FAIRFAX, Va. — It took Breanna Stewart three seasons in the WNBA since graduating from the University of Connecticut — where she won four straight titles — to make it to the WNBA Finals.
But once she did, she and the Seattle Storm swept the Washington Mystics in the best-of-five series, with a 98-82 win on Wednesday at George Mason University’s Eagle Bank Arena.
“Seattle deserves to have this trophy back,” Stewart said.
Stewart, the league and Finals MVP, had 30 points in the win. The Storm ended the first half with a 16-point lead and never looked back. Washington pulled within five with just over 6:30 minutes left in the game — breathing new life into the home crowd — but a 3-point play by Stewart and a defensive stop on the next play halted Washington’s momentum. Less than a minute later, Natasha Howard snuck through the defense for an easy offensive rebound to push the lead to 10 again.
Sue Bird, wearing a protective face mask after she broke her nose for the fifth time in a collision with Stewart during the semifinals against Phoenix, had 10 assists. While the mask limited Bird’s vision a bit, the Mystics faced bigger injury problems with star Elena Delle Donne playing with a painful bone bruise suffered in the semifinals against Atlanta.
The series, like the season, belonged to Stewart, who scored 25 points in a Game 2 win. Seattle, behind Stewart’s 21.8 points and 8.4 rebounds this season, finished with a league-best 26-8 record. After going up 2-0 against Phoenix only to need five games to close it out in the semifinals, Stewart said she wasn’t in the mood to stick around in the Virginia suburbs for another few days.
“I think that series, looking back on Phoenix, is something that we really learned from,” Stewart said Tuesday. “Letting a team back into the game, end of game, how we’re handling things. Now it’s just another step in our growth and maturity is winning on someone else’s home court.
“When I look back at that series, Game 3 was kind of a wash. They came out guns blazing and we just couldn’t catch up. Game 4, honestly, was some self-inflicted stuff. We had the lead, (I) broke Sue’s nose, that made things a little different. The way we battled was better than Game 3. We know we don’t want to go back to Seattle to play. We want to bring the trophy back to Seattle.”
Despite being swept, the future for Washington looks bright. Rookie Ariel Atkins averaged 11.3 points per game this season and had a crucial 20-point game against Atlanta and 23 points in Game 1 against Seattle. If the Mystics do return to the Finals, it’s entirely likely they’ll face Seattle. The team rebuilt its core with Stewart, Howard and Jewell Loyd. Rookie Jordin Canada is expected to be able to fill in for Bird, the oldest player in the league.