Long before the final buzzer sounded in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on Wednesday night, the coronation of the Seattle Storm as this year’s champions had commenced.
The outcome was all but settled in the second quarter, when forward Breanna Stewart pushed the Storm to a double-digit lead over the Washington Mystics at EagleBank Arena.
The reigning league MVP may be the best player in the world. She certainly was the best player in this best-of-five series, winning WNBA Finals MVP after she scored 30 points in a 98-82 triumph to complete a sweep.
When Washington closed within five with 6:35 left in the fourth quarter, Stewart collected a pass, turned and sank a jumper while drawing contact. She made the bonus foul shot, and Natasha Howard followed with a layup to bump the lead back to 10.
“God has blessed me to coach Breanna Stewart,” said Seattle Coach Dan Hughes, who won his first WNBA championship.
Stewart, who made 4 of 5 three-pointers, was far from a one-player show on a stacked roster this season. Joining her on the U.S. women’s national team training for the FIBA World Cup are Storm teammates Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird, who at 37 remains the most proficient point guard in the league.
Stewart and Loyd, meanwhile, are 24. Howard, who had her way in the painted area throughout the series, is 27.
“They’re the defending champs now,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “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 firepower as they do.”
Which raises the question: If Bird continues to play at a level few point guards have in the history of the sport, how many more titles could be in store for Seattle?
“You just never know,” Bird said, “so to be here is just incredible. Such a fun team to be around, such a fun team to play with, and we did it the right way, and it just feels really good to be sitting here right now.”
One important variable favoring a potential Storm dynasty is its youth, considering how age is creeping up on its stiffest competition throughout the league.
The WNBA’s most recent dynasty, the Minnesota Lynx, winners of four of the past eight titles, have players, other than wing Maya Moore, who are beyond their most productive days.
Point guard Lindsay Whalen announced her retirement after the Lynx lost in the quarterfinals. Two-time Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles is 32. Seimone Augustus, like Fowles a former Olympian, is 34. Forward Rebekkah Brunson is 36.
“They remind me of the core Minnesota had when they went on their run,” Mystics guard Kristi Toliver said of the Storm.
The 2016 WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks still have former league MVPs Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, but consistent point guard play remains somewhat in flux since Toliver departed for the Mystics via free agency.
The 2014 WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury has Diana Taurasi, but one of the few players in the conversation for greatest of all-time turned 36 in June. Standout forward DeWanna Bonner is 31.
That leaves Brittney Griner, 27, the most feared center in the world, but who knows how much longer she will have Taurasi by her side.
Even with that list of WNBA luminaries, many bound for the Hall of Fame, active this year, the Storm still managed the best regular season record in the WNBA, 11 wins better than in 2017.
“We’ve got some work to do, but if you’re asking me, ‘Have we hit a ceiling?’ No,” Hughes said. “There’s still growth on this team. Now we were very fortunate health-wise. I remember talking to Gregg Popovich, and I tried to pick his mind about championships, and one of the things he said is, ’You’ve got to be lucky. You’ve got to be healthy, and you’ve got to have the players that you need.’
“We were blessed to be a healthy team in a lot of ways, but yes, I think this team still has potential to stay or be even greater from where they are.”