splits.

That’s a pretty accurate assessment from Kyrie Irving. The Gold Mamba has been a problem. The Storm had only three double-digit scorers in Game 1, but when Stewart and Loyd combine for 65 points on 26-41 FG (63.4%), 7-13 3P (53.8%), 6-6 FT, there isn’t much more needed.

Bonus: Points in the Paint

This season, the Las Vegas Aces averaged a league-best 42.7 points in the paint, while Seattle ranked fourth at 36.6 per game. In Game 1, the Storm held a 30-point advantage in points in the paint, outscoring the Aces 48-18.

During the regular season, no player made more buckets inside the paint than MVP A’ja Wilson. She shot 64-85 (75.3%) inside the restricted area and 59-139 (42.4%) outside the restricted area. In Game 1, Wilson was held to 3-12 shooting in the paint (2-4 inside restricted and 1-8 outside of it).