Caissa Casarez

Storming to the End: Why The Finals Prove There's Parity in the WNBA Despite a Sweep

Another WNBA season is officially in the books. The Seattle Storm swept the Washington Mystics earlier this week in the WNBA Finals to win their first league title since 2010, their third overall. Seattle won the first three games of the best-of-five series for the first Finals sweep since 2014 and only the 10th in league history.

After the season officially ended, Storm guard Sue Bird and other players said they would not accept an invitation to the White House to honor their championship. But, as they told ESPN, they're not expecting one, especially after the 2017 WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx didn't get one. The Lynx used their trip to the nation's capital to give back to a D.C. elementary school.

The Storm dominated the short series from the beginning. They seemed to learn from their five-game semifinal match with Phoenix, who was able to even the series at two games a piece when it moved south. The Mystics put runs together during each of the games, but the Storm seemed to have an answer every time.

Some might see the sweep is a sign of the lack of parity in the league, that Seattle has just replaced the previous juggernauts as the team not to mess with. I, however, believe the opposite. Here are some numbers to suggest why.

8: The number of games Seattle played in the playoffs, second-highest behind Washington (9).

While the Storm did win three of three Finals games to clinch the 2018 title, they had to overcome quite a bit to get there in the first place. Despite Seattle's double-bye into the semifinals, the team ended up playing eight postseason games – besting Phoenix in a five-game semifinal before sweeping Washington. Even though the Storm finished the regular season as the only WNBA team with a single-digit loss record (26-8), the fact that they had to battle in the postseason (with a team that started in the first round nonetheless) shows the league is stronger than ever.

31: The combined margin of victory for the Storm in the Finals.

Those finals games were closer than the final scores might suggest, too. Seattle won by 13 (89-76) in game 1, by just two (75-73) in game 2, and by 16 (98-82) in game 3. Washington came back on numerous occasions in all three contests, but the Storm had answers almost every time. However, the Mystics especially came close to tying the series in the second contest, which would have guaranteed at least one more game on the east coast. Props to both squads for making the short series a fun one to watch.

2: the number of people on the Storm staff/team who had won titles before this year.

Casual WNBA/sports fans might guess one of the two former champions on Seattle's squad, and they might be right. Sue Bird won the third league title of her career; she has won all three with the Storm and, even though she's the oldest player in the WNBA at age 37, she doesn't show any signs of slowing down just yet.
For one thing, she's still attentive.

29: Natasha Howard's new career points mark set in game 3.

The other Seattle team member who had received a title before this year is new starter Natasha Howard, who won with the Minnesota Lynx in 2017 after taking part in the Finals in her first two years in the WNBA. The 2018 Most Improved Player had a great year with the Storm, which she capped off with a career performance in game 3 of the Finals. Howard scored a career-high 29 points and added 14 rebounds to help the Storm secure the win.

Howard took time out to celebrate the championship with her wife:

137: The new WNBA playoff record for scoring by a rookie, set by Washington's Ariel Atkins.

The Mystics getting Elena Delle Donne back for the Finals after she got hurt in game 2 of the semifinals was huge. But what kept Washington in the race with and without EDD was the balanced scoring among the rest of the team, including Ariel Atkins. The rookie guard out of Texas joined the starting five for most of the Mystics’ season, and that continued in the playoffs, where she set a new record for rookie scoring with 137 total points. Whose record did she break? Maya Moore's.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see that happen some more as Atkins grows.

100: the free-throw percentage Elena Delle Donne finished the playoffs and the finals with.

Delle Donne of course played a big role in the Mystics' Finals run, even while recovering from her injury. She finished each of her team's postseason games with at least 10 points, including a team-high 23 in game 3 of the Finals. However, she really shined at the free throw line, finishing a perfect 9-9 in the Finals and 32-32 in the playoffs overall according to Her Hoop Stats.

1: The first-ever appearance in the Finals for the Washington Mystics franchise.

Even though Seattle had won two titles in the past, it's fair to say that both teams vying for this year's title were relatively new to the big stage. That's especially the case for the Mystics, who made it to the Finals for the first time in franchise history. Not bad for a team just one year removed from their first opening-round playoff win in 15 seasons.

Washington players were understandably disappointed to lose and end the season in the team's first and only home Finals game this year. However, they and head coach/general manager Mike Thibault are optimistic for the future after a season that exceeded the expectations of many, according to The Washington Post.

As they should be. Many of the players will be back next season, possibly including Emma Meesseman, who took 2018 off to avoid getting burnt out.

The future is bright either way – not just for the Mystics and the Storm, but for the entire league. This condensed season showed that the WNBA is stronger than ever, and it's expected to only get better with next year's likely rookie class.

I'll have a season recap in the next few days here on The Victory Press. Thanks for reading along during our first year covering the WNBA!

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