Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics had said the key to beating the Seattle Storm was to keep their nerves in check.
That strategy didn’t work, as the Seattle Storm infuriated the Mystics from the jump in Game One of the 2018 WNBA Finals. Led by Jewell Loyd’s 23 points, the Storm cruised to an 89-76 win that wasn’t as close as the score suggested.
Within the first minute, Seattle jumped to an early 4-0 lead thanks to jumpers from Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard. Washington finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:12 mark, courtesy of a three-pointer from rookie Ariel Atkins. However, Howard negated that jumper with a cutting lay-up of her own to stretch Seattle’s lead to 6-3.
The Mystics did manage to take an early lead with a pair of free throws from Natasha Cloud, but gave that up when Howard made a pair of her own. From there, Seattle started systematically tearing Washington apart. Howard was a beast in the paint, leading the team with 10 points in the first to give Seattle a 24-13 lead going into the second quarter.
The biggest key, according to Seattle head coach Dan Hughes, was their defense. The Storm caused the Mystics to turn the ball over five times in the first quarter, and eight within the first 12 minutes of the game.
“Well, just sped them up a little bit, to be honest with you, made them play a little faster,” Hughes said. “They’re such a good team. When they’re able to get to their spots and they move the ball, there’s a great beauty to how they play, and we just tried to take away some of those kind of rhythm catches where the ball moves from side to side because they’re exceptional at that, and I thought we did a good job of being aggressive, forcing it out a little bit, maybe a deflection here or there. So it helped them not quite get the rhythm that they wanted.”
Crystal Langhorne made her debut on the scoreboard at the 8:52 mark, cutting through the lane to give Seattle a 26-13 lead. Not too shortly after, Seattle’s Sami Whitcomb and Washington’s Myisha Hines-Allen played a game of H.O.R.S.E, trading shot for shot.
Hines-Allen scored four points in less than a minute, while Whitcomb had five of her own to help maintain Seattle’s double-digit lead. Later in the quarter, Seattle’s Breanna Stewart started to come alive, scoring seven points in the final four minutes to take Seattle into halftime with a 48-32 lead.
Washington head coach Mike Thibault was pretty blunt with his overall assessment in a post-game interview.
“Basically we got our butts kicked in every phase of the game,” Thibault said. “They were quicker than us, made us pay for every defensive mistake for a stretch, and we made enough of them to help them. Give them credit, they were ready to go, and we haven’t played a game like this since right before the All-Star Game. We played Connecticut and this looked really similar.”
The beginning of the third quarter wasn’t too helpful to Washington, either. Loyd scored seven points in a one-minute span, which helped build her confidence after struggling with her shot in the semi-finals. When asked about her she was feeling about her shot, she said she took inspiration from one of her favorite basketball players, Kobe Bryant.
“Yeah, you know, when you’re a shooter, you’ve got to have a short-term memory,” Loyd said. “I think I saw a post where Kobe was like, if you’re not open, still shoot the ball, and I was like, I made that my screen saver because I’m like, I need to be able to shoot and just have short-term memory. But it helps when you’re playing with people who are unselfish that set you up and keep giving you the ball, and that’s what makes this team special.
“Everyone is willing to make the extra pass, and regardless if you miss 100 shots or you make the next 70, this team is going to give you the ball. Our team is just special, and I love playing with this team.”
Ariel Atkins did her best super hero impersonation, scoring 10 points in the quarter. But going into the final frame, Seattle had a 77-53 lead.
Elena Delle Donne talked about the offensive struggles that plagued the Mystics throughout the game.
“I think our whole offense was a little bit stagnant,” Delle Donne said. “Instead of moving the ball and getting it side to side, we just kind of hanging on to it on one side and staring at each other. We’ve got to create way more movement in our offense, make it difficult for them and make them chase us around a little bit like they do with us.”
“We’ve got to dive more, we’ve got to go backdoor on over plays. I think just as a whole, we were way too stagnant.”
The fourth quarter started just like the first three, with Seattle attacking first. Jordin Canada scored her first points on a lay-up at the 9:38 mark, putting Seattle up 26. Atkins scored four points in 20 seconds for Washington to try and get a flow going, but Seattle kept disrupting the rhythm.
Natasha Howard and Breanna Stewart continued to punish Washington in the paint, and ultimately put the game away. Despite Washington scoring the last seven points, the game was already out of reach.
Washington guard Kristi Toliver (five points, two assists) talked about Seattle’s trio of Howard, Loyd, and Stewart, who combined for 64 of the Storm’s 89 points.
“They were definitely in rhythm and sync,” Toliver said. “We kind of expected that for sure with Jewell (Loyd) because the last series wasn’t her best. She’s a great player and a bounce-back type of player. We knew she was going to be aggressive and she played big tonight.”
Despite making Game One look easy, the Storm knows better than to dismiss the Mystics. The 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart talked about what they expect going into Game Two.
“Yeah, obviously they have a lot of weapons and we’re very aware of that, and I think the way that the game turned out tonight, they’ll come out Sunday with even more of a fire under them,” Stewart said. “We need to just be ready for that. This is a series. That’s the thing about the series. It’s not just one game, it’s not just one bunch. You have to be ready to take the other team’s best shot.”
“They didn’t play their best tonight, but I’m sure that they’re going to try to play their best on Sunday.”
Game Two of the WNBA Finals will be on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. EDT on ABC.
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation’s Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women’s basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, “The Triple Double”. A self-described “foodaholic”, Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, “Conscious Cravings”, where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.