SEATTLE — If history is any indicator, the WNBA Finals are already over.
That may not be a fair assessment to make about the Washington Mystics, who head back home facing a 2-0 deficit to the Seattle Storm in the best-of-five series, and nearly pulled off a split in Seattle before falling short 75-73 in Game 2 on Sunday.
But the history of teams that have faced a 2-0 deficit since the league went to a best-of-five format in 2005 doesn’t paint an optimistic picture for the Mystics. Four times before, the higher seed has swept the first two games at home. In all four occasions the series ended in Game 3.
“We feel really good, we feel really positive. We’re going to be better,” Washington guard Kristi Toliver said after Game 2. “We were better from the day before. We’re going to be better when we get home, and we’re going to knock down shots.”
Whether it happens in a sweep or not, Seattle has positioned itself to join the elite of WNBA franchises. Seattle could become just the sixth franchise in league history to win three or more titles and join the defunct Houston Comets as the only franchise to have never lost a Finals appearance. The Comets were four-for-four before folding after the 2008 season.
Seattle is on the cusp of being three-for-three in the Finals, all of them with Sue Bird at the helm. Her running mate for Seattle’s first two titles was Lauren Jackson. Now it’s league MVP Breanna Stewart, who had an MVP-type performance in Game 2.
“For somebody who consistently has presence and consistently wants the ball and consistently is winning your team basketball games that’s an MVP. … In all honesty, she’s been showing it all season,” Bird said.
There’s still a lot for Washington to overcome when it returns home for Game 3 on Wednesday night. After getting blown out in Game 1, the Mystics had a chance to get out of Seattle with a split, only to watch the Storm rally in the fourth quarter behind Stewart.
Seattle made a point of making sure Stewart got her hands on the ball in the fourth quarter. She made both of her shot attempts, took six free throws, grabbed two rebounds and had two steals in the fourth quarter alone, when Seattle outscored Washington 17-12.
Meanwhile, the Mystics couldn’t figure out how to find Elena Delle Donne. Yes, she’s not at 100 percent playing with a bone bruise in her left knee, but the absence of Delle Donne in the fourth quarter was a major factor in Game 2. She had just one shot attempt, no rebounds, no free throws in the final 10 minutes.
Seattle coach Dan Hughes said it was a focus from the outset of the game to get Stewart as many touches as possible.
“Your chances, your analytics for success with Breanna Stewart catching the ball twice is good, and I don’t even know the exact number, but I’ve watched enough tape to know,” Hughes said.
Washington coach Mike Thibault was annoyed with several things after Game 2, most dealing with officiating.
His opening statement noted the free throw difference between Stewart and Delle Donne (14 to 3), and an apparent non-call on Washington’s next-to-last possession where Bird knocked the ball from Toliver as she drove the baseline. The scramble for the loose ball led to a jump ball that Seattle won and ended Washington’s chance to escape the Pacific Northwest with a split.
“Obviously, it’s really frustrating to not come away with the win, but we were able to see a lot of things, and we get to build on it for these next three games,” Delle Donne said.